Training for a half marathon: Reflections on training and race day
Jennifer Fontanez is a kindergarten teacher in South Jersey who chronicled the 12-week training schedule for her first half marathon.
12 weeks and 264 training miles later, it all came down to the final 13.1 miles to finish out my journey of training for the Wild Half Marathon held Sunday in Wildwood, NJ. It has been such an incredible journey through training and I was so excited to see how it would all pay off the day of the race.
With the Wild Half Marathon kicking off at 7:30 am on Sunday, I decided to stay in Wildwood the night before the race so I was close to the start and well rested for an early morning. Since it was the first half-marathon that I would be running the entirety of the race, I wanted to make sure I was well-rested and ready to hit the ground running! The night before, I carbed up with a great pasta dinner to help keep me going the next day. When I got my bib number the night before, it really started to kick in that I was going to be adding a little bit more mileage to my highest distance ever run and I would be putting the last 12 weeks of running to the test.
Race day was an amazing experience to have. Everyone around me had the same 13.1 miles to take on and we were ready for the challenge. The course was a relatively flat half-marathon, with the only major ‘hills’ being the ramps on and off the boardwalk and a few gradual inclines up and down the highway and bridge. I had trained with much more intense hills and inclines, so as I was running the course, I could run much faster and have less inclines to slow down my pace. It was great to see so many supportive family and friends along the way, and plenty of funny signs and motiviational sayings during the race. It’s amazing how much easier it is to run long distances when you have random spectators cheering you on or clapping for you. So many times during my training I would think to myself: why are you even doing this? You could always just walk, take a break, no one will know. But on the day of the race, just when I would even think I might be getting tired, I would see another sign that would remind me to keep on going, or have someone cheer me on to stay strong.
I made sure to set my pace fairly quickly. I had seeded myself in between the 11 and 12 minute pacers but noticed for approximately the first 10 miles I was actually well ahead of the 11 minute mile pacer and could see the 10 minute pace runner in the distance. However, shortly before mile 10, the 11 minute pace runner suddenly passed me, which made me wonder if my pace had actually dropped that dramatically. Luckily I was running with my dad, who is a long time marathon veteran, and he told me to just stay in the pace I’ve been with the whole time, and not to try and catch up. While it was hard to not sprint after her, I realized if I had done that, I would have burned myself out and it could have ruined my end of the race. I had trained myself to be a consistent runner for long distance, and needed to stick to that training if I wanted to finish the last two miles strong.
I made sure to train in the attire I would wear on race day, knowing that if it was a cool morning I would need layers. I ran in a thin long-sleeved shirt, but it only lasted for a few miles before the sun came out and I needed to forgo the sleeves for my tank top. I’m so glad I prepared ahead of time because comfort is key to a good run. I knew I would be able to tie the long-sleeve around my waist for the rest of the run without it bothering me, and was in clothing that could also keep me cool the rest of the race.
The Wild Half Marathon had well-organized water lines that didn’t get clogged with runners, and there was access to either side for water or Gatorade. During training I usually stopped twice for water breaks, but with the sun beating down on race day, I knew more water breaks were needed. I chose to slow to a walk right before the line, walk while hydrating, and then just pick my run back up as soon as I passed the line. Overall, I think this also worked better for my knees and joints to not stop. I had run into knee trouble during long runs right after I had stopped for water breaks, but I think the constant movement gave them a slight rest, but kept my muscles in the running zone.
Mile after mile, I couldn’t believe how good I felt. When the training began, I knew I wasn’t a good runner, super athletic, or even thrilled with the idea of having to run that far or long to complete a half-marathon. Even during my 11 and 12 mile long runs I had struggled with running the entire distance. The first three mile run in February felt like an eternity, leaving me wondering how I was ever going to add 10 miles to that. But on the day of the race I was energized, excited, and able to keep going! After the race's first 3 miles, I felt like 3 miles was nothing. At mile 7, I was so surprised with myself, my speed, and my overall feeling that if I just stuck to my training I was going to keep on feeling this great throughout the race. I took the race one mile at a time and with the help of my training, keeping the pace, and remembering my final goal, was able to finish in 2:26:35.
Little by little during training, I built up my stamina, determination, and overall ability to be a successful runner. There have been plenty of roadblocks along the way: rainy days, cold days, no motivation, and discouraging people. But in the end, during that entire 13.1 miles, it all came down to me. I worked hard for this half-marathon, I trained hard, and I was determined to finish it like I came in first place. I obviously didn’t come anywhere close to first place, but I still felt like a winner when I crossed the finish line, without walking (other than the water line) and well under my anticipated time. (Check out my strut across the finish line!)
Now that training is all over, some people have been asking me what’s next. After a few rest days, I’ve decided I’m going to continue running, just not as intense as these past few weeks. I’m thinking there’s another half-marathon in my future, maybe even with a goal of under two hours.
After all of this, I have no problem officially saying I am, in fact, a runner.