Beginners who decide to challenge themselves with a half marathon have a lot to juggle. They have to develop the endurance to run 13.1 miles (without overdoing it and getting injured), deal with new race-day logistics, and learn how to fuel up for a long effort – all while trying to remember that the whole experience should be fun.
Given these demands, most debutants come to the distance with a healthy respect that borders on anxiety – which can work to their advantage. ‘They’re nervous because many of them have never done 13.1, not even in training,’ says Jenny Hadfield, co-author of Running for Mortals (£7.99, Rodale). Luckily, the payoff outweighs the challenges. ‘Many beginners find running a half to be life-changing,’ she says. ‘They never imagined they could go that far.’
Before you begin your 10-week half marathon training programme, you should be consistently running 15-20 miles per week, with long runs of at least six miles, for at least four weeks – or even longer. ‘This is one test you can’t cram for,’ says Janet Hamilton, a running coach and exercise physiologist (runningstrong.com). ‘For this distance, you have got to put in the work.’
You want to do nearly all your runs at a comfortable, conversational pace, and finish each run feeling like you have the energy – and desire – to run another mile. The biggest mistake first-timers make is running too many miles, too fast, too soon – and that’s a recipe for injury, loss of motivation and burnout. ‘If at the end of your run, you’re gasping for air, or in pain, then you’re going too fast,’ says Hamilton.
Hit the hills
Hillwork builds leg and lung power. Start by incorporating hills that take 60 seconds to climb, says Hamilton. As you train and those 60-second hills become easier, challenge yourself with steeper and/or longer hills.
Listen to your body
A little muscle soreness comes with pushing your body further or faster, particularly in the calves, quads and hamstrings, says Adam St Pierre, an exercise physiologist. Expect to take two days to recover from hard workouts. If you’re sore on the third day, rest again. Soreness beyond four or five days should get checked out by a doctor.
Plan early for race day
It’s not unusual to be worried. You can quiet the butterflies in your stomach by focusing on race-day logistics: carefully following both your nutrition and hydration plans, making it on time and properly equipped to the starting area, and meeting up with friends. When the gun goes off, Hadfield recommends that new racers control the urge to run fast right off and start comparatively slowly, aiming for a negative split – running the first half slower than the second. This conservative pacing will allow you to finish feeling in control.