How To Run An Awesome First Half Marathon

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Alright so you want to run a half marathon? You’re running for a while now and a friend or yourself planted this crazy idea into your head that the 13.1 miles might be a great goal worth trying to achieve? Great, you landed on the perfect post so make sure you read it to the end.

The advice I give in this article are targeted at runners that are able to already run for 5 to 10k. If you’re still a beginner you might visit the Start Running portal or read one of the following posts to get you started:

How To Start Running: Your First Week
The Way To Your First 5K

So if you have a solid basis and are ready to work towards the half marathon goal, follow these steps to make your first half marathon an awesome experience.

Step #1: Fix the date

This one seems obvious but it is very important. Just wanting to run a half marathon is a dream. By setting a date you make it a goal. It’s a great motivation boost when you can cross that day in your calendar and start planning your training.

There are thousands of events around the world that offer the half marathon distance. So probably the easiest besides asking your running buddies is to do a Google search to find a race nearby. Before you sign up to a race think about what kind of event it should be. There are the big ones with thousands of runners and there are small and intimate events. There are the known city runs and there are trail runs where you can barely see a house on the way. Also the events can be very different in what they offer. Check if there is infrastructure you need like showers, dressing room and catering at the finish line. This is even more important if the race isn’t nearby.

Step #2: Get company

Sure you can sign up, train for the race and go there all by yourself. I’ve done this and believe me it’s so much better if there is someone waiting and cheering for you when you cross the finish line. Also for logistical reasons it might be beneficial. After my third half marathon I ran with my support mobile phone from work in one hand and my car keys in the other. After finishing I needed to walk another mile to my car in cold and windy weather. You don’t wanna do that!

So ask your friends and family if they can to support you on race day. Especially ask the ones that are running as well as they know exactly what your up to. You can even find a pacer that can help you go through the struggles towards the end.

Step #3: Start learning

Running a half marathon is quite different from running a 5k. You will demand much more from your body not only on race day but also in the weeks before when you’re training for the event. In order to have a great race at this distance there’s more to know than just the training runs you should do towards race day. You will train much more than before and things like stretching, core training, nutrition or even mental training are even more important. There are hundreds of books or courses available and many blogs like this one that provide helpful information for free. If you decide to look around on this page (thank you 🙂 I suggest you read those articles:

10 Habits You Should Consider as a Runner
A Beginner’s Guide To Heart Rate Training
10 Secrets That Help You To Prevent Injuries
Nutrition Basic: How You Get Energy
How To Run The Last Mile

Step #4: Get the equipment

Yep you can go shopping 🙂 There’s some stuff that you really should buy and there are other things that are optional. The first thing you should get is at least one pair of running shoes that suit you. In the early stages you should decide if you want to go minimal or with cushioned running shoes. If you already found your perfect running shoes that’s great. Otherwise I suggest you go to a running store nearby to get your feet and stride analyzed.

Another thing that I consider important as your training volume increases is sportswear. I started running in regular clothes but could go on a run with some good activewear that can transport sweat to the outside, is lightweight and feels comfy. You can find more on this topic here:
The Ultimate Guide To Running Clothes
Loose to Tight: Why I Changed My Running Clothes

If you want to train more seriously you should also consider buying a heart rate monitor. There are some cheap ones out there and with GPS (you can also use your smart phone) you can track your workouts and analyze it later.

You should also have some sort of hydration solution because you might run for two hours straight and loose quite some fluids. There are many different products like backpacks, belts or simple bottles. Choose whatever suits you best.

Step #5: Plan your training

Ok this is probably what you’re waiting for. How actually should you train for your first half marathon. As I stated before running is not just going for training runs. There are many habits you should consider when training for a race. There’s not one single training method that is perfect for everybody. The advice I give here is based on the experiences I made when I set myself the goal to run a half marathon in less than 2 hours as a couch potato a couple of years back. I divide your training plan up in these areas:

Running

Of course running is the most important part of your half marathon training. You should try to do at least two runs each week but three would be better. There are basically two major types or workouts you need to do towards your first half marathon race:

  1. The Long Run:
    Most runners do them on weekends as it is the workout that needs the most time. It’s a run that you increase week by week until you can run a distance of about 12 miles (20km). You need to run at a low intensity and pace. As a rule of thumb you should be able to have a conversation while running. If you train with a heart rate monitor try running at 70 to 75% of your maximum heart rate. This workout helps you to build endurance or that you can keep running longer and longer
  2. Speed Training:
    The second important workout is a more intense one. There are several speed workouts that you can choose from: I’d start with some easier and playful Fartleks. Later in your training plan you can switch to interval training or hill workouts especially if your race course isn’t flat. At the start of every speed training you need to warm up by running at an easy pace for the first ten minutes. also you should cool down with again ten minutes of easy running. If you train for your first half marathon I wouldn’t do more than 7-8 miles (12km) speed runs.

If you can add a third training run each week try to run 3-5 miles (5-8 km) at 75 to 80% of your maximum heart rate.

