Over the years, running has become a very popular sport with a large number of races dotting the globe. From 5K, to 1/2 marathon, and from Ultras to Spartan races, there is something for runners of all ages and abilities.
According to “The State of Running 2019”, the 5k and half marathon had the largest number of participants in 2018. (1) The half marathon is 13.1 miles. It provides a challenge for runners who have conquered the 5k and 10k distances and is the gateway for those looking to attack the marathon.
The half marathon is unique in that it takes people a longer time to complete. A majority of runners take over an hour. This leads to the need of hydrating and consuming nutrition during the race as well as requiring more time for training.
Who can run a half marathon?
Most anyone with proper training can run a half marathon. There really is no age limit. I was under the age of 10 when I ran my first half marathon and Harriette Thompson was 94 when she became the oldest woman to complete a half marathon in 3:42.56. (2)
How do I know if I'm ready to tackle a half marathon?
Naturally after you’ve completed a 5k and 10k, the next step up is the half marathon. However, you don’t have to have completed a 5 or 10k race to consider a half marathon. If you’ve consistently been running 3-4 times per week with a long run of 5-6 miles and have the desire to run farther, you are ready to train for a half marathon. However, even if you haven't run much at all and you have the desire to run a half marathon, you too can start training for one. You will just want to give yourself plenty of time (I would say 4-6 months) to properly prepare yourself so you don't get injured.
How do I prepare for a half marathon
There are many different training plans available for a half marathon. There are plans for beginners and those who have little running experience; to plans for intermediate and advanced runners looking to hit a new PR. Here are five key things to consider when choosing the right training plan for you:
1) Does it start you off at the level of fitness you’re currently at? This would include length of runs and number of runs per week. Pick a plan that starts you out with roughly the same volume of weekly mileage you’re currently doing. I wouldn't start out doing more than five miles more per week than you are used to. Choosing a plan that starts you off with more weekly miles than you’re used to could lead to injury and even discouragement. If you can’t find the right plan for you, an option would be to have a custom plan created just for you. If you decide to have a plan created, send me an email at email@example.com and I would be happy to visit with you and create the perfect plan. (3)
2) Does it consist of at least 10-12 weeks for beginners and 6-8 for experienced runners? Having the appropriate time, especially for beginners*, to increase in mileage, is crucial to injury prevention and a healthy progression. As a general rule of thumb, only increase the overall weekly volume by no more than 10% and then remain at that level for 2-3 weeks before increasing again.(4) For experienced runners, appropriate time is needed as you increase the speed and intensity of workouts allowing your body to build strength and adjust to the newly found speed. If you are very new to running, I would recommend taking at least 4 - 6 months to properly prepare for the half marathon.
* (meaning you've run at least 3 times per week and have a long run of 5-6 miles)
3) Dose the plan incorporate one or more rest days per week? Rest days are an essential element in training. Your body needs a break from the heavy training, allowing healing and recovery to take place. Rest also aids in the prevention of injury. Rest, as odd as it may seem, will actually help you in becoming a better runner.(5) (6) Beginning runners may need a couple rest days a week, especially in the beginning weeks of training. An experienced runner may be able to get by on one rest day a week; but can always take an additional day here and there as needed.
4) Does the plan include a long run of 11-13 miles? Long runs are the backbone in training for a half marathon. It’s in the long run where mental and physical strength are built.(7) Long runs also provide the opportunity to practice drinking and taking nutrition. You’ll want to run 11-13 miles, at least once, prior to your half marathon; however, if it fits in the schedule, I’d recommend doing a couple of these runs.
5) Does the plan include cross-training? Cross-training strengthens different muscle groups, helping to prevent injuries and making you an overall stronger runner. It provides a mental break from running which, is important in helping prevent burn out.(8) Cross-training also provides a physical break from running, allowing the muscles to recover.
I recommend having at least one cross-training day a week or every other week within your training plan. There are lots of options to choose from for cross-training. Pick one or two that you enjoy and that offer a challenge. Feel free to change the activity up as often as you want. Below are a couple different sites with cross training options:
What's the best nutrition for a half marathon?
Not all runners are the same when it comes to eating nutrition and drinking liquids and how it effects their body. You will want to practice drinking water, experiment with different energy drinks, GU’s, natural foods, and energy bars, etc. to find out what works for you. It’s far better to test nutrition prior to a race then finding out during the race that straight Gatorade makes you sick to your stomach or GU’s give you diarrhea. I have personally found success with a product called Tailwind.(9) It’s a flavored powder that is mixed with water and has 100 calories per scoop. It is very easy on the stomach. I’ve also mixed creamy peanut butter and honey together for caloric intake in training.
Running for any distance burns calories. With a typical runner taking over an hour to complete the half marathon, a lot of calories are being used. For a general rule, you can figure the average runner burning 100 calories per mile.(10) Here is a link to additional information for knowing how many calories you need to consume during a race.
