A dear friend of mine just contacted me for some advice on training for a half marathon. ‘Tis the season of new year resolutions and goals, so I bet there are a number of people out there with the same question.
I’m no running super star, but I’ve trained for about a half dozen half marathons and a full marathon and I promise it is not as daunting as it seems. Here is my advice from what I’ve learned along the way:
1. Assess where you are and set reasonable goals for yourself. So your current running regimen is couch to fridge and that training plan you found online tells you to start at 5 miles? Don’t do it. You want to be well trained on race day, but you don’t want to kill yourself getting out of the gate. A reasonable goal, in my experience, is to increase your mileage by 2-3 miles.
2. Don’t over train. As you begin to run 5 + miles you will need to schedule short mileage days in between to give your body a break. I also recommend doing some cross training in between such as swimming or cycling. These are good cardio activities that are low impact and give your other “running” muscles some rest.
3. Eat like an athlete. Running a half marathon to help lose weight or get in better shape is a great goal. However, that doesn’t mean you can continue to eat the same way before you began running. Food is fuel, plain and simple. You will need to adjust how you eat days before a long run to ensure you have a good storage of carbs to burn. You will need to figure out what to eat during a long run and post run for muscle recovery. Without the correct nutrition you will crash during your runs and you will feel terrible in the days after. You also will probably not lose weight because you will be famished and eat everything in sight after you run. I recommend the book Endurance Sports Nutrition by Suzanne Girard Eberle for expert nutrition advice. I also use MyFitnessPal to track what I’m taking in and what I’m burning. You don’t want to go into a big calorie deficit. It will slow your metabolism which is counter active to weight loss. It will also make you grumpy (from personal experience.)
4. FOAM ROLL, FOAM ROLL, FOAM ROLL. Also stretch and try yoga! You are now pushing your body in ways it has never been challenged. You will walk around like Frankenstein on some days. You need to stretch those muscles and work the knots out. When training for a half I foam roll during a half hour TV show several times a week. I also do yoga one to two times a week. Plus, after you run you should down some chocolate milk or whey protein drink for quick muscle recovery then get to some serious stretching for no less than 10 minutes. Stretches must be held for 1 minute each to really be effective so get out your timer.
5. Don’t train “all the way.” You don’t actually need to run 13.1 miles before race day. Training to 10-11 miles is common and more than adequate. Otherwise you run the risk of running too far too close to race day and your body will still be in recovery for your race.
6. Have fun! It may be cliche, but it is true. Races are full of energy. You might be a bundle of nerves the night before or day of the race, but just trust your training and enjoy yourself. Family, friends, and strangers will get up at an ungodly hour and come out to cheer for YOU! And you know what? YOU worked your butt off and you deserve it!