My sister, Melissa and her friend Katy are training to run St. Jude as their first half marathon. For either of them, I don’t think they signed up because running a half has been their life long dream, but as many Memphians can probably relate, they were much attracted to the cause. St. Jude is such a huge and prideful aspect of Memphis and the marathon is one of the biggest ways that the city comes together in support of the staple foundation that we love.
People come out of the woodwork to run the full and half marathon, many of whom do not even consider themselves runners. It’s amazing what you can do when inspired by children with life threatening and fatal illnesses. I ran the full marathon last year, which I considered to be an accomplishment, but there is something about a first time half marathoner that I really admire. I don’t care how many ultras you’ve done or miles that you run on a daily basis, this distance should never be taken lightly! Needless to say, I am very proud and so excited to be experiencing this journey along with them.
Starting in August and stretching through early December, the St. Jude marathoners create a deep sense of community on the Memphis Greenline. Not only are the temperatures cooler and the leaves beginning to fall, but the paths throughout our city start to fill with joggers and runners alike decked in handheld water bottles and St. Jude attire. There’s no better feeling than passing like-minded people who are tied together in the bonds of hard work and dedication. It truly is a beautiful thing to be a part of.
With all the feelings and excitement aside, training for your first half marathon can also be a terrifying shot in the dark. I would be remiss not to mention my running coach, Chris Winter, who is helping me reach a significant personal record in the marathon this year. But if you are unable to get a coach, I’ve provided you with ten tips on how to train for your first St. Jude Half Marathon:
August might seem like it is 5 months away from December (well, it is), but the sooner you start, the less pressure you’ll feel in building up your distance. You want to have enough time to get in all of your long runs (increasing each week only by 1 mile), rest, and taper your mileage before the big day.
Don’t go at it alone
Training solo is often accompanied by a lot of added pressure. Running can be a very social sport and Memphis has one of the best running communities in the country. The MRTC website has great resources for how you can get plugged in. Join a group such as River Runners or call Fleet Feet or Breakaway and ask about open group runs.
*Be careful though, running tends to have the same affects as drinking an entire bottle of wine with someone… Nothing passes the time on a long run like telling a total stranger your entire life story.
Training takes a lot more than just running. With 16 weeks until the race, a lot can happen. It is really important to shift your lifestyle a little in order to ensure that you will cross that finish line in one piece.
-Now that you are increasing your physical activity, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough sleep. For some 8 hours is a stretch, but your body desperately needs this time to heal itself so make an effort to wind down a little earlier than usual.
-Many runners, including myself, are often guilty of being “purists” and fail to incorporate strength training into their schedule. Focus on your core and hip abductors to prevent common running injuries.
-A huge misconception in the world of runners is that you can eat whatever you want. While you are burning a significant amount of calories, it is important to replenish them with the right nutrients. Add the carbohydrates that are packed with additional health benefits and vegetables in place of empty sugary or fried foods. In no way will these help your training!
Sign up for a race
Yes, you heard me. Race a time or two before the actual race! Signing up for a shorter competition like a 5 or 10k will give you more insight into what to expect and how to prepare for the big day. Your nerves won’t take you by surprise because you will already be a seasoned road-racer. I suggest the Cooper Young 4-Miler because it’s a blast and a half and there’s a lot of beer.
Invest in some good gear
Visit one of our local running stores to be fit for a great pair of shoes. Most people wear their running shoes too small and have no idea. Fleet Feet will measure your feet, watch you walk, and suggest the shoe that is best for the shape of your foot and supports your gait. Socks are critically important as well. I ran my first marathon in a pair of regular cotton socks… I won’t go into details, but lets just say that I went to Amsterdam with 10 pink toenails and came back with 6 ½ black toenails. Womp, womp.
Don’t try anything new on race day
Test out what you might wear, eat, and carry with you on your long runs leading up to the event. Try every possible option and have a plan in your head for all the different weather scenarios. Last year, although the race was also in December, it ended up being a pretty warm day. I was shivering at the starting line in my shorty shorts and a tank top, but was SO much better off than those who were suffocating within the first couple of miles wearing tights and long sleeves.
Be proud of yourself
I don’t care if you are going for an overall/age group victory or walking the entire half marathon with a couple of run breaks in between. You’re doing more than those drinking beer at 8:00 a.m. on the sidelines. Post shameless selfies all over social media because you’re awesome and the more awareness raised for St. Jude the better!
Adopt “for the kids” as your new mantra
Write it everywhere, imprint it in your heart and be prepared to repeat it to yourself for 13.1 miles. You’re going to get frustrated. You’re going to hit a wall either in your training or during the actual race. What you’re doing is not easy, but keeping their sweet little faces in your mind will get you to that finish.
Don’t stop when you reach your fundraising goal
Last year, I didn’t sign up to be a St. Jude Hero and I wanted to KICK myself every time I had family and friends ask if they could donate to my nonexistant “fundraising page.” This year I plan to make up for it, but I encourage you to learn from my mistakes. The more money you raise, the more you are going to get out of the whole experience.
Run with tissues
It is an inspiring, heartbreaking, and elating race. As you can imagine, running by the hospital stirs up every possible emotion, but also be prepared for what you will feel at the end. I’ve run three marathons and a handful of half’s and I don’t think I will ever be desensitized to the overwhelming feelings and pang of tears that I get when watching people cross the finish line.
It costs $2 million a day to operate St. Jude. Did you know that 70% of the funds come from the public? Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. This blog is about running and it takes courage to run a marathon. But that courage pales in comparison to the courage that kids at St. Jude exhibit everyday in the way that they persevere in their own race against cancer.