Updated: Sep 4, 2020
Never in my life would I have thought one day I was going to run a half marathon. Since 2017, I have run five of them and counting . . . For years, I mistakenly thought running was only for professional athletes.
This 4th of July promo picture was taken in Sarasota while I was running my second half marathon, less than two months after finishing my first one, the Life Time Miami Half Marathon. First Watch Sarasota Half is the race holding my current PR (personal record) of two hours, twelve minutes, and change. To be quite honest. it was a little too soon to run another half marathon, but I got carried away with the idea of hopping on a bus with my running club members and heading to another town for a race. I would say it was more about FOMO (fear of missing out) than running itself. After both races, I felt like I needed a break and it was really hard to get back on track.
Sarasota had beautiful scenery for the most part during the first six miles of the relay. The second part was more like a residential area with lots of twists and turns. Running for the finish line was a mental killer; after mile seven I was pretty much ready to quit, but I didn't! Simply because one of the most important things I've learned is that running is more than physical, it’s also a mind game. I never stopped running regardless of how difficult it was for me to enjoy it at the moment. For instance, doing four miles felt like an eternity. At mile two, my brain was already thinking about how I still had two to go. Nothing worked, not even listening to music. Two things helped me not to give up running: my accountability to my running mate and how much I knew this sport was good to me overall.
It all started in 2015 when my family and I moved to Miami. As a stay-at-home mom, I needed a little bit of time for myself, so after my husband got home from work, I would go for a walk to enjoy the beautiful nature around our area. Walking became boring after a while. That's when I decided to start running. At first, I couldn't run for even three minutes straight. Later on, I ran one mile. When I was about to hit three miles nonstop, I accidentally crossed a group of runners who met at a park close by. I decided to join them a couple of weeks later.
I had no sense of distance except for a 5K which I had done once, but they all were talking about training for Miami Marathon and Half Marathon. I had no clue how far that was, after all, I never in my entire life envisioned myself as a runner, so I was pretty clueless.
"Did you just say thirteen point one miles?!"
“Nanda, you should sign up for the Half Marathon!"
"No way! I can barely run six to eight miles. How am I going to do thirteen?" I was feeling the weight of the almost eight miles I was about to finish.
"You have to have a slower pace for more miles. Don't worry, I will help you!"
Those were the words of my former coach who took this picture with me and my running mate during our first pasta dinner a couple of days before Miami Half. But at that moment of trying to achieve my first eight-mile run, I still didn't believe it was possible because I wasn't confident in myself. Nevertheless, I started to understand that all I needed was a little more knowledge and the right techniques. More than teaching me so many important aspects of running, my coach also helped me believe I was capable of doing it. I started that first half marathon with only the intent of finishing it, regardless of how long it took—if I had to walk, I would. In fact, we did it in just over two hours and twenty minutes without stopping for a single moment, not even at the water stations. I will be eternally grateful to him for planting that seed in my heart and for all the things I've learned from him and about myself through this incredible sport.
What inspired me to write this post was the fact that a couple of weeks ago I was talking to a fellow runner who is a bit inexperienced with the running/training process. That’s when I realized how many aspiring runners there are out there in the same stage of unfamiliarity I was once, but thanks to my former and current coaches, that has changed. Based on that, I decided to share a couple of things I've learned in these last few years.
Most common mistakes when it comes to running:
- Not visiting a doctor: It is so important to make sure we know where our health stands. Many runners find out about heart issues and medical conditions after they start running. Don't wait until it's too late. Make sure you are good to go before you start.
- Believing you can't run: Even marathoners had to start from somewhere. When I first started, I could only run for one minute straight. Later, one jumped to five, then eight, and so on. A great way to get started it is to run/walk and start to increase the time running gradually.
- Thinking you are too fat or old to run: As long as your doctor says it is OK for you to run, there's nothing that can stop you. Running has nothing to do with weight. I know many runners heavier than me (including some that are overweight) who can run faster and farther than me; some have even done full marathons, as well as runners lighter than me that have a slower pace. I know runners in their 40s, 50s, and 60s that are way faster than me. Weight or age is no excuse!
- Not wearing proper gear: It makes a huge difference when you wear appropriate running clothes and shoes. Staying cool really helps with performance, and having the right shoes with the right insoles and correct size not only helps you to stay comfortable while running, but also avoids unnecessary injuries. Take the time to visit a store owned/managed by real runners since the staff is usually very well trained. Get your feet measured to buy the right size shoes. Yes! One foot is bigger than the other. They will help you to find the perfect fit. Different brands have different shapes and styles. Try the shoes on the treadmill. Learn how to lace them properly.
- Start running too fast: All right, if this is not the most common mistake, I really don't know what is. I was guilty of that! We don't start running as fast as we can and as long as possible and then slow down. Well, we actually do, but that's not how it's done. This might be the most valuable thing you will learn about running if you are just getting started: you need to start SLOW!!!
"But then I am going to waste my energy, get tired, and won't be able to run as fast as I can."