What are the best shoes for a half marathon?
Runners don’t need much when it comes to equipment. A good pair a shoes is really the most essential part of a runners wardrobe. With training for a half marathon comes a lot of miles on the road. It’s important your shoes are in good shape and they’re the proper shoe for you. One of the best things you can do is go to a specialty running store in your area and let them help find you the perfect shoe. ***(I will throw in a little side note, please don’t go to the specialty store, get fitted, and then go buy the shoe online. At least purchase your first pair of “perfectly fitted shoes” at the store you were fitted, as your appreciation for their help.)***
If you do not have a specialty store in your area, you can do some testing on your own to find out which type of shoe you belong in. There are three main types of shoes on the market: Motion Control, Stability, or Cushion (ie. neutral). It's important to know which type you need to help prevent injury. All your major running brands (Brooks, Asics, New Balance, and Saucony) have shoes that fit into each type. Below are a couple links you can use to help determine which type of shoe should suit you best:
Is it okay to wear the same shoes in a race that you’ve used for training? Absolutely. As long as the shoe is still in good shape, it’s completely fine to wear your training shoes in a race. However, there are lighter weight shoes available with benefits over a training shoe. When speaking about the weight of running shoes, you will typically hear it in ounces. A racing shoe may only be a few ounces less than your training shoe; however, when figuring ounces over the duration of 13.1 miles, it adds up. Also, putting on a lighter shoe to race in can give you a psychological boost as you naturally feel lighter and faster. If you choose to race in a lightweight racing shoe, make sure you incorporate it into some of your training so your legs and feet are used to them. I wouldn't suggest starting a race in a new pair of shoes or a different type of shoe without first having broken them in.
Below is a link to a list of racing shoes to help get you started in knowing what to look for:
What are the best lubrications?
Along with shoes, socks, shorts, sports bras, and tops, there are other key pieces of wardrobe to consider when running. One thing to think about with running more miles is chaffing and blisters. Chaffing causes sore spots in arm pits, on nipples, in the crotch area, and where the sun doesn't shine. Chaffing can become very painful in a race and may effect how you finish and how you walk the next day. Luckily, chaffing can easily be prevented. It's important not to get clothes with high seams in areas prone to chaffing. Choose material that breathes and can dry quickly. Beyond material, you'll want to use lubricant on those areas prone to chaffing. The lubricant can be as simple as Vaseline or you can choose from one of the many on the market. Below you'll find a link to a list of lubricants to get you started. Pick one and try it during training. If it works, stay with it and if if doesn’t, try a different option. Once you find a lubricant that works, don't forget to use it before your race.
How do I run my best half marathon?
Preparation is key to having a good first half marathon. Put in the work and the work pays off. Figuring out what works for you to fuel and hydrate during the race will be essential to maintaining energy and finishing strong. Beyond the preparation and nutrition, how you physically run the race will have a determining factor in the type of race you have. By far, the best way to run your quickest time and have the best chance of completing the half marathon is to run consistent mile times. Consistent effort leads to the least amount of energy consumption; which, equals having more energy for longer. Running inconsistent miles, meaning speeding up and slowing down over and over, will consume more energy than needed and could lead to being fatigued sooner. Consistency is something good to practice during your training runs.
Pick a reasonable time you’d like to try and finish the race in. You can use this link to help you determine a reasonable goal time: Pace Calculator . Then, figure out the average pace per mile you need to run in order to make that time. This pace should be what you try to stay as close as possible to during the race. The easiest way to keep track of how fast your going is with a GPS watch (GPS Watches). Another way is to practice the pace during training so your body gets used to what it feels like. I used this method one year for a half marathon. I was wanting to run a 6:00 mile pace for an upcoming race. One of the things I did were workouts on a track. I figured out what one lap would be for a six minute pace then divided that by four. I then set the count down timer on my watch at or close to that time. I had the watch set so it would count down and beep once it hit zero then automatically start counting down again. I would then do intervals with the watch. I would start the count down as I took off. The goal was to be at the 100 meter mark when the watch started to beep. If I was to fast or a little behind I could adjust and see where I was at on the next 100 meter. Doing this over and over allowed me to get used to and feel what a 6:00/mile pace felt like. I could then run without a watch and be familiar enough with 6:00 pace to be close.
If you have the desire to run a half marathon, YOU CAN DO IT!! Be smart about how you train and implementing the above advice. Doing so will help in preventing injury and discouragement and provide you with the best opportunity to run a successful race.
If you don't feel confident in finding or putting the right training plan together, send me an email and let me put a personalized schedule together for you (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can view a half marathon training plan I've put together in my ENABLE page.
Good luck in your training. I would love to hear your success stories and see your finishing photos!