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How to Prepare for Your First Half Marathon

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Preparing to run your first half marathon can be a daunting experience, but with a good training schedule and a few helpful hints you'll be able to step on the course with confidence.

This article will explain how to train for your first half marathon so you'll be confident and prepared for the event. 

Lady running along a trail

How to Train for Your First Half Marathon

A half marathon is 13.1 miles, and if you haven't run one before, preparation is key to your success.

There's a variety of different half marathon training plans that will help you improve your time and build upon your experience with the event. But for first timers it's best to find a plan that is designed for specifically beginners.

Training plans typically range between 12 to 16 weeks and include a variety of different runs and workouts.

However, if you already have a level of fitness and are simply looking to prepare for a half marathon, you may want to consider our 4-Week Half Marathon Training Program. But for this article, we'll assume you are opting for the longer plan.

Half Marathon Training Plan

You can expect a half marathon training plan to include the following workouts:

Long Run - Expect to do 1 long run each week. The goal of the long run is to improve your stamina and endurance so you'll be prepared for the half marathon. Run at pace that's comfortable for you.

Easy Runs - Expect to do up to 3 easy runs a week. Again, your pace should be comfortable.

Speed Training - Not all beginning half marathon training programs include speed training, but it's a great way for runners to improve their speed and endurance. One speed training workout a week will help you become faster and stronger. A few examples of speed training are interval training and tempo running.

Strength Training - One day a week of strength training will help improve your athletic performance. You can do squats or lunges or other bodyweight exercises that don't require equipment, or use dumbbells or other weights.

Cross Training - Building in a day of activity that's low impact and low intensity allows your body a chance to benefit from active recovery. Instead of taking a rest day, go for a walk, a bicycle ride, swim some laps, or even sign up for a yoga class.

Rest Days - Half marathon training programs are hard work and it's important to take a day or two off so your body can recover and repair. Whichever training plan you choose will build the rest days into the workouts, and it's important that you give your body a rest.

Watch the Video

Want to learn more? Here's a quick video.

Why You Need a Training Schedule

It's very important to have a training schedule to help you keep on track with your training. Without a training schedule, it can be easy to lose motivation, which can cause you to fall behind in your preparation for your half marathon.

Having a schedule allows you to hold yourself accountable, and helps you remain motivated for the race.

Beginners might be unsure of how to formulate a training schedule, so it's important to make sure you find one appropriate for your fitness level and follow it as close as possible.

Many beginners try to copy a training schedule for advanced runners, but this isn't your best choice since you won't be at the same level as those who have a lot of experience. Look for a training schedule designed for beginners or first time half marathon runners as it'll be better suited to prepare your body for the race.

Track Your Training

Even when you're on a training schedule it's a best practice to mark your running days on your calendar.

If you have a calendar hanging in your kitchen, its beneficial to write down the days you're running and mark them off once completed.

This gives you a sense of accomplishment and helps you stay motivated. It'll also prepare you for your running days and prevent double-booking yourself with other activities.

Chances are there will be times when you need to miss a training session for an unavoidable event, but if you put your running as a priority you won't need to beat yourself up when the unexpected throws your schedule off.

Simply jump back into your next training session. You won't need to worry about losing any progress.

Watch the Video

This video gives you some great tips and tricks to make your half marathon a success:

How to Choose Your First Half Marathon

If you don't already have a specific half marathon you'd like to run, you'll want to find one that takes place close to the end of your training plan.

Here's a few things to consider when choosing your first half marathon.

Time of Year

When planning your first half marathon, you'll not only need to consider the date of the event, but also the training days leading up to the event. An October half marathon will mean training during the hot summer months; and if you sign up for a spring event, you'll be training during the winter months.

There's no way around it, each event will have some less than pleasant training days. But as a general rule, pick an event where you'll be training in the weather you're most comfortable with. And most of all, don't let the less than desirable weather stop your training.

Course Type

There's a wide range of half marathon events to choose between, and each has their own set of challenges. Many first time half marathon runners opt for a flatter course where there's few elevation changes. 

If you'd like a little more variety, you may want to find a hilly course, just make sure to incorporate elevation into your training plan as you'll be working different muscles.

You can typically find the elevation for a course on the events website. There will usually be a map with elevation changes, or an individual elevation chart.

Race Location

Do you want to do your first half marathon close to home? Or would you rather take a vacation and do it somewhere far away?

Many events are held in historic or scenic locations where you can get a first hand experience through the streets while you're running your race.

Although, keep in mind the traveling, eating out, and staying at a hotel can be fun, it might be a better idea to save it for your second half marathon. Knowing how your body will react before and after the race may be better learned closer to home. 13.1 miles is a long distance, even when you've been training.

