I have been running for about 3 and half years now. My speed has improved, my endurance has improved and I have gotten well past hitting that dreaded wall. I attribute all of this to proper training, which includes running (duh), cross training and of course my favorite, weight lifting. Yes, weight lifting. Must build strength too because just running/walking is not going cut it. I mention all this because in the past year or so, a lot of people I know have picked up running and/or walking. Many of them have done 5k and 10k races. Some of them have expressed an interest in training for a ½ marathon and some of them are in the midst of that training now. I am no expert, by any means. I have only run in two halves and my first half was pretty taxing on me. I make no excuses (never mind my knee was messed up!), but after a 2nd go at it and better training, I shaved 30 minutes off my time. 30 minutes! That is huge. And yes, weight training was heavily incorporated into my training routine.
So in the spirit of half marathon seekers, I would like to share some tips on training for your first half. (Taken from Active.com)
1. Make sure you have a base. A mistake new runner’s make when training for a 1/2 is thinking that a training plan will take them from no running experience to the finish line. Most ½ marathon training plans assume that you’ve already built a weekly mileage base of at least 15-20 miles. Your longest run should also be at least 5 miles. Anything less than this weekly mileage or longest run mileage will overwhelm your body’s ability to acclimate. If you already have a solid base, then when you start your training, you’ll only be acclimating to the demands of the training workouts. If you have a weak base, there’s a chance you will be asking your body to build that base while at the same time trying to acclimate it to the new training demands. That’s overtraining and potentially an injury just waiting to happen.
2. Pick a plan. A 12 week training program is a pretty common length for most ½ marathon training plans. Don’t forget though, Google is your friend. Search and you’ll find plans that range from 10 to 16 weeks. The beauty of choices is just that, you have choices. Longer training plans allow for a little bit of wiggle room because, let’s face it life can get in the way from time to time. If this is your first half-marathon, a plan longer than 10 weeks is highly recommended. This will give you more time to acclimate to the training demands.
Also, keep in mind that many plans vary in the types of workouts, weekly mileage, and the number of times you run each week. Choose carefully and find one that meshes well with your work and family schedule. If the plan has you running every day and you know that’s not going to happen, then that plan is not for you. Second, find a plan that matches your running fitness level. If the first long run in the plan is 8 miles and your current longest run is 4, select a different plan. Read through the plan carefully and make sure it fits your current running fitness level. And remember…it is okay to alter it somewhat because not every plan will fit your lifestyle 100%.
3. Think quality over quantity. Running lots of miles each week is one way to prepare for a ½ marathon, but a lot of miles can increase our chance of injury. One way to train is using quality runs and base maintenance runs. A quality run consists of a mid-week tempo run and a weekend long run. The types of tempo runs can vary. Basically they begin and end with a 1-mile warm up/cool down and the in between miles are run at a pace about 30 seconds slower than 5K pace. The Tempo portion can be an uncomfortable pace. This helps your body increase VO2Max (the body’s ability to take in and use oxygen at the muscle layer to make energy) as well as push out the lactate threshold (that point at which you feel that burning sensation in your legs). Increasing VO2Max and pushing out your lactate threshold helps make you a more efficient runner as well as help fight off fatigue longer. A tempo run can range from 4 to 8 miles, and the types of tempos can vary.
Three good tempo workouts include: the traditional tempo (described earlier), race-pace tempo and tempo intervals. Race pace tempos are very similar to the traditional tempo, but instead of running 30 seconds slower than your 5K pace, you pull it down a notch to your half-marathon race pace. This is a great workout for giving your body a chance to experience what it feels like to run at race pace. Saving your race-pace tempos for the longer 6, 7, or 8-mile tempo runs works well. Tempo intervals begin and end with the 1-mile warm up/cool down, but the in between miles are broken into 5-minute fast/5-minute slow intervals. The fast interval (fartlek) is run about 20 seconds slower than 5K race pace and the slow interval is run at your slow easy long-run pace. This teaches your body to learn how to speed up and/or slow down when needed during the race.
The long run is just that…long. This run should be run at a pace that’s about 1-minute slower than race pace. That’s hard to do sometimes, but by pulling back, you help your body build endurance without wearing it down. To help curb the urge to run faster as well as teach your body that you can pull out some speed at the end of the race, the last 1 to 2 miles of the long run can be run at race pace or slightly faster.
The two weekly base maintenance runs are short runs (4 to 5 miles). These are designed to keep the weekly base miles going and to help keep the runner limber between the quality workouts. These runs are also run at a slower pace (45 seconds to 1-minute slower than race pace).
4. Cross-train. Doing non-running but aerobic cross-training as well as light resistance training on your off running days is a great way to optimize your running fitness. Cycling, swimming, using the elliptical machine or row machine are all great forms of cross-training. Light resistance training particularly targeting the core and upper body will greatly help you maintain good running form longer during your runs, helping to fight off fatigue.
If you do not have access to weights for your resistance training, resistance bands are great alternative. The internet if you friend and meant to provide you with the answers you seek! Never used resistance bands before? Look it up, do your research and decide if this the best way for you to get your resistance training in.
5. Find a training group. Whether you’re paying for a coach who is leading a group training program or you just round up your running buddies, training in a group can make all the difference in the world in how successful you are with your training. When you know you’ll be missed, you tend to be more accountable for your workouts. On those early morning long runs, you’re much more likely to roll out of bed when you know the gang is waiting for you. Also, having a buddy’s encouraging word or just a pat on the shoulder during a tough run can really make a difference in pulling through and fighting off fatigue.
6. Investigate the race. Find out what sports drink will be provided at the race. If possible, train using the same sports drink, or plan ahead how you’ll use your own (wear a hydration belt, have friends or family members staked out along the route to hand you your sports drink of choice). Never use a sports drink or gel during a race, that you’ve never tried/tested during training.
Scope out at which mile markers water and/or aid stations will be provided. Also find out if and where port-a-johns will be placed along the route. Knowing where these are located can be very important if you begin to experience stomach distress along the run.
Check out the elevation map (usually provided on the race website). Pin point where the hills (if any) are located. Just because a race is in a flat area of the country doesn’t mean it will have a flat course. Many races will incorporate the rolling hills of local parks and/or cross over high-rise bridges or ramps to and from overpasses or underpasses.
7. Rest. Rest is just as important as a run workout. Your body needs time to rebuild and repair. Skipping rest days will tax your body’s ability to recover and make you more prone to injury. Be sure to take your scheduled rest days, but also listen to your body. If you’re feeling extremely worn down, have no energy, feel sore, tired, lethargic and or unmotivated, check your resting heart rate before getting out of bed. If it’s just a few beats higher than normal (and you don’t have a cold or some other type of infection) you more than likely are overtraining and need a rest day.