Are you running or even thinking about running your first half marathon? You know that you will need to be able to run 13.1 miles, and you know that you will need to train for a while to do so. These top tips for new half marathoners will help you not only run 13.1 miles, but maximize your nutrition, recovery, confidence, and habits so that you enjoy your first half marathon!
Pick a plan best for you
There are almost as many half marathon training plans out there as there are half marathon races, and it can often be overwhelming to try to find the right plan. For your first half marathon, especially if you have been running for less than one year, you want to pick a beginner plan that focuses on finishing the race rather than a particular finish time. Consider how many days you run a week, what your current mileage is, and how far your longest run is; your plan should fit to your fitness and life, not the other way around. You don’t want to pick a plan that calls for six days of running if you only run four right now, or jump straight into 10 mile long runs if you’ve never run farther than 5 miles. The length of the plan is also important; if you’re relatively new to running, choose a longer plan with more weeks devoted to building an endurance base.
Once you have a plan, stick with it; coaches designed plans to optimize workouts, recovery, and progression. If you add extra miles, skip workouts, or cut out weeks, you are counteracting what the training plan promises to do for you.
More experienced runners who are heading to the half marathon but have been running for years and raced shorter distances can choose intermediate plans with more volume and intensity.
Don’t compare yourself to others
The quickest way to get discouraged and lose the joy of running is to compare yourself to others. Every single runner is different, and there is always someone faster and someone slower. Your training partner may run more or less miles each week in training, but you two are different people and you need to do what is best for your fitness, goals, and body. Running a half marathon is a you and your accomplishment, not about how fast someone else ran or how many miles they ran in training. Comparison is the thief of joy; run for yourself and no one else.
Recovery is as important as running
Running a half marathon is not just about running. What you do in the hours between your runs can make a huge difference in how you feel throughout your training schedule and how you feel on race day. Foam rolling helps release tension in the fascia of your muscles, yoga increases mobility and stretches achy muscles; add each in a couple times a week and you’ll notice less muscle soreness! Proper hydration and eating a healthy snack or meal with carbs after runs will replenish the fluids you lost and the glycogen you burned during the run, and keep half marathon training hunger at bay. Getting enough sleep is essential, as that is when your muscles repair themselves! You may find that you need an extra 30 minutes or even an extra hour of sleep a night during race training. In recovery, your body fixes the small tears each workout leaves in your muscles and the repairs make your muscles stronger. Skimping on the aspects of recovery will prevent you from becoming fitter as you approach race day. And don’t forget about recovering after the race!
Nourish yourself with the right nutrients
Nutrition also plays a huge role in running and training for a race. You want to eat complex carbs such as whole grains, fruit, and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats to fuel your body. A poor diet is poor fuel! Training also increases your body’s demand for specific nutrients, such as iron, calcium (especially for women!), sodium, and potassium. If you eat a lot of processed foods, your body will miss out on these nutrients; however, if you eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, legumes, nuts, and healthy fats, you’ll get plenty of the nutrients needed to keep runners strong and healthy. Eating a healthy diet full of whole foods will also prevent the weight gain that some people experience when training for endurance events. Consuming sugars and alcohol in moderation so that they do not interfere with recovery.
Practice good fueling for long runs and the race
Nutrition is super important before, during, and after runs, but it’s slightly different than your daily nutrition. While you want to focus on whole foods with fiber, fat, and protein during your meals, pre- and mid-run fueling requires simple carbohydrates that are easily digestible. You can opt for dried fruit or energy gels and chews. Consuming fuel during long runs will help you have enough energy to get through long runs; without fuel, you’ll begin to feel sluggish and fatigued, especially if it’s your first time running that longer distance. Be sure to drink water with your gels, as it will help you digest them and get the energy you need. In addition to fuel during your run, you want to make sure you get electrolytes during or right after your workout. I love Nuun Hydration products for getting the right balance of electrolytes without taking in extra sugars or calories. You can read more about fueling for long runs here and here! Taking in fuel on long runs will help adapt your body to fueling so that you do not experience any GI distress on race day. Individual runners react different to the various fueling products on the market; you don’t want to be put off my the texture of a gel or feel sick from too much sugar in a brand of chews on race day!
Record your progress
Using a training journal to track your workouts is a great way to keep yourself accountable as you train for your first half marathon. You will be less likely to skip a run if you would then have to write that down. I like to write down my runs and then compare them to what my training plan called for and see how well I met the distances and paces. The Believe Training Journal is filled with inspiring quotes and is made with runners in mind. Journaling your workouts will keep you motivated as you get closer to the race, even when you hit the inevitable point where training is tough and tiring. Whenever you need motivation, look back throughout your training log and see how much you have improved!
Don’t forget to strengthen
Just because you are logging lots of miles does not mean you should skip out on strength training! You probably want to avoid heavy weightlifting and activities like Crossfit, as these have contradictory goals to endurance running and will leave you more tired and at a higher risk of overtraining. Instead, you want to focus on lighter weight lifting or body weight strength training, with particular focus on your core and your glutes. Strength training prevents injury and strengthens the muscles you use to run, both of which will help you get across the finish line healthier and happier. Strength training doesn’t need to be complicated; even a few sets of bodyweight squats, push-ups, and planks after a run will build strong muscles.
Running your first half marathon is a once in a lifetime experience. Whether you go on to run marathons, run more half marathons, or never race again, you want to enjoy your training and the race!
Questions of the Day:
New runners: what do you want to know about half marathon training?
Experienced half marathoners: what tips do you have to offer?
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