In addition, finding a local race will be easier to build into your schedule, and you may even be able to run parts of the course before the event. Not to mention it'll be cheaper since you won't need to pay for transportation, hotel, dining, and other expenses.

Runner drinking water and resting

Tips for Running Your First Half Marathon

As you're preparing for your first half marathon, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Make Sure You Rest

It's very important that you're well-rested, so scheduling rest days into your training is vital. Make sure to you have your runs scheduled, but don't forget that resting is just as crucial to your training.

Failure to allow your body to rest could result in burnout or exhaustion, which can increase your chances of experiencing an injury.

Many runners feel they always need to be moving when they're training, however allowing your body time to recover is just as important as physical training.

If you're feeling fatigued, you may want to take an extra rest day, or run 2 miles on a day when you were scheduled to run more. Listen to your body, and know when to push and when to rest.

Take Part in Other Activities

Training for 13.1 miles will be challenging, but you'll need to do other things too. If you're only running, you'll burn out both mentally and physically and end up becoming bored of repeatedly doing the same thing.

You'll want to take part in other activities to break up your training schedule while still working out. This will ensure you are training other muscle groups.

Having sessions for strength training can help you to become stronger and allow you to experience other types of exercise that will help you during your training. Strength training will help you prevent injuries.

On active recovery days, consider swimming, biking, or even playing tennis. All these activities help work other muscle groups and prevent becoming bored.

Focus on Nutrition

Nutrition is an extremely important part of any training plan, since you'll want to feed your body the right foods to give you energy.

You should be eating foods that are full of protein and load up on healthy carbs like legumes, quinoa, oats, and whole grains. It's always important to consume lots of fresh fruits and vegetables to help keep your body healthy.

Whether you're training in hot weather or cold, stay hydrated by consuming plenty of water. During your the summer, your body will be sweating more, so it's important you stay on top of your hydration.

Follow Your Training Plan

Some days you'll feel like you can run more than the distance on your training plan. This is especially common on days where you're scheduled to run 2 miles, or even on rest days.

However, you must resist the urge and stick to your running plan.

The goal of your plan is to gradually increase your distance. Increasing your distance too quickly can be hard on your body. It's important to know that running too far too quickly doesn't allow your body the time it needs to adjust to the distance increase.

Follow the plan, and your body will soon be able to reach the longer distances.

Listen to Your Body

Many times we get so focused on the goal that it's difficult to slow down and recognize that something isn't right.

If you feel a slight pain or strain, it's important to listen and allow the injury to heal properly. Not allowing your body to heal will only cause the problem to get worse . . . which means a longer recovery time.

Admitting you need rest can be difficult for people, but its better for your body in the long run. If you have an injury that's continually getting worse, seeking help from a doctor is always your best bet.

Runners in group

Keep Your Running Routes Varied

Running a variety of different routes will help you stay motivated and reduce boredom. You can explore new areas, or trail running one day and street running the next. You can even change the time of day you run which also adds variety to your training.

If you have a gym membership or own a treadmill you may want to incorporate it into your training. Treadmills can be extremely helpful, especially during rainy or snowy weather as you can still get your workout in without battling the elements.

Run Alone or With Others

Many runners enjoy training together, in fact there are many running clubs that provide group training for a specific half marathon. You'll be able to meet other like-minded runners that have the same goals as you and follow the training program together.

Or, maybe you already have a few buddies who want to run with you, and your group prefers more flexibility. You can find a training program that works for your group and meet up for the runs and hold each other accountable.

Or, maybe you'd rather train alone and take the time to clear your head and be by yourself. 

Whatever you choose, what's important is to know that you have options.

Get the Right Gear

One of the advantages of running is you don't need a tremendous amount of gear. But there are a few things you definitely should have.

If you don't have the right running gear you'll find it very difficult to prepare for your half marathon.

Running shoes are extremely important as you'll need to make sure they are comfortable, secure, and supportive. If your shoes cause you pain or blisters, you won't be able to focus on your training. It's well worth your time and money to purchase a good pair of running shoes and we highly recommend seeking a professional to help you find the right pair for your feet.

In addition, if you're running in the summer, you'll want to buy clothing that's moisture wicking, and for winter running, you'll need a good base layer. This guide will help you find the right running gear for your needs.

Check with Your Doctor

It's always a good idea to talk with your doctor before starting any new fitness routine, especially if you have any existing health conditions.

Your doctor will be able to give you a physical exam and discuss any concerns he/she may have. 

Even if your doctor gives you the go ahead, having a physical prior to starting will give you a medical starting point. On your next appointment you'll be able to compare your medical stats and see the impact of a year's training. You'll likely see great results since you'll be eating well and exercising regularly!

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