Training for a half marathon is hard, but It’s also extremely rewarding.
There will be days you question why you chose to embark on this journey. But if you’re doing it right, there will be more days when, stumbling up your front steps early morning post run, you can’t imagine your life without it. 13.1 miles requires both speed and endurance- you’re going to need a strong mind and a willingness to recognize and embrace weaknesses, working to turn them into strengths. Above all, training for a half can and should be fun, personalized, and safe. Remember, this isn’t just about running a lot of miles.
Over the course of the typical 14 week program, you will learn to focus on speed, endurance, progression, recovery, and becoming the best overall athlete you can be.
Often Overlooked: Injury Prevention
You will need to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to protect yourself from injury. Whether you are an experienced ultra-marathon runner looking to run a little quicker, a seasoned track athlete looking to build your endurance, or a new runner all together, this is going to be a major consideration and concern when training ramps up or changes in any way.
Here are some ways I recommend getting started and keeping injury at bay:
Map out a consistent training plan with a goal in mind Good news: there are plenty of online resources for this- If you find you’re still having trouble, find a coach to answer any questions you might have about adjusting it to your fitness and ability.
Consistency will provide you with an adequate base and keep you from accidentally overdoing mileage or effort and put your body at risk for injury. This plan will have days for speed, endurance, and recovery. Quality running shoes- most running stores will offer good advice here. In most cases, a trained associate will analyze the way that you run (your gait), and assess which running shoe(s) will best correct any problems you may have. This process is usually completely free!
Another important consideration when embarking on a training plan is the age of your shoes. I usually recommend replacing shoes after 300-400 miles (average), especially when the training period is especially intense. However- and this is important- all runners are different. Listen to your body- if your legs are starting to feel sore at 250 miles in a shoe, consider switching out early. Some of us are just more injury-prone than others. Some can run upwards of 400 miles in one pair of shoes, no problem. It’s helpful to buy more than one pair of shoes at once and switch off- this will stop them from breaking down as quickly. This can seem expensive, but should be considered an investment.
Strengthening and stretching. There are little things we can do to supplement runs that will improve our overall ability to fight injury and make our bodies more efficient. Strides, stretching, and plyometrics- “playos”- all focus on strengthening our bodies and improving our running form in ways that just running cannot.
Finally- Figure out a way to keep track of your mileage and how you feel each run. In the past, I’ve liked to write the date I purchased my shoes on the side so that I know when I got them and can figure out how many miles I’ve run since then by comparing them to my log. Logging runs allows me to know where I stand mileage-wise, but also helps me pinpoint activities that may be impacting training negatively that I might not otherwise notice ( Ex: On August 5th, September 3rd, and September 6th I wrote down that I ate fish and also wrote down that I felt terrible on my runs. Conclusion: I may be slightly allergic to fish and shouldn’t eat it before runs). This is the best way to figure out what is working for you and what isn’t, to find inconsistencies and areas of training that need improvement, and to recognize any patterns like the one mentioned in my example.
This is a category you are going to become very familiar with- Developing good eating habits outside of, in, and around your runs is going to be crucial to your success. I recommend doing a little research on your own about establishing the proper ratio of protein, carbohydrates, and fats in your daily diet. Consult a nutritionist or coach if needed, and check for any deficiencies you may have with your doctor. Invest in a good multivitamin to round your diet out!
Practice in-run nutrition. You should know when and what you will eat during the race come race day to fuel 13.1 miles. This is highly individual and will probably take trial and error. There are so many options out there- Experiment!
Keep in mind that on very hot days when you sweat a lot, you’ll want to replace your lost electrolytes with a sports drink like Gatorade, coconut water, or pineapple juice over just water.
Special consideration for long distance athletes, especially female or vegetarian long distance athletes: Stay on top of your iron levels (Ask your doctor to check your stored iron, called Ferritin). Runners are at a high risk for low iron and this comes with symptoms including “burn out” and fatigue. It can stop training in its tracks.
Train With Friends!
Having friends or a coach to train with will eep you grounded in your effort when you’re feeling good or push you when you’re feeling tired. Training partners provide motivation and accountability. This consistency will keep you at the top of your game and ensure you’re feeling fit, ready, and recovered when the time comes to take on your first half marathon!
Extra Reading: My Experience
When I was training for my first half, I realized I was seriously hurt more than a few weeks in. It was extremely disappointing to find myself unable to run after all the work I had put in in preparation for my race, but I knew running on an injury wasn’t a good idea.
After a long talk with my coach, I was able to accept what I couldn’t change and make an important decision. I could give up and chalk my training up to experience and try again someday or I could put in work cross training with no-impact activities and prepare the best I could. I chose the latter.
I spent the next few months working hard, taking care to nurse myself back to health. I knew that my nutrition, mentality, focus, and consistency, had to be better executed than ever before.
I had to work to inspire myself. I was in the pool every morning (even in the dead of winter when my wet hair would often freeze on the walk back), practice every afternoon, and strength training most evenings. Though I always consulted my coach, I knew I was the only person who could make that race happen.
And I did. I was on that line race day, knowing that I had done everything in my power to run the best I could.
Was it my best race? No.
Was it one of the races I am most proud of in my career? You bet.
To this day, the habits that I established during that training period stay with me, and I am a better athlete for it. I even continue to incorporate cross training into my weekly routine.
Remember: A setback can be an opportunity in disguise.
Above Photo Courtesy of Zach Hetrick