Running long distances is no easy feat. Even for the most physically active, the idea of moving your feet for miles on end may sound tough. Yet for others, running long distances results in a clear head, an endorphin boost, and the “good” kind of soreness.
And with long running comes the best activity out there: marathons.
Before we even begin to touch that 26.2-mile territory, let’s dial it back a little… well, half exactly. Clocking in at a little over 13 miles, half marathons have continued to climb in popularity as an endurance goal, not only for the satisfying rush after successfully completing it, but also because it requires less intense training than a full-fledged marathon.
Preparing for Your First Half Marathon
Owning some sweet apparel does not necessarily earn you a spot on that concrete course. Here are four tips to help you get on the right track in your training for a half marathon, especially if it’s your first!
1. Focus on Your Training
Just as patrons at a Starbucks take an excruciating amount of time just to order their daily coffee, preparation for a race should be similar; training for a half marathon is even more important than the actual running of the race.
“The training is crucial, and it needs to be specifically targeted to the demands of a marathon,” says physiologist Paul Laursen, of Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, who has experience training Olympic runners. While training and mileage may vary per person, it’s important to build up stamina over the course of several weeks in order to eventually complete the 13.1 — so don’t push it first thing.
A 10–12 week plan (with a 1.5–2 mile increment increase each week) should get you on the path to running perfection. Reward yourself with a new pair of running shoes while you’re at it; you deserve it.
2. Train in Different Weather and Terrains
Unless you’re Halle Berry on the set of a Bryan Singer X-Men film, you cannot control the weather. You can scout out your run date months in advance, but there’s no telling what kind of heat, sleet, wind, or wash-out you’ll be running through, despite the constant refreshing of your iPhone app.
Aside from the week-by-week length and pace buildup, you must also prepare for environment and logistical obstacles, including steep hills, unfamiliar terrain, and bad weather.
According to Robert Chapman, Indiana University’s director of the Human Performance Laboratory in Indiana University’s School of Health, Physical Education some of the common half marathon training mistakes include not training for the right heat conditions, not training for limited daylight hours if your run is in the winter, and skipping training days when vacations or other events occur.
While it may not be ideal to plan your life out months in advance, your routine in training for a half marathon can make or break your race day outcome.
3. Add Strength and Flexibility to Your Training for a Half Marathon
While your trials and tribulations will increase as the big day inches closer, it’s important to listen to your body and lighten up the load if running workouts result in aches and pains. Intertwine some light cardio and cross-training into your running days and try not to aggravate what’s already annoying you.
Avid marathoner and fitness author, Jessica Lundgren, who has several half marathons under her belt, favors dynamic stretching before a run and takes the time to stretch thoroughly after a run, incorporating foam rolling and other forms of stretching into her routine when relaxing at home.
Cross-training with strength and flexibility exercise is so important, she says. “Even adding 10–20 minutes of bodyweight exercises into your daily routine [or off days] can help you become a stronger runner and may also help you avoid injury.”
4. Pick a Mind-Body Strategy and Stick to it
There’s no way to sugarcoat this part: At some points, you might hate your body. Multiple reasons for quitting may swirl around in your skull and you could begin to visualize the mirage of a White Castle hamburger at every half-mile marker.
To get you through it, sports psychologists have narrowed in on two strategies: association (a focus on your body alignment and gait, for instance) and disassociation (thinking of anything else but running).
Duncan Simpson, a Barry University sports psychologist, sees benefits to music, mantras, meditation, and other mind-body practices, but choose whichever strategy floats your boat. “For more experienced runners — who know what a particular pace feels like, and know the right amount of discomfort — it can help to pay attention to what’s going on in their body [with association],” he says. “With less experienced runners, it may help to disassociate during practice runs, and think about anything else to avoid all the pain that’s going on!”