When I started training for my first half marathon, other runners I knew congratulated me: “You’re half-crazy,” they said. For runners, ‘crazy’ is a compliment.
So if you want to run a half-marathon, you’re half-crazy. And that’s a good thing.
Before you start, here are some things to think about.
First, have you run before? Like, for fitness, or fun, or a reason other than catching a bus? If the answer to this question is a resounding ‘no,’ think about trying a Beginner’s 5km or Learn to Run program. They offer these at your local Running Room, or you can find training schedules online.
Second, have you talked to your doctor about this? Your doctor might have some valuable insight into whether this half-marathon thing is really a good idea for you. Factors like weight or pre-existing health conditions might put a damper on your training experience – and running is supposed to be fun! Schedule a checkup before you start training.
Which brings me to, arguably, the most important part of running a half marathon: Not dying at the end.
This is where training comes in.
If you don’t have proper shoes, you probably won’t get very far. Don’t cheap out on shoes. Get fitted by a qualified person at a decent store. This person should be able to tell you fancy things about what your feet do while you run, and recommend specific shoes. They may be expensive, but you don’t have to bankrupt yourself while buying pricy running gear. GPS watches and snazzy hydro-packs are cool-looking and helpful, but they’re not strictly necessary.
Dress comfortable and as if the weather is about fifteen degrees warmer than it actually is. Wear sunscreen and reflective surfaces on your clothes. Tell a friend your route and when they can expect you home. Bring your bus pass, phone and money for a cab in case you get lost.
Select a training program that fits your needs. Your training reflects your lifestyle, responsibilities and physical capabilities. As long as your schedule safely and eventually allows you to run your half marathon, you’re doing okay. Formal schedules range from sixteen to twenty-four weeks, peaking at around thirty-five kilometers per week. Try to fit in one long run every seven days – preferably on the day of the week your race is held – and two shorter runs during the week. Training starts slow, with a long run of about five kilometers, and your mileage increase should also be just as slow and steady. Pushing too hard, too fast, is how injuries happen.
Taking walk breaks – every fifteen, ten, five or three minutes – this gives your body a chance to recuperate. And be prepared to run your race the way you train: If you walk every ten minutes during your training runs, you’ll freak your body out if you try to run the whole 21.1km without stopping.
Think about the way you’re running – your strides should be short and efficient, with your elbows at 90 degree angles. Be tall and relaxed. Unclench your fists.
Make sure to switch it up. If you find yourself often running on a treadmill, go outside. If you’re tired of your current, regular pace, add some speed intervals. If you favor flat ground, run up and down a hill a few times. You might look ridiculous, but it will make you stronger and faster.
And sign up for a race! It’ll give you something to look forward to. Better yet, do it with a friend or a group. It’s tougher to quit when someone else is expecting you to keep going.
When you’re not running, practice a non-weight bearing exercise like swimming or cycling. It will keep your muscles fresh without stressing your body and make for a good recovery day. Speaking of recovery: Chocolate milk is your friend. It’s cheap, effective and readily available. One cup after runs will do.
On that note, don’t forget to eat. Once your runs get longer than seventy-five minutes, you might find yourself ‘hitting the wall,’ which means your muscles have run out of stored glycogen. So eat before your run, and bring something to munch while you’re exercising. Sports stores, grocery stores and the Internet have lots of gels, jellybeans and gummies that help replenish energy during long runs. Try a few and see what works and tastes best.
Finally, thou shall not skimp on rest. Sleep is just as important as training. Get enough and it will make a big difference. And honor your rest days! They should come at least twice a week – more if something’s hurting.
That’s all there is to it. You’re officially half-crazy. Congratulations.