Training for a half marathon is an awesome way to get motivated and set a plan for success – you have an ultimate goal, train for months to work to that goal, and when you accomplish it you get a medal. What more could you want?!? Last weekend I ran the Disneyland 5k and Half Marathon and it was a blast. This half marathon was particularly rewarding as it was in the planning for over a year and a half. Let me explain.

Some of you might recall last year’s stress fracture incident – hello six months of pool workouts! Last year I was just three weeks out from the Disneyland Half Marathon and was running farther (and faster) than I ever had before. Then it happened. I came down off of a pull-up bar in tears with shooting pain in my legs. A visit to the doctor confirmed my worst fears – multiple stress fractures in both legs. I was out from not only the half marathon, but from all working out with the exception of swimming laps (sans pushing off the wall). Yes, there were tears. There is nothing worse than putting in months of training and seeing progress only to be benched right before the main event.

One thing I learned from this experience is the importance of training smart. When I initially trained last year, I was following a generic training plan in an effort to improve my half marathon time. It was a training plan developed by a large fitness corporation – it seemed legit (let’s just put it this way . . . I just did it – meaning breaking my bones not running quicker). Little did I know that the increase in mileage throughout the pre-charted plan was actually hurting my body as opposed to helping me train.

Needless to say, this time I dedicated myself to training much differently. I ran less distance each week, didn’t worry about my pacing, and ran one heck of a race.

So what’s the trick? I’ll break it down for you in three little nuggets:

Know Your Limits.

News alert – I am not an Olympic runner. Shocking, I know. When choosing a training program, be sure to select one that does not increase your mileage quickly, especially if you are just a “casual” runner who runs 2-3 shorter runs a week (I’m talking under 5 miles). If you are a casual runner, your plan should not increase more than 10% total mileage each week to be safe. Look for a training plan that incorporates rest days and spaces out your runs. Another thing to look for – the weeks you incorporate a longer run into your training (weeks where you have a long run scheduled – generally these occur on a weekend), should be followed by a shorter run the next week. If you are not an Olympic runner or triathlete, there is no need to run 40+ miles a week to train for a half marathon. My training plan from last year was a big violation of this rule. I was running over 40 miles every week for nearly four months – no wonder I got injured! In the words of a friend who runs ultra marathons – “it is better to be a bit undertrained than overtrained . . . that is when you can really get hurt.”

Listen to Your Body.

One thing many of us are not good at is listening to our body. So often we are taught to “push through the pain” or told that “it’s all in your mind.” This is what I was thinking when I started experiencing pain while training last year. I thought it was my shoes at first. After investing in insoles and new shoes, the pain subsided for a bit and then came back with a vengeance. Others (runners, not doctors) diagnosed me as having shin splints. “Sure,” I thought, “that could explain it, but this really hurts.” I ignored my body and ran 40+ miles a week for another three months before visiting a doctor for a proper diagnosis – the result, more damage that I could have ever imagined. Take a word from the wise. If your body starts to hurt more than usual, take a few days off to see if the pain subsides. If it doesn’t, get a professional opinion about what might be occurring – not an opinion from a fellow runner or the “shoe expert” at your local running store. Had I done this, it might have been early enough to prevent my six month sentence to the pool. Lesson learned.

Be Smart.

Finally, be smart about your training. If you are trying to maintain another fitness regimen while training for a half marathon, you might need to modify your training plan. Last year I was not only running the full 40+ miles a week for my running training plan, but I was also crossfitting at least four days a week. The consistent pounding on my legs from running, jumping rope, box jumps, and olympic lifting was simply too much for my body to take. Be smart about your training plan and be willing to modify it to fit your health and fitness schedule. If you like to do other activities, other than running, account for that and be sure to decrease your running load. Also, if you are trying to balance two high impact sports – like running and Crossfit – don’t be afraid to modify the programming by cutting out some elements like box jumps, jumping rope, etc. Your body will thank you for it. This time around I found that a great fitness regimen to partner with running is yoga – there is no better way to recover from a long run and stay limber enough to prevent injury.

Moral of the story? Train smart, listen to your inner voice, and don’t push too far. It may have taken a year and a half to train, but they are two medals I genuinely earned.