I’m going to begin by stating this: I am not a runner. I have never enjoyed running, nor was I ever any good at it. I never understood the appeal, and I always scoffed at the idea of people getting pleasure out of pounding the pavement for hours on end. Now, with all that out of the way, I will say this: I recently completed my first half marathon at 6,300 feet above sea level in Jackson Hole, WY, and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
To say that I completed the race “straight off the couch” would be selling myself short—but it’s not too far off. Once I accepted the invite to participate in the Jackson Hole Marathon, I knew I had to begin seriously training, but I was excited. After a couple years of COVID-related monotony, I was thrilled to begin a new challenge.
I trained for roughly three months leading up to the big day. I started out running every couple days with varying goals each time (e.g. three to five miles on flat pavement, one to two miles on soft sand at the beach, or even two to three miles on uphill trails). The key for me was to change up my routine and push my body in different ways throughout the week. At that point, it wasn’t only about hitting my mileage; it was more about training my legs and my lungs to adapt to varied terrain. By the end of my first month or so, I was consistently hitting five to six miles with no trouble at all.
Once I arrived at that benchmark, I set my eyes on the seven- to nine-mile range, and then I discovered the elusive runner’s high. It was unlike anything I’d ever felt. When I collapsed on the grass after my first 10-miler, I was experiencing pure bliss.
My goal before race day was to hit 12 miles on varied terrain. I felt like that would allow me to head to Jackson confident that I could complete the distance no matter what the route threw at me. Seven days before the race, I hit the 12-mile mark on an undulating route that featured several long descents mixed with multiple steep, low-gear ascents. I wanted to give my legs a solid week to fully recover, but I still squeezed in two four-mile beach runs before the race. By the time I departed for Wyoming, I felt like I was at my peak.
Having flown in from sea level the day prior to the race, the altitude was the most taxing part on my body—and the fact that it was below 30 degrees Fahrenheit the morning of the race. But after the sun rose above the glorious Tetons (and I regained feeling in my fingertips), the run itself turned into one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. I finished in just over two hours, and I ran the whole time. The high I felt after crossing the finish line on two feet was indescribable.
Want to take on your own half marathon? Below, I’ve highlighted the gear that got me through the whole thing. While every runner has their own gear preferences (especially when it comes to races), the picks below helped a guy who’d never ran more than three miles get into entry-level “big race” territory at high altitude—that’s saying quite a bit.
Half Marathon Gear: Essential Items for Your First Race
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