Top tips for your first half marathon...
Perhaps it’s something you have always wanted to do. Maybe a friend or colleague has persuaded you to. Whatever the reason for running your first half marathon, if you haven’t already started, it’s time to start thinking about your training. A quick internet search will bring up more advice and ideas on half marathon training than you could possibly ever read, so how do you know where to begin? Here are 5 top things to think about to get you to the start line fit, healthy and ready to run!
Start from where you are
Presumably, if you have decided to run a half marathon, you have done some running already. In an ideal world, you’d be running around 15 to 20 miles a week, and be able to run about 6 miles in one go. If that’s you, great! You’ll probably be able to pick an online training plan and build up from there. If you don’t yet run that far in a week, or that long within one run, don’t panic! Work out what you currently do and use that as your starting point. The longest you’ve run is 4 miles? Then build it up gradually to 4.5 miles, 5 and so on. Keeping your increase to around 10% per week and no more will help reduce your risk of injury.
Build up the miles
For your first half marathon, you’re going to run a PB as long as you get to the finish line; it’s guaranteed. Crossing that line needs to be your goal, rather than aiming for a specific time. What will help you get there, and in as good a state as possible, is miles in well-conditioned legs. At this stage in your running career, running more easy miles will be better for your legs than lots of speed work, so bear that in mind when choosing a plan. If you’re able to run three times a week, opt for a plan that has a long run, a shorter easy run and maybe one at a slightly faster pace. With four runs a week you could add an additional easy run. Save the hard-core speed-work for your second half marathon, when you’ll certainly be aiming for a PB!
Don’t just run!
Running 13.1 miles is an awful lot harder on your body than running a 10K, and training to do so will impact your body more than you have experienced before. Keeping yourself injury-free (and therefore able to train) will be a priority for you. Plan some time into your weeks to work on keeping your body fit and strong. Keep your body moving well and prevent muscle tightness, adding some yoga, Pilates or stretching into your routine. To strengthen the muscles you use when running, build simple exercises such as standing on one leg, squats and lunges into your week. If you want to give your overall fitness a boost without adding in more high-impact running, activities such as cycling, swimming and even walking will all help.
R & R
It’s exciting to be training for your first half; it’s also very easy to get carried away and overdo it. But remember – it’s not the training itself that will make you fitter and stronger. Training damages your body – it breaks it down. It’s when your body is at rest that it repairs itself. If you don’t rest, your body has no chance to come back stronger. So look after yourself. Resist the temptation to train every day and give yourself at least one day off every week; f you are older, you may need more. Listen to your body; if it tells you that it’s tired and hurting, give yourself an extra day. Sleep well and eat well too, and you’ll set yourself up nicely for some injury- and illness-free training .
Know what you’re training for
Not all half marathons are equal – in fact they are far from equal, so spend some time familiarising yourself with what you are training for. If you’re local, great! You can go out and run some of the course and see what it’s like. If you’re not, then the internet is your friend. Use the race website, Google, Strava and whatever else you can find to learn about the course. Is it flat or hilly? Is it a couple of loops or just one? What is the surface underfoot? Use what you find out to make your training as specific as you can. If it’s a flat course, like Newark, get used to running a long way on the flat. Does that course have a long straight road that would be really tough if there was a headwind? Then go and run along a long, straight road into a headwind so you’ll have no surprises on the big day. If there’s a hill partway round, practise running up and over a similar one. Work out what effort level gets you up and over the other side without having to stop or walk. The more you find out and the more you practise, the easier it will be on the day!
When you step up to the startline ready to run your first half, you’re going to feel excited and nervous in equal measure. With careful preparation and training, you’ll also have the confidence and knowledge to know that you are fit and ready for those 13.1 miles, and that can only mean more free headspace for enjoying every minute!
Rachel Sheldrake FRA/UKA Coach in Running Fitness