Q&A: How Can I Know I'll Have Enough Stamina to Run 13.1 Miles?

by Jodi

Racing season is warming up.  Sole Sisters across the country have been training hard and are getting close to race day.  The deeper into race season we get, the more frequently we get questions from our readers and friends.  

You girls have GOOD questions!  They're so good we wanted to share them with everyone by doing an occasional Q&A blog post.  We are not EXPERTS or medical professionals.  But we are happy to pull from our collective running experiences and share with you the good and the bad.  Feel free to send your questions to solesistersrunning@gmail.com.

Today's question is from my friend Tina.  We've been friends for more than ten years and had the privilege of living close to each other when we were in the thick of raising babies.  She is a loyal friend, loving mom, adoring wife, and INCREDIBLY talented in gardening.  She can make anything grow and transform an ugly patch of dirt into a beautiful place of refuge.  She is training to run her first half marathon in early June.  It's on her bucket list and I'm so proud of her!

Eight years ago, Tina and I had our daughters dedicated at church together. 
Tina with her family

My "answer" is a hodge podge of everything that came to my mind as I reflected back to my earlier days of running and training for races.

Q:  I'm running my first half marathon on June 2nd.  I'm at the point in my training where I've completed a 5k race with a PR.  Today I ran six miles.  I'm following Hal Higdon's Novice Half Marathon training schedule.   I'm working out once a week with a personal trainer and focusing on strength training.  My mile times are getting better.  I'm making progress.  But I'm scared about the half marathon.  13.1 miles seems daunting.  As of right now, I don't feel strong enough to do it, like I won't have the stamina.  Will you pray for me?  And do you have any insight or encouragement?  -Tina

A:  Hi Tina.  I'm really proud of you for tackling such a daunting task.  Running a half marathon is a life-time achievement and one you will remember fondly and with satisfaction for the rest of your life.  You can do it!

I think it's a great idea to do strength training, especially core work.   I hate research, but a quick Google search confirms that core strength is essential to being a stronger, faster runner.   Your personal trainer will know how to adjust your strength training regiment to adequately prepare your body to cover the distance on race day.

You are right to feel that 13.1 miles is daunting.  It is.  That's why it feels so great when you cross the finish line.  Let's take a minute to focus on what is true right now.  Based on what you told me, you know these things:
  1. You can race a 5k.
  2. Your pace is improving.
  3. You adequately ran six miles.
  4. Your strength training is making you stronger.  (Imagine that!)
  5. By the end of next week, you'll KNOW you can run seven.
Finishing the course is literally believing in yourself and your body that you CAN take another step.  That you CAN put one foot in front of the other until the finish line comes in sight.

When you get exhausted on the course (and you will), take any self-defeating thoughts captive, turn your anxiety to prayer, and fill your mind with truth

Quote Scripture.  Which means you have to memorize it to have it in your brain.  The Bible is full of beautiful passage about endurance, perseverance, and running.  Memorize them and recite them while you run, especially when you are tired.  One of my new favorites is James chapter 1.  The first seven versers are all about embracing suffering and trials because they develop perseverance and perseverance is a tool God uses to bring about maturity.  GOOD STUFF to meditate on.

Make sure you're fueling your body with good foods and proper nutrition before, during, and after your long runs.
  • BEFORE:  Your dinner and breakfast the night before should be packed with healthy and sustaining foods.  I often eat a loaded bowl for dinner (rice, chicken, beans, and veggies) and steel cut oats with nuts and fruit for breakfast before I head out on a long run.  
  • DURING:  Always bring water on any run longer than thirty minutes. Hydrate throughout your run alternating between water and electrolytes.   Any time you're running longer than 45 minutes you should bring some sort of food/fuel with you. (I've used primarily Gu packs, but have played around with raisins/Craisins.)  Refuel every forty-five minutes while you're running.
  • AFTER:  Drink water and eat some sort of recovery food.  Many runners drink chocolate milk and eat a banana after a long run.  I prefer a smoothie with protein powder.  The key is to refresh your body with hydration and protein so it can begin the recovery process.
Ask your friend and family to show up on race day.  Have them on the course cheering for you.  If the race allows, ask them to run a mile or two with you.  Their presence and support will give more energy and love than you can imagine.

Embrace the race experience and the journey to race day.  You are training your body to cover the distance.  You will show up on race morning equipped and strong.

On race day, don't go out too fast.  It's really tempting to use the race day adrenaline and run too fast for the first few miles.  This will burn up a bunch of energy early in the race.  You don't want this.  Tell yourself SLOW, and then run SLOW.  If you can dole out your energy consistently over the 13.1 miles, your race experience will feel so much better than if you burn out by mile eight and have to struggle through the last five miles.  (Trust me on this one.  It seems to be my new and ugly pattern).

Another tip I have for first time half marathoners is to walk through the water stations.  It gives your muscles a quick chance to recover and helps you to not slop the drink everywhere except your mouth.  Carissa disagrees with me on this point.  She feels the run/walk variance throws off her cadence.  The other issue with walking through the aid stations is that it adds to the congestion.  I did a quick internet search and realized there is a lot of chatter about this topic.  This post suggests a great compromise: get your drink from the back end of the water station, pull over to the side, and walk on the edge of the course until you're ready to run again.  I like that idea. 

Your brain is a powerful tool.  Use it to for your advantage.  When you get tired and your body wants to slow down or quit running and walk, tell yourself "I run this body," and keep running.  I also frequently quote, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength" when I'm too depleted to think of anything else.

You are going to conquer this distance Tina.  I just know it.  I wish I could be there on race day and cheer you through it.  I sure do love running through life together with you, even across the miles.

Okay Sole Sisters.  What did I miss?


  1. Fantastic post Jodi! I am two weeks away from my second half. Training has been going really well and if you had asked me a week ago I would have said "I am going to kill it out there" ...but this last week I have had some twinges of pain and lots of self doubt (this is my highest mileage week so it is to be expected and I know this...) But, it is amazing how the mind can take over and you start to doubt your abilities and your training. So I have been doing my best to fight fire with fire. Every morning when I get up to run I tell myself I CAN DO THIS (I refuse to let my head get in my way). I listen to worship music when I run. It is THE BEST motivator for me. It keeps me going when I want to quit! Thanks for the encouraging post. It always helps to know I am not alone! The fuel and hydration tips were really great too!

    1. That is really awesome Amy. I know you're going to do great. I listen to worship music when I run too. It's so soothing. Please let us know how your race goes. Your mind is a powerful muscle - use it wisely!

    2. Man... if I could just put a ditto to Amy's post that is exactly where I am at. So tired! I know I can do this, I already have but the mind can really get in the way!!

    3. Sky you've got this! Tired means you're putting in the time and effort to be well equipped on race day. Enjoy the journey Sista!