It’s officially 2020! This New Year year I’ve been excited to hear how many people have decided that running a half-marathon for the first time (or second, fifth, or 23rd time) is one of their New Year’s resolutions. Completing an endurance race can be life changing, and there are so many unexpected benefits of running a half-marathon.
For someone who doesn’t run regularly, finishing a 13.1 mile race can seem impossible. A Google search on “tips for running a half-marathon for beginners,” will bring up an overwhelming amount of information that can feel insurmountable. Unfortunately, a lot people also carry around limiting beliefs that prevent them from ever trying something as intimidating as a half-marathon.
And I get it, because when I started running, I couldn’t run a full mile without stopping. I felt pretty damn smug with myself when I finished a 5k, but I thought there was no way my angry feet could have carried me any further. Fortunately for me, my mom made some snarky comment about how even she could run a half-marathon in her 40’s, and 20-year-old me was prideful and competitive. So the only choice was for me to beat her at her own game.
And so, I ran my first half-marathon. I felt like I’d been hit by a semi at least twice immediately afterwards. But despite my lack of athletic ability, I finished it. I truly believe that anyone can complete a half-marathon, regardless of their current fitness level. I also believe that there are so many benefits to running a half-marathon.
So to encourage anyone who may be even considering chasing down a half-marathon, I decided to interview one of my coaching clients who completed her first half-marathon in 2019. I wanted to hear what her experience was like, and asked what she would want to share with someone who is interested in training for a half-marathon. I know there are so many physical benefits of running, but I was really struck by how well Brianne articulated the mental benefits of running a half-marathon.
A little bit of background information on Brianne might be helpful to keep things in context. Brianne is an incredibly strong woman. Before she started working with me, we had met at CrossFit, where she regularly made my PR lifts look like warm up weights. She had been competing in CrossFit for over five years when she decided to take a break from heavy lifting.
She felt like her competitive nature had begun to rob her of the joy of working out. Instead of being excited to head to the box, she felt exhausted and anxious. So she took an intelligent step back. After a couple of months, although she found that she did miss having a fitness goal and decided to shift gears and try something completely different.
That’s when she came to me and told me she wanted to run a half-marathon. Now while you may think that the sport of CrossFit probably has some crossover benefits for running, you might be surprised at how easy it is to be great at lifting heavy weights without having much cardio endurance. This was the case for Brianne.
When she started to train, she told me she could run a 5k if she “had to.” Meaning, she could finish 3 miles if she felt like her life was in danger (and working with me, it probably was a few times). So in terms of running, Brianne really did start from a beginner’s level, but long story short, she finished her half-marathon in November 2019. And she lived to tell the tale.
Here are a few of the unanticipated benefits Brianne found in completing her first half-marathon. I hope they encourage anyone to not allow big goals to intimidate them, but rather to know that chasing big goals can have so many amazing results.
The Unanticipated Benefits of Running a Half-Marathon
Training For a Half-Marathon Shifts Your Focus From Outcome to Process
When Brianne first received her half-marathon training plan, I warned her that it would seem insane. As she skimmed over the mileage, she agreed. She says she had no idea how it would ever be possible to go from running three miles to six in just about one month of training. But she decided to trust the process.
Instead of staring at the goal of running 13.1 miles and feeling her stomach drop, she decided to focus on the current week of training. Now, she did have a couple of moments of self-doubt, and a couple of times she told me she felt like there was no way her body would adapt in the amount of time we were working with.
And this is where having a coach was beneficial for Brianne. Because I knew she was capable. I knew that if she followed the plan, her body wouldn’t fail her. So I told her that if she couldn’t trust her own two feet, she needed to trust me and take things one step at a time. This allowed her to change from focusing on the big, daunting goal, and allowed her instead to just focus on putting in the effort and giving it a shot.
The Training Process Creates Trust With Your Body
After about a month of training, Brianne was starting to see some changes in her endurance. She went from feeling like three miles was a run to the grave to running two miles without much effort. The long runs were still challenging, and sometimes the track workouts I wrote for her made her dry heave, but she hadn’t died yet. (Please note I have not taken the life of a single client).
