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Everyone comes to long distance running differently. Some start out as casual weekend runners who find themselves addicted to racing after doing a 5K for charity. Others start out as successful 5K runners who decide to try going longer distances. Still others are complete beginners with no running experience who decide they want to run a half marathon right from the start.
Whatever has brought you to join the league of beginning half marathon runners, you will need some insider training tips to make it through that first race successfully and (hopefully) many others afterward.
Why are You Running?
You are more likely to make it through training and that first half marathon if you draw motivation and inspiration from at least one well-defined goal. The desire to hold your head up high and say that you finished a half marathon may be what gets your feet moving in the beginning, but it is not what will take you to the end of the race and into training for the next race.
Make sure your goals are very clear, so you can focus on them and feel inspired by them. For example, you might want to finish the half marathon with a particular time or you might want to raise a certain amount of money for the charity your race will benefit. There has to be something that drives you to keep going, even when you have blisters on your feet, its pouring rain, or you have the sniffles.
Honestly Assess Your Starting Point
Be very honest with yourself regarding where you are right now with your running. If you can barely run a mile without collapsing, do not start a half marathon training plan for runners who can comfortably run five miles. If you try to push yourself too fast, you will either end up injured or frustrated and worn out. You set yourself up for failure in the end.
If you are a complete beginner, then you can still train to run a half marathon. You just need more time to train than a more established runner.
Focus on Distance, Not Speed
If you keep running, you will eventually get to the point where you can focus on picking up speed, but that should not be your focus as a beginner. Focus on becoming more comfortable with running longer distances so you do not feel intimidated about running the half marathon and one day the marathon.
Training for distance simply means including a long run in your weekly training schedule. These long runs should be performed at the speed at which you want to complete the half marathon or slower and they should get progressively longer the closer you get to race date. Do not skip these long runs! They will build up your long distance comfort and endurance.
Increase with Moderation
Start out with a weekly mile schedule that fits your current ability and then increase your miles by 10% or less each week (if you feel ready). Remember, assess the beginning schedule according to a realistic idea of what you are currently capable of doing. You want to challenge yourself, but not to the point that you make your workouts impossible to get through. You also don’t want to set yourself up for overuse muscle injuries.
Your increase in miles should be gradual. You may choose to add more miles to your long run one week while pumping up some of the shorter runs on other weeks. Just make sure your increase is never more than 10% from your previous week miles.
Invest in High Quality Gear
Don’t skimp on the cheap running shoes. Gear up with shoes designed for your feet and which feel comfortable. Make sure you have clothing that is comfortable so you don’t have to worry about chafing and other discomforts.
Go for Natural Foods
You do need to eat for energy and optimal health when training for a half marathon, but you do not need all of the gimmicky products now on the market for runners. For example, a good sports drink will keep you hydrated throughout a workout but you don’t necessarily need gels. You definitely don’t want to mix gels or water with sports drinks. A sport drink is all you really need to get through a long run.
Stick with very simple, nutrient-dense foods. You need lean protein, lots of fruits and vegetables, and a healthy intake of water (when not running). Whole grains may be consumed, but you don’t need a lot of them. You don’t need bars designed for runners if you are eating wholesome foods.