That's a big misconception. But if you want to run fast, you need to train for speed, do track workouts, or a shorter distance. There are specific workouts just to improve your speed. If you are not used to running and your body is not trained for it but you want to start running as fast as you can, chances are you are not going to be able to run very long and most likely will find yourself with an unnecessary injury. In my case, my knees are what suffers the most.
- Not stretching: Stretching not only helps to prepare and warm up your muscles for the run, but it is extremely important to avoid injuries, cramps, etc. It is just as important to stretch after the run as before.
- Not cooling off: After starting to run slower to warm up, it is fundamental that you slow down during the last mile(s) to lower your heart rate and prepare your body for the next run.
- Not hydrating properly: How many times have you seen runners carrying a bottle of water to stay hydrated while they run? Many times, I bet! That is very important, but you shouldn't worry about hydrating only while you run—you need to be hydrated before you start! Drink plenty of water during the day. Check the color of your urine. Ideally, it should be pale yellow or nearly clear.
"Ok, you finally convinced me. I want to give it a try. So how do I do this?"
Since everyone has a different pace, “slow” has a different meaning to each one of us. I am going to use the terms my former coach used to explain it to me and it made a lot of sense: running slow means your body feels relaxed while running, you can breathe normally and you can carry a conversation (which I do not recommend if you are just getting started, since you can swallow air while talking and you might end up with cramps later on during the run).
"How long should I run slow?"
Well, that is actually a very wise question; I am glad you asked. The answer is: it depends! It will depend on how many miles you are going to be starting with, which brings me to the next mistake beginners make: not having a mileage goal.
"Oh, I will just run as far as I can go!"
Nope! That way you are going to end up going nowhere. You know why? Because that’s how you self-sabotage. You make your mind believe you have done so much already, but you never push yourself hard enough to reach a goal.
So here is one of the most valuable things I've learned from my coaches: pace and distance walk together.
Be realistic, know your limits, listen to your body, and go from there. Just remember you need to try to separate what your body is feeling from what your head is telling you. Many times, I have to tell my brain to “shut up!” and focus on nature, my music, or whatever can get my mind out of the sabotaging cycle. Once you learn you are in charge and not the things your mind tells you, it's easier to control your thoughts and focus on your body and posture.
- Not paying attention to your posture: This one is a lesson I learned from my coach when I started. He ran by me and told me to watch my arms. I was moving them in front of my body. He told me to always imagine as if I have a saw in my belly as a reminder to keep my arms to the sides of my body, not cross them in front of it.
Here is a picture with my current coach, whom I like to call the father of our big running family. He treats all of us the same way, no matter how fast or slow we are; from walkers to runners. He makes us feel like a part of something greater than individual runners. This is more than a run club. I call this group family!
- Wearing both headphones while running outdoors: While music helps a lot of runners, it is a big mistake to wear them in both ears while running outdoors. Not only because of the risk of being hit by a car, but because it is important to be aware of your surroundings!
- Not eating before running: While some runners can endure an empty stomach, if you are just starting, I don't think that is a good idea. It takes time to figure out what to eat before going for a run. I've learned that what works for me is to drink a glass of chocolate milk about one hour before I start running. If I have more time, I’ll eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You need to find out what works for you. That might take some time, but eventually you will get it.
- Running in the dark without using bright gear: I have lost count of how many times drivers didn't seem to pay attention to us while running and crossing streets even with the use of bright gear. After almost being hit a couple of times by Miami drivers, I decided to start using a flashlight along with bright gear. This flashlight blinks so it helps to get a driver’s attention from a distance. I've noticed a big improvement since I started combining the flashlight with bright gear; I can see drivers slowing down way before getting closer to us.
- Believing the “right-of-way” law works: I don't know where you run, but in Miami, you can’t be too confident about the fact that pedestrians have the right of way. When drivers are not looking at their phones while driving, most of them are only focused on the traffic itself. Other people don't really care about what the law states. So always be cautious. Don't cross in front of a vehicle without making eye contact with the driver and ensuring they will give you the right of way. After making eye contact, some will still rush to go in front of you. Try to run behind the car if the driver doesn't see you and be alert even when the pedestrian light is open for you. Like I mentioned, drivers are mostly focused on other cars, not pedestrians.
- Running alone without protection: We all have heard of cases here in Miami or nationwide. Lots of female runners have been attacked; I'm not even talking about the ones who were murdered, but the cases of women being groped or raped while running by themselves. I know we runners tend to feel like super heroes, but we are not! Avoid running alone, especially in the dark. If you do choose to go alone, at least carry mace with you. There are some small ones you can fit in your pocket. There are also other products for runner safety online. I stopped running alone at night after a male in a black truck started to follow me, lowered his window, put his arm out, and started to talk to me. I cursed loudly at him to scare him away and get attention from others. He eventually left, but you never know. Always be alert!
I hope I was able to help you out with these tips. Let me know if you have any questions. Soon, I plan to write a post about running longer miles and training for a half marathon!
Take care and good luck!