How NOT to Run a Half Marathon

Photo: Michael Tutu for  District Running Collective

Photo: Michael Tutu for District Running Collective

by Na’Tasha Jones

Note: This article originally appeared on Na'Tasha's blog, I'd Rather Be Eating, Sept. 2017

After completing my second half marathon last week at the 2017 Navy Air Force Half, I realized that although it was still super tough, this time had gone MUCH more smoothly than my first marathon a year and a half ago in the Dominican Republic. For anyone new to running distance, I’d like to share the things that made this year’s experience go so much more smoothly than my first. Here are a few of the mistakes I learned to correct for a better race each time:

Training without a Plan

For my first half, I started training about six months out. Since it was my first long race, I wanted to be extra prepared. However, the long training time frame allowed me to at times be lackadaisical, thinking, “Oh, there’s plenty of time.” Then, when it finally became time to push it, I went a bit too hard and injured myself about 10 weeks before the race. By the time I recovered and my ankle felt well enough to train again, there wasn’t very much time before the race, and I think I wasn’t nearly as prepared as I should have been for the distance.

This year, though, I had a plan and I stuck with it. Admittedly, I have been running pretty consistently since my first half, but definitely not any long distance. I set up a plan on the MapMyRun app for 12 weeks and set out to do 4 runs per week (two short, one medium and one long run). My mileage gradually increased each week, but I also listened to my body, making runs longer where I could and shorter where I needed.

Wearing the Wrong Shoes

Finding the right shoes for a distance run is crucial, and I didn’t realize until well into my training that the shoes I was wearing were a major source of the discomfort I was a feeling in my shins and often my back. I really thought it was just supposed to hurt when you run (ha!). After going to a running store and getting a gait analysis, I learned which shoes were right for me. Buying them made a BIG difference in the way I felt during and after long runs and, ultimately, during the race.

For me, new shoes meant shin splints went away, leg soreness was reduced and back pain was kept to a minimum. I have a history of back issues so that’s always going to be there for me, but the shoes helped ALOT. I ended up with a pair of Asics Gel Nimbus for my last race. This year, I went with the Under Armour Gemini II’s (no longer for sale, but similar to this version) and they worked well for me, again really helping to alleviate the shin pain I was having.

Half Marathon Hydration

I cannot overstate the importance of proper hydration. Each time I’ve felt weak or faint on a run, it was because I had not had enough water. Each time I tapped out from exhaustion before reaching my target distance, I had not had enough water. Each time my pace just wouldn’t get to the speed I knew it should be, again, no water.

I struggle with drinking enough in general, but since I’ve made hydrating before, during and after runs a priority, I can literally FEEL the difference, and that makes me want to keep it up. Drinking lots of water not just right before the race, but in the weeks leading up to the race played a huge role in me being to finish my race feeling good and at about 30 minutes faster than last year.

I also discovered GU energy gel during my first half, so I new having the electrolyte packs to fuel me up would be crucial and they were! Note: Chocolate Coconut is the best flavor. Avoid Strawberry Kiwi at all costs, lol.

Following Directions

Na'Tasha at her first half marathon, the Punta Cana Half in the Dominican Republic, April 2016.

Na'Tasha at her first half marathon, the Punta Cana Half in the Dominican Republic, April 2016.

Perhaps the biggest devastation I’ve ever felt during a run was when I ran the Punta Cana half marathon when, about an hour and a half in, I saw the finish line. It was devastating because I knew instantly that I had gone the wrong way. There was no way I had finished a half marathon that fast. No, I had somehow managed to divert myself to the 10K course that was running at the same time. My face was a mess as I tried to explain through tears and broken Spanish to the race officials that this was wrong and that I needed to go back somehow. There’s a photo of this hot mess of a face somewhere…I conveniently can’t find it though, lol.

Eventually, they told me I would have to run the same 10K route along the highway again, instead of along the beautiful beach route where the rest of the half marathon runners correctly went. I went into full meltdown mode, BUT I had made a commitment and decided to suck it up and do it. It took about 3.5 hours total, but my friend Dannielle, who had invited me to the race and encouraged me along the way, was there at the end to see me tearfully across the finish line.

Needless to say, I read every single sign this year.

The Right Attitude

During my first race, I was optimistic throughout most of my training. After injuring myself just a couple months before the race though, it was hard to get myself back into a positive mental space. “I can’t do this,” and “I’m not going to be ready in time,” were constantly running through my head in the weeks before. Then, at the race, I was worried that I was so much slower than everyone else too. While I try to be positive in general, I’m a realist, and I didn’t think it was going to go well for me. Now I’m not going to say that anxiety and negative thoughts were the reason I ran the wrong way (listen, the signs were in Spanish ok?), but I’m sure it didn’t help that I was thinking about some of those things more than the route itself, lol.

This year, I went into the Navy Air Force Half with only the expectation that I would finish. Removing stressful time goals and things like that allowed me to relax more and focus on the distance. Toward the end of the race, I realized that I did so much better than I thought I would and it pushed me to kick it up for the end, despite the course being longer than 13.1 miles!

The Need for Support

This one might be the most important. I had amazing support for both races and each time that support and ACCOUNTABILITY was what kept me going through training and ultimately through the race itself.

As I previously mentioned, my friend Dannielle McNeilly, an outrageously amazing runner, was the one who encouraged me to join her for my first race in Punta Cana. This race, she told me, was part of the Bridge the Gap initiative to connect run crews from all over the world. At the time, I felt like a half marathon was out of my league, but Dannielle’s promises of island fun and meeting lots of other runners from all over the world seemed too good to pass up.

Although my performance was pretty horrible during that first half (hello, I ran the WRONG way. lol), everyone there was supportive and encouraging. Plus, the post-race turn up with crews like We Run Uptown, LOCOrredores and Black Roses NYC was everything. I made new friends in different cities that I still keep up with (and see at all the big races), and it planted in my heart a seed of love for running with others when I had previously considered myself a loner. Now it feels weird NOT to run with a crew around me!

For this year’s race, Dannielle cheered me on from afar with lots of texts and check-ins, but I also had the overwhelming support of my own run crew, District Running Collective. So many of my club members ran the Navy Air Force Half Marathon as well, which meant there were plenty of people to come run with me when I needed to get miles in during training, and then plenty of people there running beside (ahem, in front of) me during the race as well. Having the support of the Livest Cheer Squad on the Planet at mile 6 and mile 11 with noisemakers, confetti, and even a live DJ truly got me through!

Overall, the lessons I’ve learned have only served to motivate me more. I wonder what I’ll learn from my next race?


Na'Tasha Jones

Chief Content Officer