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Pilk’s Points: 13.1 Reflections from my Favorite Distance

Caitlyn Pilkington shares some half marathon thoughts as she prepares to graduate to 26.2.

Caitlyn Pilkington shares some half marathon thoughts as she prepares to graduate to 26.2.

I completed my 19th half marathon on Sunday and finally landed on the podium after a handful of close calls in my age group. The race was great, the day was perfect and my legs felt awesome. Everything seemed to fall into place…but that isn’t always the case come race day.

I’ve been reading up a lot on things to “caution” when training and running your first 26.2—something I will take on in January. In a way, 26.2 almost seems like the golden distance—the race that give every runner that half-psyched, half-crazy glimmer in their eye. Crazy stuff goes down upstairs during that journey, and people become these champions of the sport once they cross that finish line for the first time. It’s totally doable by anyone—the highlights go on and on.

But what about the marathon’s more popular half-sister? There are definitely some things to be said about the 13.1-mile alternative, especially after running 19 of them. So as I graduate from 13.1 and move on to master 26.2, I leave you with these things that I’ve learned from others and from myself:

1. The sweet spot is mile 10. Once my arch nemesis, this mile marker has become a sacred place to tap into 5K speed, zone in on those runners in front of you and know you’re almost done.

2. Contrary to popular belief, training cannot be faked. If you’re blessed with good genes and great endurance, one can pretty much meander through a half marathon (not recommended). However, in order to execute on a PR, the half takes its own careful mix of speed work, long runs and patience mixed with urgency.

2. Hills can play in your favor. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed at 90 percent of my races, it’s that a lot of people train solely for the distance, but when those same people graduate to the full, only then do they consider the elevation charts. If you incorporate a handful of hills with a handful of your longer runs, your legs will surprise you on race day when everyone else is trudging through the inclines.

RELATED: Returning To Training After A Big Race

3. Patience is still a virtue. Even with 13.1 fewer miles, patience is definitely important when running any distance.

4. Please…do not wear new shoes. I had a friend who tried this, saying that the half was only a training run for the full. It ended in a blistery, sore mess. Please—do not take a brand new pair out of the box at the starting line.

5. Nutrition still rocks. I used during-the-run nutrition for the first time during my last half marathon. It didn’t jolt me to some crazy new PR, but it kept my legs fresh the entire time and minimized soreness and fatigue (didn’t totally delete it) the next morning.

6. Trying to run negative 10K splits is actually kind of fun. Any it’s good practice for that last 10K of the full marathon, where I will undoubtedly reach some dark places I’ve never been. Which leads me to…

7. The half is definitely a mental challenge. In fact, running in general is a mental challenge. I often hear about that dreaded 10K wall during the full; walls are just as present in the half, and there are still ways to prepare for those during your training. (Yes, another reason not to skimp on that part—you never know what demons may pop up mid-race! Always be prepared.)

8. Pandora lasts just long enough for a half marathon. If you come in with a fully charged phone, good ol’ Pandora has enough power to keep your tunes alive until the finish line.

9. Foam rolling is such a sweet release. We’ll call the half marathon a gateway race to being a full-blown rolling addict. I’ve rolled it out after 1-mile runs, 5Ks, 10Ks, triathlons and half marathons, and still, to this day, it feels sweetest after 13.1. (I’m sure that will change come January.)

RELATED: 3 Foam Rolling Techniques

10. Cities are saturated with half marathons. I was talking running with a friend once who was looking for a race to do in some random city. I did a quick Google search and found not one, but FOUR, half marathons happening in the same week within 25 miles of each other. Choices are aplenty, runners!

11. Finishing your first half is its own special accomplishment. There are two races in particular where I snapped out of my tunnel vision long enough to witness euphoric happiness all around me. People were screaming and crying and hugging each other because they had just completed something that six months ago seemed impossible. I often forgot about that side of racing.

12. Sore is sore. Don’t think opting for a half over a full frees you of post-run soreness. After my first race in 2008, I couldn’t walk for two days.

13. (err, 13.1.) Half marathons are so freaking fun. Period.

What did you learn from your first, sixth, 12th or 100th half marathon? Tweet me @caitpilk!