Strength Training

Strength training is often ignored by runners especially by beginners. It’s understandable because we rather go out into nature and run right? But as you increase your distance it’s beneficial to strengthen your core to keep an upright running posture. Also you should strengthen your leg and hip muscles to prevent common running injuries. Try to incorporate one or two strength training sessions each week and train these muscle groups:

  • Calves
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Hip muslces
  • Glutes
  • Abs
  • Lower Back

 

If you find a specific exercise for each of these groups and do 2 sets with 10 to 15 repetitions it only takes 20 to 30 minutes and can easily be done in front of TV 😉

Cross Training

Running is hard on your bones and ligaments and by far not the only sport than can help you build endurance. Also for many doing the same runs over and over again can be boring. To rest your joints and mix things up you can choose from several cross training possibilities. There are so many other endurance sports like swimming, cycling or cross-country skiing that you can do instead of running. Of course I recommend you to do most of the workouts running but doing some workouts in other sports is a great way to get some change for body and mind.

Recovery and Tapering

As all of you who read this post already know your body doesn’t improve while training but in the recovery phases in between workouts. So focus on giving your body enough time to recover in between your runs. Try not to do heavy workouts two days in a row. If you don’t feel rested give yourself another rest day to make sure you don’t overtrain. Overtraining or injury can cause a training pause of several weeks and set you back a lot in your training plan. So listen to your body, sleep enough and eat healthy!

In the last 1-2 weeks before the race you have a tapering phase where you don’t really train anymore but focus on resting to be in perfect condition on race day. Don’t do any runs longer than 6 miles (10km) in the last ten days. Also don’t do any strength workouts anymore. Try to get enough sleep the two nights before the race day. Stretch enough and get some relaxation in a spa or get a massage in these days.

Training Plan

First you need to be able to run 10k straight. If you can already, you can start with the half marathon training right away. Otherwise increase you training over a four-week period with at least two runs a week.

For the half marathon training you should plan 12 weeks. Start your long run with 10k and increase it by one 1k each week. For the speed workout start out with a 6k Fartlek and build from there up to a 12k interval run.

Every third week you should take it a bit easier and decrease your weekly mileage by about 30-40%. This “recovery week” is a great time for some massages or other recovery activities.

Step #6: Train

Planning your training is also a nice thing to motivate you even more. However you need to go out there now and log these training miles! You need to be consistent over a few weeks and don’t let your high motivation trick you to do too much too soon. Stick to your training plan and always listen too your body. It’s way better to take one or two days off instead of ending up with an injury that can sideline you for a month.

As a guideline take the half marathon training plan below. Just change it according to your needs, strengths and weaknesses if you like.

Half marathon training plan

Step #7: Get ready

As you enter the last two weeks before the race you should have an excellent form. If you followed your training plan you are physically and mentally ready and can recover towards the race to be as prepared as you can be. Also it’s now time to go about all the race related stuff like transportation, get your starting bag, sort out the race equipment and checking the weather forecast. You have some running experience now after all these weeks of training. But if you’re not sure which clothes to wear on race day, check out this guide. Also check the race information especially where the aid stations are.

It’s also important to fuel correctly in the last days before the race. It’s time for carboloading! Try to eat mostly carbohydrates in the 3-5 days before the race. Pasta, potatoes or bread are good foods for that. And eat healthy! Get enough fruits and vegetables and enough water. On the evening before the race eat a big plate of pasta and drink, drink, drink (no alcohol of course). On race day morning eat some slices of bread and a banana right at the starting line.

Try to get enough sleep on the last two nights. It’s great visualizing your success when you go to sleep on these nights.

Step #8: Run and enjoy

When you stand at the starting line surrounded by all the other runners try to relax. It’s ok to be nervous and of course you are excited. When the gun goes of and the race starts try to find your rhythm. Don’t start out to fast or you will regret it later. As long as your heart rate is not over 85% of your maximum you are fine. The ideal strategy is to run at a consistent pace. On your first half marathon race you don’t need to break any records. It’s better run a bit slower than you could as a bit faster than you could. It pays off in the long run!

The most important thing of all is that you can enjoy it. Running a half marathon is a great experience and it shouldn’t be your last race. Try to suck in the atmosphere: The supporters cheering along the course, the surroundings you run through and the vibe in the finishing area.

When you fail to finish the race don’t worry. Try to figure out what went wrong and find the motivation to make it better next time. It’s never too late to finish a half marathon so don’t be too disappointed.

If you cross that finish line however enjoy the moment as deeply as you can. You can only do one first half marathon and this is the big moment you worked for in the last months. Be proud of yourself and celebrate your achievement.

Over to You

That’s it for my part, now it’s your turn. Perform the steps recommended in this article and the chances are pretty high that you’ll have an awesome first half marathon experience. Remember nothing comes by itself. Work hard, be consistent and stay healthy and you will most probably be a passionate runner the rest of your life.

If you find this guide helpful it would be a great help if you’d shared it with your friends. If you miss something just let me know.

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Happy running
mikula

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