Crossing the finish line of your first half marathon is one of the most exhilarating and rewarding moments a runner will ever experience. However, the thought of training for weeks to run 13.1 miles can be intimidating, even for casual runners who always welcome a challenge. Fortunately, there are some simple measures you can take to make the training process safe and enjoyable. Below are eleven tips to help you finish your first half marathon safely and effectively.
1. Set realistic training expectations
“The 13.1-mile (21-kilometer) race is an endurance challenge. It takes three months of dedicated training for many people, including some beginner runners, to be race-ready…When it comes to long-distance running, you can’t cram a lot of training into a short period and expect to be ready. Taking a safe, gradual approach will avoid running injuries and avoid getting burned out.”
– Christine Luff, Certified Running Coach and Personal Trainer
The keys to a successful training experience are patience, discipline, and realistic expectations. If you have never run farther than three miles, it is not realistic to sign up for a half-marathon that is taking place in two weeks. According to certified running coach, Christine Luff, the time you will need to train will depend upon the following factors:
• Your current level of fitness
• Your past running experience
• Your race goals
2. Use a calendar or app to help you stay on track
Staying on track and completing training runs is not always easy – especially for busy professionals, parents, and students. One of the best ways to ensure that you stay on schedule is to use a training calendar or half marathon training app to track your training runs. Running expert and World Masters Racing Champion Hal Higdon offers six different training apps to help you stay on pace with your training goals throughout the year. These apps make it easy and seamless to achieve your racing goals.
3. Make sure you have the proper running shoes
A robust, well-cushioned pair of running shoes is a necessity for anyone who is training for a marathon. If you have not already had your feet evaluated by a footwear expert, now is the time! You can often find a trained footwear professional at your local specialty running store, where he or she can meet with you to evaluate the biomechanics of your feet to note the following:
• Your posture
• Your stride length
• Your arch
• Your stride frequency
After taking note of these features, your footwear expert will recommend the best running shoe options to meet your specific needs. He or she may also suggest insoles or other inserts to help provide additional support.
4. Train with a friend or mentor
“…I would not have the sense of accomplishment of running my first 5k, 10k, triathlon, and half marathon, and my life would not be enriched with the beautiful friendships that have grown out of the programs! I also would not have had the privilege of mentoring new runners and triathletes as they begin this beautiful journey!”
– Jane Lyerly, Runner and No Boundaries Fall Training Program Participant
Some runners welcome the companionship and security of traveling with a friend or group of runners. Training for a half marathon with a friend or mentor can make your training runs pass by more quickly and provide the additional motivation you need to stick with your training schedule. Most medium to large-sized cities have mentoring programs or running clubs that can provide inspiration and lasting friendships.
5. Start with a 5K race and gradually increase your race distances
One of the best ways to sustain your motivation throughout your training schedule is to sprinkle your training calendar with shorter races. This strategy will also give a well-needed boost to your confidence, as you gradually tackle greater distances. Many cities offer a collection of races of varying distances that serve as excellent preparation for running a half-marathon.
The Louisville Triple Crown of Running is a great example of a racing series that prepares runners for a half marathon. The Triple Crown of Running is held every year in Louisville, Kentucky, and features three races over a one-month period:
• The Anthem 5K Fitness Classic
• The Rodes City Run 10K Race
• The Papa Johns 10 Miler
Runners who complete all three legs receive a commemorative t-shirt and often choose to sign up for the Kentucky Derby Half Marathon that is held the following month. The Triple Crown of Running is one of the largest racing series in the United States.
6. Listen to your body during training runs
Few things are more disappointing than completing 90% of your training runs and then being sidelined by an injury the week before race day. For this reason alone, preventing injury should be a top priority for anyone training for a half marathon. Here are some tips to help you avoid injury during your training:
• If you experience sharp pain or an injury while training, STOP running right away
• Seek medical attention if your pain is moderate to severe in nature
• Do not ignore discomfort or try to “run through your pain”
• Always follow the advice of your doctor if you seek medical care
“One Real-World study showed the athletes who raced in compression socks recovered more quickly and had less muscle damage…The author of The Real-World study that showed improvements to recovery, suggests that athletes wear the socks for long or hard sessions, and for 24 hours following them.”
– Coach Hayley, Runners Connect
A growing number of runners are using compression wear to optimize their performance and facilitate recovery. Chris Solinsky, a former American record-holder, wore compression socks during one of his record-breaking performances. During an interview, Solinsky cited the post-race recovery benefits as the primary reason why he wears compression socks: “I found I was able to come off the workouts much, much quicker.”
In order to fully benefit from compression wear, the compression should be graduated and be the proper fit for the individual. Recommended pressure is 22-32 mmHg. Most importantly, you should purchase compression wear from a worldwide leader in the compression wear industry. An experienced provider can provide specific recommendations for runners and help ensure that you select the right compression wear for your half marathon.
8. Allow sufficient recovery time between your long runs
In general, experts recommend that novice runners complete one “long” training run per week in addition to two or three shorter runs. As your endurance builds, it can be tempting to try to increase your distance faster than recommended. However, this pitfall can increase your risk of shin splints and other painful injuries.
9. Cross-train to maintain your overall fitness
Cross-training offers a host of benefits to people training for distance races. In addition to giving your running muscles a well-deserved break, cross-training will help you strengthen your core and muscles you use less frequently while running. Good choices for cross-training include low-impact activities such as the following:
“Though runners generally maintain a better diet than the average Joe, we all need to be aware of the general proportions of our diets. A healthy diet is one that is high in carbohydrates, low in fat, and sufficient but not excessive in protein. That translates to about 60 percent of your calories coming from carbohydrates, 25 percent from fat, and 15 percent from protein.”
– Josh Clark, Cool Running
Distance running and training can deplete your body of nutrients and fluids. Accordingly, runners need to exercise extra caution to ensure that they follow a healthy diet. A diet that is rich with carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and low in fat will help provide the stamina necessary to complete training runs and maintain your strength. Additionally, make sure you always consume plenty of fluids. A good rule of thumb is to drink roughly 18 to 24 ounces of fluid per hour of running.
11. Follow a strict routine during the 48 hours before your half marathon
After following a strict training regimen for weeks, the last thing that you want to do is to compromise your health or stamina. Below are a few suggestions that will help you avoid fatigue and gastrointestinal distress before your half marathon:
• Resist the urge to experiment with new foods or spices before your race
• Get 7-8 hours of sleep in the two nights before your half marathon
• Do not consume alcohol before your race
• Plan to arrive at least 30 to 60 minutes in advance of the race
The Bottom Line
Training for your first half marathon requires dedication, motivation, and a willingness to take the measures necessary to protect your health and well-being. By following the steps above, you can lay the foundation for a safe and successful race. We invite you to contact us for more tips that will help you train safely for your first half marathon. We look forward to helping you conquer those 13.1 miles!