A lot of people who have run a couple 5ks and maybe a 10k or two tell me that they have an itch to run their first half marathon, but feel intimidated by the training involved, or don’t know how to get started.
As someone who is currently training for my 10th half, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from lots and lots of training mistakes, and also gain pieces of wisdom from more seasoned runners along the way.
I’ve included some of my best advice below and hope it can help you complete your goal of crossing that finish line with a smile on your face!
Pick a plan.
As with accomplishing any goal, it’s important to figure out a roadmap for how you’ll reach that thing you want so badly. “Just running” each day until your half marathon will not cut it. Having a plan and sticking to it as best as you can will give you a well-rounded training program to help you best prepare for race day.
Increase your mileage slowly.
One of the surest ways to injure yourself and put the kibosh on your training plan is to start out running way too much at the beginning of your training plan. If you’ve never run more than 3 miles at a time, don’t pick a plan that has you running 6-milers during Week 1. Take your time increasing your weekly mileage, and don’t increase it more than about 10% each week.
Vary your runs.
If you’ve selected a good plan, it’ll likely include tempo runs, hill repeats, long runs, and lots of other fun running variations. Again, “just running” everyday will not make you a better runner. But running up hills once a week, doing speedwork at the track another day, and making sure you complete that weekend long run each week will help you become faster and better able to manage longer distances. Just because you can run 5 miles each day, you shouldn’t necessarily do it. Somedays 3 miles at the track working on speed is much more effective for training than a slower, steady 6-miler.
Cross-train. Cross-train. Cross-train. Lift weights. Do squats and lunges. Strengthen your core. I attribute some of my best half marathons to an increase in resistance training and HIIT workouts sprinkled into my running schedule. I like to throw these things in twice, or if I’m lucky, even three times, each week to round out my training.
Train with a friend.
Hold yourself accountable to waking up for those 6am training runs by training with a friend or joining a half marathon training group. If you’re at all competitive, this is a great motivator, and if you’re on the more chill end of the spectrum, the post-long run brunches will be even more enjoyable with a buddy at your table.
Take rest days.
Half marathon training is taxing on the body. Your body NEEDS to rest on a weekly basis to make sure it can adequately recharge for another week of intense workouts. I know it at first seem challenging to sit back and not run or hit the gym for the day or two, but taking time to rest your legs, do some light yoga, or foam roll will greatly benefit your body on the days you do run.
Experiment with fuel and nutrition.
The last thing you want is to suck into a packet of Gu at mile 10 of your half marathon and immediately throw your stomach into an “I’m going to throw up now, you crazy fool” tizzy. Practice taking mid-run nutrition – like electrolytes and gels, and try to create some consistency around what you eat and drink the night before and the morning before a long run. I always make sure to have lots of water the days before a long run, as well as the morning of. Before a long run I always have a cup of coffee, big banana, and a healthy amount of almond butter. It works for me, but might not work for you, so try things out then stick with what seems to produce good results. Maybe it’s a slice of gluten-free toast, maybe it’s a fruit bowl and half a bagel. And don’t eat anything new or crazy 24 hours before race day. Stick with what your body knows and enjoys.
Study the course.
Are you running a flat course, or one filled with rolling hills? Are you running on a dirt trail, or city streets? What will the temperature be like at that time of year in that area? Study the course early so that you can train accordingly, then make sure you know where hydration and electrolyte stations are before you start your half marathon.
Duh! You paid to run this thing and you will have worked really hard to get your body conditioned to run 13.1 miles. Remember, some races are better than others in terms of results, but you can always enjoy yourself and be content with all you’ve dedicated over the past few months. Smile for the on-course cameras, take in the scenery of where you’re running, feel good that you’ll soon be able to cross a finish line after running 13.1 miles – a very long distance!