How to Train for your First Long Race

I remember so clearly the first runner’s high I ever had. Coincidentally, it was the day that I made my decision to attend the University of San Diego as a high school senior while I was training for my first triathlon. For me, running had always been a necessary evil or form of punishment – 400 repeats or dozens of line drills at basketball practice was never met with a smile on my face. But that day that I ran over six miles in a row for the first time, I couldn’t feel my feet as it seemed as if I was gliding my last mile home. That’s where the addiction began – and since then I’ve been forever chasing that floating sensation where I feel my mind running right through the barriers I have placed in my mind. Over the last four years, I’ve completed a couple triathlons, dozens of 5ks and 10ks, seven half marathons, and one full marathon. While I do not at all consider myself an expert and still have so much to learn, through both my own successes and failures I have compiled quite a list of tips when it comes to training for any length of race.


  • Switch it up!

Especially when starting out, it can be tricky to know how much or little to run. For my first half marathon, I ran four days a week but through trial and error (namely, too many injuries), I have found that three days a week is more than enough for my body. The best way to keep my body strong all around is to switch up both my running and cross training workouts. For any race, I typically do one speed or tempo workout per week, one easy run, and one long run. This helps to not get bored with just pounding out similarly paced miles, and instead look forward to both my fast and slow days. For cross training, I love trying new things. Working at a spin studio means that cycling is a bit overrepresented, but yoga, Barre, and light weight lifting have all made their appearances in different training cycles. I’ve had the most success when I treat my cross training days as easier in order to focus on my runs.

  • Set small goals along the way

After taking the leap and signing up for that race you’ve been thinking about doing, it can seem incredibly daunting at to jump into training. When I was training for my first half marathon, when I was scheduled to do my first eight mile run I did my best to focus my mindset towards the sole accomplishment of running eight miles, as opposed to thinking about the additional five I would need to run on race day. Celebrating all of my milestones leading up to race day helped to keep me from feeling overwhelmed, as well as allowed me to constantly acknowledge how much progress I had made from where I was when I first signed up.

  • Practice your race day

Knowing exactly what to expect on race day is a fool’s errand, but going through your planned routine for the morning of in the weeks leading up is invaluable. Before I ran the LA marathon, for two months of long runs I got up early on the weekend mornings, ate the same breakfast, stretched and let my food settle, and headed out for my long run. Going through this schedule every week helped ease my mind of thinking of all that could go wrong on race day morning – as I felt sure that my body would know what to expect.

  • Stick to your plan (but with flexibility)

Especially when first starting out, I lived and breathed by my training schedules. Not only did I feel physically prepared, but being able to stick with a set plan and complete all of the runs laid out mentally gave me the confidence that I would be able to finish my first half marathon. However, life will always get in the way (I’m sure no one needs reminding of this). In hindsight, I wish I had been a bit more flexible with my runs during my marathon training cycle, there are some opportunities that is worth missing a 17 mile run. Now that I have the confidence that I know how prepared I need to be to run a race, I rarely follow any training plan to a T but I do my best to follow the 10% rule: to add no more than 10% more mileage per week. This is another trick I found out (the hard way) to prevent injury by jumping in too fast.

  • Use your runs as an opportunity to explore your city

I would say a solid 80% of the trails and beautiful nooks and crannies I have found in San Diego have been on my exploration runs and bike rides. Running past a view of the ocean is so much more pure than whizzing by in a car – no matter how many times I run down to the Pacific Beach Pier I can never stop myself from running to the end and stopping for a second to take it all in. The ability to move is priceless – every time I let the beauty of my city sink in I am reminded of that. One of my favorite qualities of running is that you can do it absolutely anywhere – so when I travel I always have my running shoes ready to go. By foot is my preferred form of transportation, and favorite way to explore new cities as well.

  • Be proud of the fact that you made it to the start line

Probably my biggest regret in my marathon training cycle was having a time goal I was determined to break. Because of this, I overtrained and hardly made it to the start line. No matter how long it takes to get to the finish or even if you don’t make it at all, having the mental strength to schedule training for a race into a busy life is an accomplishment in it of itself. I have found that so many of my fondest running memories are not from races but the training itself. Those moments where I realize that I’m going for seven mile runs at a pace that I previously couldn’t hold for two miles, or when I wake up itching to move my legs are what continue to hold the most special place in my heart for the sport of running.


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