The half marathon is really a pretty unfair name. Having completed both full and half marathons I can safely say that a half marathon is a whole heck of a race. In fact for most runners, deciding to do a half marathon is going to be the first race that you are really going to have to truly commit some time to training for. Running 13.1 miles for the first time is a challenge, but it is also fun. It is long and hard, yet also attainable for most runners.
On the bright side, if you have already run up to 5 miles recently you are capable of finishing a half. So if you have been making the training leap from 5K to 10K, you are ready for the next hurdle.
Now might be the time when you start considering adding in some speed training such as intervals or tempo runs to help pick up your pace and help to push you along the distance a little faster. If you are not ready for that yet, you will still be just fine training for this distance.
The main commitment you will need to make is for the weekly long run. I prefer to do my long runs on Saturday morning so that I have the rest of my weekend to enjoy, preferably with a post run cocktail and yummy meal. That way I can still go out on Saturday night if I am feeling up to it and I have all day Sunday to rest and recuperate those tired muscles.
Your weekly long runs will likely build up for a few weeks and then slowly taper down. For a beginning half marathon runner who has already run up to 5 miles, I recommend approximately 9-10 weeks of training. You can find several useful tools online to help you create a training program. Runner’s World is an excellent resource for finding training plans. I also recommend Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway and Jack Daniels (the coach not the drink).
A few things to keep in mind when you are training:
It is ok to take walk breaks. Hal Higdon strongly emphasizes in his training plans that it is ok to walk. Jeff Galloway even creates his programs based on running and walking in combination. If you need walk breaks, take them. It is not going to ruin your chances of crossing the finish line. If anything it will keep you from being sidelined with an injury before you get there. Don’t worry, as you continue training you will become a stronger runner and those miles will start to fly by.
Every mile is different. I am a running dork and I love running long distances. For years I have been taking my mileage to my own personal extremes and pushing myself to see how far I can go. Yesterday I wanted to get one last long run on the hard packed sand of Florida. The wind was working in my favor so I had my parents drop me off at a pier 10 miles from their condo. It was morning, the sun was shining and there was a cool breeze at my back. As I started I was feeling great. I felt like I could run forever and each mile was getting faster. By mile 4 I decided I was going to push it a bit and run a half marathon just to run a half marathon. By mile 6 I was starting to think I was over this whole 10 mile run and ready to take a break. By mile 8 I was feeling amazing again and flew down the beach.
I ended up stopping at 10 miles but the lesson learned is that just because you start to feel rough during your run doesn’t mean that feeling will last. On the flip side, just because you are feeling awesome on a run doesn’t mean you should start running at a faster than normal pace because you might soon hit that dark side of the run. Keep those long runs evenly paced and if things start to feel discouraging, remember this too shall pass.
Keep your long runs slow. Long training runs are meant to be run at a conversation pace. This is likely a full minute to a minute and a half slower than your normal pace. The reason for this is because you are not logging those runs to make sure you cross the finish line at a certain pace but instead to train your body to be on your feet for long periods of time. You are training your muscles, cardiovascular system and body to handle staying on the road for such a long and rigorous time. If you are worried about finishing your race in a certain time limit that is where your speed training comes into play. So keep those long runs nice and slow.
Finally, eat and drink like a champion. This means lost of water and lots of healthy food. In fact, as you continue to run you will start to find yourself naturally reaching for healthier foods because your body will crave it. Pack in those veggies, fruit and healthy proteins. Keep downing lots of water and avoid sugary drinks. And don’t worry…even champions drink their wine and beer, just in moderation!
The half marathon is a really fun race. You will find runners of all ages, sizes, and abilities. Take your time and have fun. I personally love this distance because it is long enough to really make you feel like you had to work to get there, but you don’t have to train as hard or commit as much time as you would for a marathon. Stick to your training and you will proudly come home with a shiny finisher’s medal around your neck.