3 months to go – what I have learned so far from training for a half marathon

This is a slight departure from the science posts, but I wanted to write about my experiences so far of training for a half marathon. I am in my third month of training with less than 2.5 months left until race day (17th May), and wow has it has been a steep learning curve… I am so excited to be running to raise money for CRUK, and I’ve learned some lessons along the way that I wanted to share for fellow newbie runners, and to say YOU CAN DO IT.

Running socks are a thing, and they are actually worth having

When I first started training back in November, I went on the hunt for a good pair of running shoes. Armed with more enthusiasm than information I quickly found I was out of my depth and drowning in choice… Luckily a knowledgeable shop assistant came to help. While picking shoes he covered a checklist of other essentials, some I knew and some I didn’t, one of the latter was running socks. I had absolutely no idea that there were special socks for running and was dubious about if I would need them, normal socks work perfectly fine right? Nope. While normal socks are fine for shorter runs (<5 miles), anything longer can start to get pretty uncomfortable. The padding around the ball and heel helps with impact, they wick sweat away and transfer it to the shoe, the shape stops rubbing, I get no blisters and they don’t slip at all. All in all, I’ll eat my slice of humble pie and take another pair of socks please.

While we are on footwear, shoes make all the difference

This may seem like an obvious point, but my running went up a level as soon as I changed shoes. I highly recommend going to a shop that can take the time to find you the right shoe, having the right equipment really can make your goal a lot more achievable.

Using my old trainers I was getting knee pain, pain in the outer edge of my left foot, and even mild back pain. After changing shoes (and using an insert to correct my foot placement of running on the inside edge of my foot) all of these issues stopped, my feet were better supported, and I could run for longer easier.

While this pain was partially caused by my running technique (next point), a large amount of it was caused by my shoe not having the right support for my feet. The shop assistant immediately diagnosed that I put more weight on the outside (anterior) edge of my left foot when walking. This weight imbalance is called supination or under-pronation. The opposite can also be true when the inside edge of your heel hits the ground first putting the weight through the interior edge of your foot, this is called over-pronation. Either of these types of misalignment can contribute to pain in the knees, back and even hips. Using a more supportive shoe and an insole to encourage the correct alignment has hugely helped these issues for me.

Also don’t put your running shoes in the washing machine to clean them. I was told explicitly by the guy that helped me pick the trainers that I wasn’t allowed to because it ruins the foam structure of the shoes – the more you know!

Running technique can help prevent knee and general pain

Although the magic socks and magic shoes helped hugely with the all-round aches and pains of regular running, I was still getting some knee pain. After a little bit of research I found a really helpful article, and after applying their tips my knee pain significantly decreased and I now rarely get any pain.

The short summary is:

  • Lean forward slightly – this helps avoid heel-striking
  • Don’t lift your knees when running – this puts the brakes on each time you strike the ground, and increases the impact on your knees
  • Keep your knees soft and always slightly bent
  • Avoid heel striking: don’t over stride/let your feet extend past your knees, again this puts the brakes on with each stride and increases the impact on your knee
  • Make sure your feet are aligned properly and pointing in the direction you are running

Yes, I can.

Ultimately this has been the biggest lesson I am learning. After spending the last, pff I don’t know, decade telling myself that I’m “not a runner”, that I’m “not made for running” and “running isn’t my sport”, I’ve realised that maybe I can be and that pushing through that mental block is what is really the hardest part.

I was recently listening to the Jay Shetty podcast On Purpose which featured a guest speaker Jim Kwik. It is a great podcast I highly recommend, and on this particular episode Jim explains how your brain listens to what you’re telling it. So, the more you say “I’m not a runner” or that “I’m bad with names” (both of which I have told myself consistently) or “I could never do X”, then this belief is reinforced and you will believe that you really can’t do it.

In September 2019 I ran my first ever 5k, and this was monumental for me. It may be a short distance to a lot of people, but for me as a “non-runner” it was a huge mission and I thought I couldn’t do it without stopping… but I did. When I signed up to the half marathon, I was excited but worried – “21km?! I can barely run 5!”. If anyone told me 3 months ago that I would be able to run over 8 miles I wouldn’t have believed them, yet here I am.

So yes I can, and so can you – you can do whatever you set your mind to, be it running or otherwise 👊🏼