Wednesday, April 2, 2014

This ain't HALF of anything....

Half marathon.  13.1 miles.  My favorite of all favorites.

The half marathon is definitely my favorite distance.  It's a long distance, so it takes some devoted training and discipline to conquer.  But it's not out-of-reach, and it will not take several months to get your body (and mind) prepared.

Are you interested?  Ready to up your game?  Here's some suggestions if you're ready to go the distance.

It's best to have a running base.  It's not a requirement, but a strong recommendation.  If you've been running for awhile (a loose term, and a very subjective one at that), you will have an idea of your body's condition, your normal pace and maximum distance.  You will know how to warm up, pace yourself while in motion, and you'll (hopefully) know the benefits of stretching, injury prevention (or treatment) and recovery.

Should you hire a coach or go with a training plan? If this is your first 13.1 (or long distance race), you will benefit from the knowledge of someone who has done this before (whether it be a coach or an experienced friend).  There are as many training programs available online as there are runners searching for them.  Some programs are free, some are not.  Whatever the case, try to find a program that has a similar schedule to what you're comfortable with.  If you like to run 5-6 days a week (and your body is used to running that frequently) or if you prefer to run 3-4 days a week (and do cross-training on the non-running days)....there are training plans that will fill those needs.  If you use a coach, they will be able to customize a plan for you based on your strengths, needs and race day goals.

The key to training for a long distance event, though, is building up your distance.  It's best to do this gradually, usually over the coarse of 8-14 weeks (again, depending on what kind of a running base you have).  Most training plans will have you running somewhat short distances a few times during the week (one run might even be a speed workout), and then doing one long run (usually on the weekend).  The long run is just that...a LONG run.  It's not meant to be a quick run, or a hilly run, or an interval run.  It's meant to be a long run, and each week you should gradually make it a little bit longer (maybe increasing the distance each week by a half mile, or even a full mile....but only on your long run).

Most training plans for half marathons will have you running up to 10 miles.  A lot of first-timers are fearful that this isn't far enough.  You have to have faith in your training, and trust your body's ability.  By the end of your training, you will have invested anywhere between 8-14 weeks in preparing.  You (hopefully) have gradually increased your distance consistently and remained injury-free.  If your body can run 10 miles, it will be able to run an additional 3.1 miles on race day.  Trust me, it will.  Most training plans also will have a taper, a period (usually 1-2 weeks prior to race day) where you have minimum running on the schedule.  Tapering is another "necessary evil" in preparing for any kind of a distance event.  It gives your body time to rest (and recover, if necessary) and arrive at race day fresh and ready.  Do not be tempted to run "just a little extra" during your taper.  You risk injury, and it's best to save some of that nervous energy for the actual race itself.

The long runs also help you prepare mentally for race day.  The long runs give you a chance to experiment with different kinds of fuel (Gu gels? Energy beans? Honey stingers?), water strategy (fuel belt with water bottles? hand-held bottles? water "planted" on your running coarse?), and clothing (how many layers? hat or visor? which shoes? wool socks?). Also, how will you carry your fuel or snacks?  In a fuel belt? in pockets?  Make sure to practice these maneuvers on your training runs (pulling off a layer and tying it around your waist, ripping open a Gu pack while running with sweaty hands, gulping water out of a cup, etc.).

A lot of runners train on treadmills, especially through the winter.  I recommend doing some of your training runs outside, though, especially your long runs.  Your race will be outside, why not give yourself the advantage by training outside as well?  The outside conditions are different than those inside a gym....there will be wind resistance, humidity, uneven terrain, occasional puddles, bright sunlight and sometimes pebbles or sticks to test your traction.  If you train with the "outside" elements, nothing should surprise you on race day.

We all have heard it, but probably the best advice for race day is to NOT do anything new or different than what you did in training.  This is not the day to break in the new shoes you purchased at the expo and don't be tempted to wear the event shirt.  Try to eat something at approximately the same time you normally would eat before a long run.  Drink some water, but don't drink more than usual.  And be sure to make one last stop at the porta pots before lining up (you may regret not doing it!).

Also, try to enjoy the race as much as possible.  I tell runners to do their first 13.1 for fun (and not to worry about their finish time), smile as much as you are able to and thank every volunteer you come in contact with.  Try to high-5 the kids along the route, as well..... you'll make their day great (and you'll get a  much-needed dose of "feel good mojo").  Be thankful and proud of yourself for making the commitment to be there.

What do you say?  Are you ready?  Go for it!!


  1. This is all super advice!!! I'm getting ready for my second half--but it feels almost like my first because I'm running solo! I'm a bit scared! I am trying to really train well and make it so that I don't have a mental breakdown at mile 12!

  2. Great tips for everyone! Half marathons are my favorite distance: challenging but manageable ;)