I have started to get quite a few inquiries about how to best prepare or start training for a first race, or how to start running at all. By no means am I a running coach, but I have created guidelines and training schedules for various terrains, race distances, and paces, and am more than happy to share in the hopes that it will help guide new runners or those interested in how to start. The question I get the most is of course, how to train for a first half marathon which is the main topic I am addressing.
I am going to cover some ground rules, and then jump into training schedules:
First thing is first. Anyone can run a half marathon. I don’t care if you’ve never run a mile in your life. Any distance up to a half marathon is 100% a mental game. if you want to talk full marathon, ultras etc I would tell you a higher level of physical fitness and athleticism is required, but as with anything, put your mind to it and it will happen.
Second- it is a mental state. If your mind is not in it, you will not be able to accomplish it. Different from a sports game, there is no winning, or direct competition, catching of balls, quick sprints. Your competition for your first race should be yourself. You should aim to finish it, without comparing yourself to the speed or experience of runners around you. If you have it in your head that you will finish the distance (for each training day), come race day, you will feel both physically prepared, as well as mentally prepared.
Third- do not walk. If you train and let yourself walk, when you run the actual course, you are more likely to let yourself off easy and start walking. I have found that running at snail speed is better than walking. stopping and walking can hurt more than a continuing to run, believe it or not. Just knock the pace down a bit if you start to feel overwhelmed.
Fourth- most injuries are preventable. Of course there are the tears, pulls, etc that happen when you feel like you have done everything right, but if you stretch 10-15 minutes before and after each run (this is something I am awful at) and cross-train, you should be covering your bases to prevent injury. Cross training can be anything- yoga, barre, strength training, biking, swimming etc. 30-60 minutes on these days should be sufficient.
Lastly- you should pick a day to be your “long run” day, (I like saturday mornings) and use sunday or the day after for a rest day. Contrary to what many believe, you should NOT be running every day. I run 3 days a week, cross train 2 days a week, and give myself 1-2 rest days.
HALF MARATHON TRAINING PLAN
With a base- when I say base (in order to start training, you must have a comfortable base) I mean ability to run 3 miles fairly easily at a consistent pace. if this is not you, that’s okay, but I would recommend aiming for a 5k before hopping on the half marathon train.
Half Marathon Training 12-Week
This is a 3 month training schedule, which is longer than most will tell you that you should train for a half! However, if it is your first half, I really do recommend 10-12 weeks. If need be, make it 10 or 11 weeks by cutting out week 11 (its the same numbers!).
If you are a more seasoned runner and are able to go the distance the first few weeks very comfortably, cut those weeks off and start at a week where you think the training will be the most beneficial to you. Use caution with this advice, especially if you are in “decent” shape and decide to hop on board pretty late in the game, you can end up with shin splints, muscle cramping and sole pain. (I have definitely subjected myself to a an impromptu half or two and had these results).
Hopefully this is helpful and takes away some of the intimidation that often comes with anything new!
Remember, there is no recipe for perfection, and a lot of it really is trial and error. Each person’s body responds differently, and so much of it is about what works best for you so be patient with yourself! The 5 points I listed at the beginning, most will tell you consistently across the board.
Take rest days if you start to feel like something isn’t right, and most importantly, don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t making constant improvement. All things take time, especially forming new habits.