How did you get into running?
More to the point, how did you get into a position where you decided to take on the challenge of running 13 miles? I can imagine it went something like this: “Sat on your couch, watching someone on TV announce how running has changed their life, and a lightbulb goes off in your head. I could do that. I’m going to sign up for a half marathon.” Maybe that’s not quite how it happened, I’m probably just projecting.
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Either way, here we are. Ready to take on a half marathon, or at least ready to prepare for it! The internet is flooded with techniques to achieve a half marathon, from 8-week challenges to 16-week ones. It can be hard to decipher what works and what doesn’t. But look no further, I’d like to introduce to you the ultimate guide for your couch to half marathon journey. I’ve done the research, tested the theories and put together a list of the best resources to get you started, and see you through to the very end. Whether you’re a seasoned runner or a complete beginner, this resource will teach you something new, give you a fresh challenge and teach you to test yourself in new ways.
“I dare you to train for a half marathon and not have it change your life”
How to get started
They always say that it’s the getting started that’s the hardest part. So, before I recommend any training plans or give you any more information. Let’s go right back to the basics, here’s what you need to know before you start even thinking about starting your first run:
- I’ll recommend a few training plans that you can try; all of which I’ve found to be useful in different ways and they’ve all been extremely successful between my friends and I when training for long races such as a half marathon. However, if you feel that the plan is too aggressive for you then don’t be afraid to repeat a day or a week, slow it down or even extend the intervals of walking and running.
- Persevere. You might need to repeat a week or modify the training program, but don’t think that you aren’t making progress or that you should give up because you find a particular week difficult. Trust me, by the end of the week, you’ll be better than the beginning. Every. Single. Time.
- 3 to 5 miles starting point. Before you even think about starting training for a half marathon, make sure that you have a benchmark to begin. Every plan I’ll recommend assumes you can run 3 to 5 miles with ease first. If this isn’t something you’re capable of, try the couch to 5k podcasts first.
- Longer plans are better. I’ve found that runners who choose longer training programs are less likely to be injured during the process; although the average training program for a half marathon is 12 weeks, look at the 16-week plans as they are slower and help your body acclimatize to the new challenges more easily.
- The couch to half marathon isn’t just about running long distances week upon week. It’s important to build other aspects into training as well – such as strength training, resistance training, and classes on top of the standard running. This will keep training interesting as well as support the strengthening of muscles through a variety of different movements.
- Group Training. Training with other people will help you stay motivated, help you benchmark your progress and provide a fun and interesting method of meeting new people. It will also help you build a support network to help you overcome those inevitable mental hurdles that come with training.
When it comes to training, it’s not just about the exercise; there are plenty of other things to think about which I will cover later in this guide. So, let’s get the physical training routine out of the way with several recommendations:
- Women’s Running Couch to Half Marathon in 20 weeks: 1 to 7, 8 to 14 and 15 to 20.
- Pear Sports Podcasts: Hands-free, eyes free, personalized audio coach.
- Bupa Half Marathon 12 Week Training Program.
Whether you’re interested in long or short training sessions, a variety of specified classes or a more personalized approach with more freedom, the three options here cover a diverse selection of options to suit your training style and your budget.
Pacing advice for beginners
One of the biggest challenges for beginners is effective pacing. This is especially true for runners that are training outside. Pace isn’t something that most of us are born with and it takes practice and patience to get it right. There is a tendency for new runners to push too hard at the beginning of a training session and are either unable to complete the session, or finish much slower than they started. The trick is to try and keep an even pace from start to finish. This can be hard on your own, but there are a lot of apps and techniques that you can use to keep your pace in check.
I would highly recommend starting with an app such as Nike+ Run Club, this app signposts your training so you don’t have to constantly check the app and distract yourself from the run – you can edit the frequency between miles and minutes and include things such as time passed, distance travelled as well as pace into the signposting. It makes tracking your runs much easier, and it also keeps a record of your runs to give you averages and progression information.
If an app isn’t for you, then there are other ways to keep track of your training, such as a technique by Runners World called the magic mile. To understand your pace, run one mile hard on a flat surface such as a track. Make sure you test your magic mile every two weeks so you can edit your pace as you progress. When you’re training, try to keep the pace a couple of minutes slower than your magic mile.
Closer to race day, depending on what distance race you are running, the way you work out your pacing changes. In the case of a half marathon, use this calculation = (magic mile + 33 seconds) x 1.2. This calculation tells you the pace you need to remain at throughout the half marathon. Pacing during training mirrors the old folk’s tale ‘the tortoise and the hare’ almost exactly – a slower even pace will always give you better results than uneven quick bursts of energy throughout the race.
