It's in our nature to try to conquer the next thing. We're looking for the next job. We want to write the next bestselling novel. We need the next hot toy. As I crossed the finish line of my second 10K race, my sights were set on the half-marathon. I felt like it was within my reach but enough of a stretch to force me to train for it. It was to be my next big race.
It seemed as if I wasn't the only one thinking about conquering 13.3 miles. According to Running USA, the half-marathon is the fastest growing road-race distance in the United States, with 1.6 million people finishing a half-marathon in 2011.
My journey to the starting line of the 13.1-mile Los Angeles half-marathon was short. I felt confident in my base mileage and decided to sign up for the race two months prior to the start. While I thought my body could take an increase in workouts, I ramped up too quickly and injured my foot three weeks before the race. My big, bold plan for a big, bold race was exactly the opposite of what I should have done my first time out.
"First-time half-marathon runners should be sure to start out with lower mileage and gradually work into longer runs," says Stephanie Greer, co-coordinator of the National Institute for Fitness and Sport Mini-Marathon Training program. She suggests following a beginners training plan, which I hadn't even considered. I'd been running for more than 10 years and thought I knew what I was doing. I didn't.
I was disappointed in myself for missing the signs that pointed straight to a potential injury. After pulling out of the race, I went through a phase in which I felt a weird sense of relief that I wasn't running. The pressure was gone. The worry about whether I was going to run in pain vanished. To be honest, it was a little scary how OK I was with not running.
After taking some time off, I realized I couldn't get away from the pull of my next big challenge, although I wasn't ready to commit to a race fee quite yet. I started slowly and was truly enjoying running. When my sister asked a few months later whether I wanted to run the Tinker Bell Half Marathon with her, I jumped at the opportunity and set about creating the 2.0 version of my training plan: stronger, faster, smarter. This was going to be her first half-marathon, too, so that gave me some relief that I wasn't going to be doing this alone.
The Tinker Bell Half Marathon is a women-specific race that caters to the female crowd. This is one of several women-only or women-specific races around the country, including the Nike Women's Marathon and Half-Marathon and the Indianapolis Women's Half Marathon. Organizing these races makes sense: Fifty-nine percent of half-marathoners are women, and according to Running USA, this number has been on the rise since 2004.
"Having women-only endurance events provides a safe haven for women to get their feet wet in an event that they may have stayed away from in the past," says Greer. While I wasn't necessarily worried about who I was going to be running with (male or female), there was some reassurance in knowing I'd be running with my "own kind."
And that brings us to the present. I have a few more months before the big race and more confidence in my training than ever before. I added some weightlifting to make me stronger, and I keep tabs on how my body is feeling after each run and in between, as well.
Half-marathons are doable, and Greer agrees with me: Many people cannot imagine doing a 20-mile run to train for a full marathon -- nor do they have the desire. Running 10 miles to train for a half takes less time and still gives people that feeling of accomplishment when they finish. Even now, I know that feeling -- and I can't wait to feel it as I cross the finish line of my first half-marathon.