Did you know that since 2003, the half-marathon has been the fastest growing standard distance in the United States with a 12.5% annual finisher growth rate (per Running USA State of the Sport Reports)? Or that female finishers in the half marathon have hit new highs since 2013? (source) Pretty cool, right?! The half marathon is growing and it seems like every where I turn a new half marathon race is popping up… and I love it. There is so much growth that happens when a person trains for and runs a half marathon that I love seeing it grow so much.
But everyone starts somewhere. They sign up for a half marathon, then think, now what?! What do I need to do to get myself to the starting line ready to run 13.1 miles? When someone asks me that, I am honest and tell them a lot. But I don’t do that to scare them away, I do that to be honest and for them to know that it does take time and hard work to prepare for and run a half marathon. It is doable, but you are going to have to put that time and hard work in to run it. So then, when you do train for and run a half marathon, all that time and hard work you put in, feels awesome.
Let me tell you, crossing the finish line of a half marathon feels incredible. Every time. The first time, the third, however many, that finish line never gets old.
But that hard work that has to go in? Yeah, you have to start somewhere. So I wanted to share a bit more about training for a race, more specifically — the do’s and don’ts of training for a half marathon. Of course, these are just based on my own training, but after talking to others about half marathon training and running, I feel safe to say, I am not alone in these “do’s and don’ts.”
Do: Follow a training plan
While you do not need to find a specific training plan that has every run laid out to a T, I do think you need some sort of plan to train safely for a half marathon. You certainly do not want to wake up a week before your half marathon race and realize the longest run you have gotten in thus far is only 8 or 9 miles. I think that sitting down and deciding how long you want to specifically train for this race and how many days a week you want to train, then creating a loosely structured plan around that is good. I love following a specific training plan, but I know others don’t, but I still think having an idea of how far your longest run will be or what speed work you’ll get in, will allow you to get to the starting line safe and healthy.
Don’t: Run your easy runs too close to goal race pace
This was something I struggled with when I first started running half marathons. I would run my easy runs at the same pace that I planned on running the actual race at. But that did not help me get to my goal paces at all. You need to allow your body to recover with easy runs and pushing yourself to hit goal paces every single run will not allow your body to recover properly. I try to run my easy runs at least 45 seconds slower than my goal race pace. Your easy runs should be run at a comfortable conversational pace, while your goal race pace should be more of a difficult effort. Run your hard workout days hard (more close to or at goal race pace) and leave the easy days for easy runs.
Do: Let yourself recover
You have to, have to, have to, let your body recover. The half marathon training plan I am using right now has me running 5 days a week, and it feels good for my body. I take the day before and the day after my long runs off completely. I don’t run, I don’t bike, I don’t lift weights, I take the day off to fully recover.
Recovery also includes taking the time to foam roll and stretch after a run. This is something I still have to focus on, but it is so so important, and one of the reasons I have been injury free for so long. Even if it is just a few minutes after a run, I take time to stretch out my legs and foam roll. I make sure to bring my heart rate back down before doing anything else after a run.
Don’t: Taper too long
Tapering is an essential part of long distance run training, but for a half marathon, you don’t need an excessively long taper. But you still need one! I taper for a week before a half marathon. I run fewer miles, I run more easy pace runs, and focus more on recovering from training and preparing for race day. I like to get in a short speed workout in about 5 days before the race, just to get my legs still moving and ready to run on race day. The speed workout is short, it is not high mileage, and it is not super high intensity, just enough to get my legs moving fast.
I think a week taper for a half marathon is sufficient. It gives your body just enough time to recover from the miles you put in over training and to feel refreshed and ready to go on race day. Anything longer than a week for a taper just seems too long and unnecessary for a half marathon.
Do: Fuel yourself properly
While you may or may not fuel yourself during runs, you still need to fuel yourself before and after runs properly. I run primarily in the afternoons right now, so I make sure that my eats throughout the day are fueling myself for my runs. If something does not sit well with me, I will certainly feel it on my runs, so I make sure to stay in tune with how my body reacts to certain foods while I run. I make sure to eat enough protein and carbs throughout the day so I have the energy to run the distances I need to get in. When I am done with my run, I make sure to eat, even if I am not super hungry. I usually eat dinner right after, with a good ratio of fats, carbs, and protein, but if not, I make sure to get in post-run fuel so my body can repair from the training.
Don’t: Doubt yourself
You can run a half marathon. You are a runner. You can do this. Do not doubt yourself. Yes, 13.1 miles is a long distance to run, but if you put in the training, you can do it. Just know that crossing the finish line of a half marathon is the best feeling. You will make yourself and so many others proud by running the race. The last thing you should do is finish a training run and doubt your abilities. You may have rough runs that do not go as planned, but you are also going to have runs where you just want to scream how amazing you feel from the rooftops. Training is a cycle, you will do through various emotions, but just promise me you will not doubt being able to run a half marathon. Put in the time, put in the work, and show up to race day with a smile on your face 🙂
- What are your “do’s” of half marathon training?
- What are your “don’ts” of half marathon training?