5 Things I Learned While Training For [+ Completing] A *Virtual* Half Marathon

I used to hate running. So much so that I played goalie in high school for two separate sports in order to avoid running as much as possible. That’s why, when I picked up running in college, everyone, including myself, was surprised. It was also why, when I kept signing up for longer races, there was always a voice in the back of my mind saying “You’re not a runner, what are you doing?” But when I completed a couple of 5ks + a 10k, the next logical step was a half marathon. The journey to completing a half marathon was almost as wild as starting to run in the first place, but here are the biggest things I learned when training! 

When I originally registered for my first Half Marathon, it was the Disney Princess Half at Disney World. I was SO pumped + figured that there was no race more fitting for me. But my family + I ended up not being able to go at all; I cried in bed for a night, took two weeks off of running, + moped for a little bit. Until I decided to register for the Disney Star Wars Virtual Half Marathon instead. I had found two training programs that seemed perfect + I believed that following one of the plans would guarantee success. For a couple weeks, I completed every run, stretch, + rest from the program, but when school started in the fall + I had to readjust my schedule, the plan was one of the first things to go. After that, once it started snowing, I refused to run outside + took my new “training plan” [which was me just running once a week + trying to add on another mile every so often] to a treadmill. 

I thought that the day I ran the 13.1 miles for the first time, I would feel ready + prepared ++ have a path mapped out beforehand. Instead, I ran my first half marathon on a random Thursday in March because I didn’t feel exhausted at the 7 mile mark + I decided to just go until I couldn’t anymore. The farthest I’d ever run before this was 10 miles, so I don’t know where these 3.1 miles came from but I was beyond shocked + completely thrilled when I finished!

Ever since I started training, I had been building the perfect running playlist, full of essentials like Taylor Swift, One Direction, + Disney soundtracks. The playlist was longer than the amount of time I expected to be running in case I wasn’t feeling a song that day + needed to skip around a little bit. I always started + finished runs with the same song: one to get me excited to start + one that ended loud + fast to give me the final push to finish strong. 

Unfortunately, I’m someone who’s extremely prone to shin splints + they always pop up when I’m finally getting into a running groove. + I used to be that stubborn person who ran through the pain because my pride demanded it. Taking a break scared me because I never knew how long the break would last ++ how much of the work it would undo. It sounds ridiculous now because it never actually made a change in how far or much I was able to run. 

After a particularly rough run that required me to ice my legs afterwards, I realized I needed to take a break so I didn’t make it worse. I used that time to stretch a lot + when I started running again, I tried to keep the good habits I developed, like stretching + knowing when to stop, through the rest of training. 

I had never heard of a virtual run before last summer + let me tell you, they are one of the greatest things ever. Not only are they less expensive but they offer so much more freedom, which was apparently exactly what I needed for my first half marathon! 

The Disney Star Wars Half Marathon lasted from January 1 – March 31, so when I ran on the random Thursday in March, it fit the timeline perfectly. I also didn’t have to wake up at 4 AM to get to the site or have to worry about any logistics like where to start or confirmations. If you want a bib to run with, it’s online, along with a finisher certificate! All I had to do was run + submit my time online afterwards. Then a couple weeks later I got my medal in the mail, which was a fun surprise itself!

In the words of one of the wisest women ever, Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” 

I know that I won’t ever forget the feeling I had when I finished running. I walked the rest of the way home in the almost dark, laughing + in disbelief. When I stepped inside my house, my sister asked how far I’d run + when I said 13.1 [because, yes, that .1 is very important] + my family just started cheering! I was exhausted + sore, but in the best, most satisfying way because I accomplished this goal that I had been working towards for such a long time. ++ The fact that it happened so perfectly imperfect, as someone who used to do everything to avoid running, made it seem like I could do literally anything. I felt light + free + content ++ it was one of the best feelings ever. I also slept fantastic that night so that’s a plus ; )

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PSA: Looking for a running-focused workout program + community this summer? Always wanted to run 13.1 miles without stopping? Join CHAARG Run Club! Registration is open until May 29 — see more details here!

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