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Natasha Neal

#TBT to 2011 when I thought running more than five miles was impossible. Fast forward to 2015, when not only was it possible, but incredible–five times to be exact (plus one marathon). So in honor of number six and seven this year, and all of my close friends that are running their first 13.1 (half marathon), I wanted to share these 13 tips.

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So beauties if you too are running your first half marathon in 2015, have no fear. With theses 13 tips not only will this feat be possible, it will be RAD.

1. Run With Purpose

If you only read one of these tips, let it be this one. Deciding to run a half marathon is huge and crossing that finish line will certainly be an even grander accomplishment. However what gets you across the finish line is where the real power lies.

For instance when I ran my first half in 2011 the fear of not being able to cross the finish line literally paralyzed me some days. Again, the furthest I had ever ran was five miles. So once I got to the uncharted territory of miles six and beyond, my training game had to change–not physically but mentally. I decide to run with purpose and dedicated each mile to someone in my life that I wanted something great to happen for. And by not making the race about me it instantly became fulfilling. To mentally surrender my thoughts to the needs of others made crossing the finish line incredibly gratifying. So think about why you want that medal and let that motivate you to run with purpose.

2. Stay On Program

The first step is to select a training program. There are tons of free ones out there and even with half marathon six and seven in the near future I still use the ones on About Running. Ideally a 12-week program is best, but I say just to be safe give yourself 14 weeks, that way if a burnout or injury hits you you won’t feel like you’re crunched for time before race day. Then once you’ve selected a program stick to your scheduled runs like you would your weekly dinner date with your bestie.

3. Run With A Crew Boo

Speaking of your bestie, another factor that help get me through my first half was the power of accountability. That same year a good friend of mine also ran her first half marathon and while we didn’t run the same race or even train together, we did hold each other accountable the entire training process and on our respective race days. Just knowing that she had my back and I had hers made our goal that more achievable. So take it a step further and either recruit a friend to conquer this bucket list item with you or join a running crew like Black Girls Run.

Natasha Neal

4. Get On The Right Foot

Would you buy a new car off the lot and be cool with it having tires from 10 years ago? Nah. Well this is how you have to think of your running shoes. Like cars, there are a lot of models out there, so finding the perfect pair for you is essential. Head to your local running store, have a gait analysis done and then buy not only one, but two pairs of the shoes that are right for you. Yes two. Because just like your body needs to recover from long runs so do your kicks. In fact many studies show that alternating between a couple different pairs of shoes in training can decrease the risk of running-related injuries. This practice helps vary the load your musculoskeletal system undergoes while training so invest now, so you won’t be sorry later. Also after 400-500 miles, you have to rock a new pair. Running in old sneakers is like driving a car with worn out tires–it’s dangerous. Three of my faves are the Nike Zoom Structure 18 Flash (available at Six:02) the Mizuno Wave Rider and the Brooks Adrenaline.

5. Focus On Form (Sorta)

So many running experts will tell you to focus on your form, cadence, gait etc. While I’m down with this school of thought, I also believe that our bodies don’t really need a “Running 101” lesson every time we set out to pound the pavement. In fact if you watch a kid run, I guarantee you they aren’t thinking, “are my abs tight, are my knees lifting with every strike etc.” They are just running. Natural and free.

Find the balance. Spend some time checking in with your form and then just check out and let your mind relax. I promise, your body will follow suit. I discovered this approach to running with ease while reading  Chi Running. So read up on this and then just make it fun and run.

6. Time > Distance/Speed

Another key element I think you should adopt in your first marathon training experience is the goal of “finishing.” A common mistake many new runners (and overachievers) make is trying to set a personal record. Remember this is your first time out the gate, so be gentle on yourself. This balls to the wall approach is honorable and while I do recognize that beast mode in you, I encourage you to truly honor this step.

I believe a safe happy finish is in the cards for you, so focus on time and the speed/distance will come. For instance set out to run 60 minutes as opposed to six miles. Then occasionally check in with your speed. In most cases I’ve found that when I train like this I am running faster than I think. Ultimately it takes the pressure off of this process and allows your body to do what it naturally and comfortably can and wants to do.

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