She could see there was progress. She could see that even when she doubted her own abilities, if she just showed up for herself and tried, she could usually accomplish what she had set out to do. That’s not to say that training went perfectly, there were a few “failed” runs. But there were a lot more successes, and this is what I helped her to focus on.
Throughout the training plan, Brianne started to trust her own body more. Instead of relying on me to tell her she was capable, she was able to reflect on her own experiences and know that her body could endure what she needed it to. She didn’t need me to tell her that she could run eight miles, she could trust her own legs to get her there.
Once you’ve realized just how much your body is capable of, and what is able to withstand, it becomes much easier to tap into confidence in other situations. Need to carry your giant Amazon box up three flights of stairs? No problem. Need to elbow a creep whose standing too close to you in a bar? No big deal. Need to dead lift your dresser to let your cat escape? You got it!
Spending All Those Hours Running Gives You Space to Think & Process
Besides the obvious physical changes, Brianne shared that one of the biggest surprises she encountered was how much she started to enjoy running. She hadn’t ever been a person who wanted to run anything further a mile or two voluntarily, but over time started to look forward to her runs.
She shared that she felt like her time spent running gave her an opportunity to think about issues or problems she was facing more creatively. Running gave her the time and space to process difficult feelings, and she was too exhausted to judge herself for those feelings. While the “runners high” was still elusive, she says she knew running was positively impacting her mental health.
Previously, athletic ventures had become a source of anxiety for Brianne. She felt a lot of internalized pressure to compete and place well. So having something physical that resulted in less anxiety was important for her. It allowed her to return to CrossFit with a different perspective, and it gave her the opportunity to enjoy sports again.
Training For a Half-Marathon Increases Faith In Self
Training for a half-marathon allowed Brianne to trust that her body was capable of hard things again. It also showed her that she could have more faith in herself again. When Brianne decided to run a half-marathon, she says she had known for a long time that it was something she had wanted to do. But she pushed it off and focused on CrossFit for a long time.
Taking a break from CrossFit forced Brianne to figure out who she was outside of the sport that had become a big part of who she was. She says she had some intuition that she needed a break, but ignored the small voice until it became a scream.
I’ve learned over the years that the more that you ignore your intuition, the harder it is to hear it at all. All of a sudden, you just realize you’re uncomfortable and you don’t know why. Once you shift back into listening to your own instincts, it becomes easier to hear that intuitive voice.
Listening to that little voice that told her that she wanted to, and could, run a half-marathon showed Brianne that the little voice was important. It gave her just one more reason to trust her intuition and instincts, and to trust herself.
For me, I think this is the greatest unexpected benefit of training for and running a half-marathon, or any distance, that I have found. Learning to listen to my own intuition and trust my own instincts has been a huge game changer for my life outside of running. And more often than not, I can hear that little voice a whole lot louder when I’m out of breath and too busy focusing on not dying mid-run to doubt myself.
It May Make You Want to Run Another
When Brianne decided to tackle the goal of running a half-marathon, she told me it was a “bucket list” item. She was pretty confident that it would be a one and done thing. During the half-marathon, once she could finally see the finish line ahead of her, she was surprised that she felt emotional.
She shared that she felt really proud of herself for finally accomplishing this thing that had initially seemed impossible. And while she was in physical pain, that feeling of accomplishment stuck with her. She found herself searching for other half-marathons, and when we met up recently she told me she does think she’ll do it again.
Ten years ago, I just wanted to run a half-marathon faster than my mom. My first half nearly killed me, and I finished a few minutes behind her. I accomplished my initial goal two months later. That was supposed to be the end of it. Here we are ten years later. I’ve experienced all of the same unanticipated benefits of running a half-marathon that Brianne did, several times over.
They’ve kept me coming back race after race. Running half and full marathons has completely changed my life, and very little of that is related to the physical aspects. Endurance racing has made me more confident in myself, it’s made me healthier mentally, and it’s connected me to some of my best friends.
If you’re considering a half or full marathon in 2020, I hope some of these benefits will help motivate you to take the leap. If you’d like the support, encouragement, and guidance of a running coach, please reach out to me.