Cait Costello has been on the fast, yet methodical, track to running her first half marathon this week. Her trek on the way to the Governor’s Cup Road Race on Saturday, Nov. 8, is a textbook case of how to work your way up to the distance.
Her only misstep came at the beginning. A former distance cyclist, Costello started, and quickly stopped, running a couple of times in recent years. Each time, painful shin splints shut her down.
“Finally, I went to Fleet Feet and they watched me run and fitted me for real running shoes,” she said.
The shin splints were gone, and Costello now recommends anyone considering distance training make a stop first at a store that specializes in running gear.
Next was building up her stamina. Even though she had managed back-to-back 75-mile days on her bike in the MS 150 while in high school in Pennsylvania, she hadn’t been riding seriously since 2005. “Trust me, the leg strength definitely fell off,” she said.
She started by following a Couch to 5K program she found online that stresses not doing too much, too fast. When she felt she could keep up with other runners, she started looking for local running groups. She found a Monday night group that meets at various restaurants in the area, a Wednesday afternoon group that gathers at Strictly Running and a Saturday morning group.
“I’m more of a night runner,” she said. “The only thing that gets me up is knowing there’s a group I can run with.”
She also does yoga and strength training on her off days. She dropped roller derby from her active life about the time she took up running. “Endurance sports suit me,” she said.
She quickly worked up to the 5K distance, with the goal of running at least one 5K event every month for the past year. She stepped up to the 10K level for the first time in April at the Cooper River Bridge Run, finishing in 1:04. The next step was 12K at the Ray Tanner Home Run in October, with a 10-minute mile pace.
She placed in the 20-24 age group in a couple of her early 5K events, but since turning 25 she has fallen back in the very competitive 25-29 age group pack. She’s not stressed out on being fast. It’s more important to push her personal limits.
The Governor’s Cup half marathon will expand that envelope. She hasn’t even run 13.1 miles in any training session, maxing out at 10.5 miles. She feels she’s ready for Saturday’s race.
“I’ve got some tiered goals,” she said. “The first is to finish. The second is to run the whole distance, not have to walk. And the third is to do it in under 2 1/2 hours.”
John Zemp, who helps train novice half marathon and marathon runners through Strictly Running, said Costello has taken a remarkably cautious path to her first. While he offers a 16-week program that goes from hardly running to a half marathon, ideally “the longer you have to train, the better,” Zemp said. “It’s always better to do it prudently so you don’t hurt yourself.”
Zemp, who trained by himself before his first half marathon, recognizes that most people find it easier to work through the training barriers with others going through the same trials. “But eventually, we all have to fight our own demons,” he said.
One of the most important parts of his training program is taking runners on portions of the actual race course. He pushes them through the worst hills and on to the finish line. Then they have some idea what to expect on race day.
“It’s a really cool job helping people with their journey,” Zemp said.
Like many new distance runners, Costello’s ultimate goal is to run a marathon. And even though she’s trying not to push too fast, she asked her mother, a marathoner herself, if the Philadelphia Marathon next fall is realistic. “I’m thinking, do the Run Hard half in March (in Columbia) and maybe Philly next November,” she said.
If she made it from couch to half marathon in a little over a year, why not on to the marathon a year later?