So, you’ve run a 5K—maybe even a 10K—and now you’re ready for something more challenging like a half marathon. Good for you! The half marathon is a great distance. It’s long enough to feel challenged, but not so long that training for it completely consumes your life. Below are a few good training tips for your first half marathon.
- Build a base.
One mistake new runners often make when preparing for a half marathon is thinking that the 12- or 14-week plan takes you from the couch to the finish line. All half marathon training plans that range in length from 10, 14 or 16 weeks assume that you’ve already built a weekly mileage base of at least 15 to 20 miles. Your longest run should also be at least 5 miles.
Anything less than this weekly mileage or longest run mileage will overwhelm your body’s ability to acclimate. If you have a solid base under your feet, then when you start your training, you’ll only be acclimating to the demands of the half marathon training workouts.
- Pick a plan.
Twelve weeks is a common length of many half marathon training plans, but a quick Google search will bring up plans that range from 10 to 16 weeks. I prefer to use a longer plan (14 weeks) with my runners. The extra weeks allow for a little wiggle room if a runner gets sick or has slight setback or injury.
If this is your first half marathon, I strongly recommend a plan longer than 10 weeks. This will give you more time to acclimate to the training demands.
Doing non-running but aerobic cross-training as well as light resistance training on your off running days is a great way to optimize your running fitness. Cycling, swimming, using the elliptical machine or row machine are all great forms of cross-training. Light resistance training particularly targeting the core and upper body will greatly help you maintain good running form longer during your runs, helping to fight off fatigue.
- Find a training group.
Whether you’re paying for a coach who is leading a group training program or you just round up your running buddies, training in a group can make all the difference in the world in how successful you are with your training. When you know you’ll be missed, you tend to be more accountable for your workouts.
On those early morning long runs, you’re much more likely to roll out of bed when you know the gang is waiting for you. Also, having a buddy’s encouraging word or just a pat on the shoulder during a tough run, can really make a difference in pulling through and fighting off fatigue.
- Research the race.
Find out what sports drink will be provided at the race. If possible, train using the same sports drink, or plan ahead how you’ll use your own.
Check out the elevation map (usually provided on the race website). Pinpoint where the hills (if any) are located. Just because a race is in a flat area of the country doesn’t mean it will have a flat course. Many races will incorporate the rolling hills of local parks and/or cross over high-rise bridges or ramps to and from overpasses or underpasses.
Rest is just as important as a run workout. Your body needs time to rebuild and repair. Skipping rest days will tax your body’s ability to recover and make you more prone to injury. Be sure to take your scheduled rest days, but also listen to your body.
If you’re feeling worn down, have no energy, feel sore, tired, lethargic and or unmotivated, check your resting heart rate before getting out of bed. If it’s just a few beats higher than normal (and you don’t have a cold or some other type of infection) you more than likely are overtraining and need a rest day.