Equipment vs Non-Equipment Training
When it comes to the ‘alternative’ segments of the training programme, there are many different techniques to use which vary depending on your budget, time and availability. Some runners prefer to spend this time in a class, others on the machines at the gym. My favourite classes are box-fit and pole fitness as they both focus on abs, strength and endurance, as well as being diverse, interesting and different to the usual style of classes.
The most inexpensive method to complete alternative workouts is to use a YouTube workout that either uses bodyweight exercises only, or household objects for weight training. Fitness Blender and Blogilates are my favorite YouTube workout channels; both classes offer a wide range of workouts to target specific muscle groups. All the videos range in length and difficulty so there is something for everyone.
A common problem in most runners is their posture. It can be easy to slip into a slouch, or lean forward from the waist when aiming for the perfect form. Form is linked closely to efficiency when running, whilst poor posture can make you more exhausted as well as being more likely to cause you injury.
The best way to keep your posture in check is working from the head down:
Head: Look ahead, keeping your eye on the horizon and try to avoid looking at your feet. This will keep your neck and back aligned, but make sure your head is naturally held up and not jutting your chin out as this can put a strain on your neck.
Arms: Your hands control the tension in your upper body, and your arm swing works in conjunction with your leg stride which helps propel you forward. This swinging motion needs to stay forward and back, without moving across your body. Keep your arms at 90 degrees between chest and waist height and relax your hands, keeping your finds touching your palms gently.
Shoulders and Body: The position of your limbs and head affect the position of your body. The best position for your torso is reached by lengthening your spine as much as you can. Your shoulders should be relaxed and keep them low and loose. By keeping them level as you run will ensure you aren’t exerting excess energy. slightly back, this helps the most oxygen reach your lungs, as well as giving you the chance to open your stride.
Hips and Legs: Your hips are where your centre of gravity lies, therefore you need to keep them grounded and facing the direction you’re running in. You also need your hips to stay upright, this can be achieved by the proper alignment of your torso, if your torso is slouched or leans forward, your hips will do the same, which throws your centre of gravity off.
Distance runners are required to keep their knees slightly lifted to ensure that you aren’t dragging your feet along the ground, however do not lift them too highly as this motion will exert too much energy and isn’t needed for distance (this is more for sprinters). Short strides and a slight knee lift are the best methods for a good posture, and efficient running method.
Feet and Ankles: The best runners use their feet to propel them forward, paying attention to the way in which their foot pushes forward into the next stride. When on your next run, try and push off the ground with each step with a little more force, and lightly land each stride. Your ankle should be taught enough that you can feel the strides in your calf. This should create a spring in your step and a quiet run.
Apparel and Footwear
One of the most important and most forgotten parts of the physical training is your clothes and footwear. Clothes that are breathable as well as insulating are the best, and the best way to ensure both is layering. This way, as you warm up, layers can be removed to ensure your body temperature stays at a good level, and when cooling down, the layers are put back on to ensure that the muscles don’t cool too quickly, causing injury. My favourite brand for apparel is Fabletics, which is an independent brand which offers a wide range of styles, fit and fabrics.
Footwear is also important as the sole of the shoe needs to ensure an even dispersion of the pressure to avoid injury. The shoe must also encase the foot in a way which adds structure and support to the ankle. Every brand of footwear is different, and finding the right shoe for you can be difficult. In later weeks I’ll be discussing the best and worst trainers for running, but for now take a look at Nike Free RN CMTR. They’re the first running shoe I ever bought, and have served me well over the years.
The second biggest part of training is the nutrition you put in your body. I’m sure you’re aware of the benefits of a balanced, healthy diet; I’m sure you’re also aware of what healthy eating looks like, so I won’t go into too much detail about how to eat properly, simply avoid cheap, fast foods, and stick to the healthier options. When you begin training, try to include a lot more sodium, healthy fats, protein and complex carbs into your diet as these are the four ingredients which give you fuel as well as the food groups which are diminished the most in training.
70% of your body is made up of water, and keeping hydrated is a key part of training. Hydration keeps your muscles well oiled, helps with repair to muscles, digestion and efficiency with running. One study on hydration presented at American College of Sports Medicine’s annual meeting suggests that runners who replenished 150% of their hydration could run 10k at least one minute faster. This is important for runners to be aware of because not only does it improve your health and reduce your chance of injury, but it also increases your efficiency in the race.
The recommended fluid intake varies for one person to another, which means it’s important to do the research on yourself to ensure you stay properly hydrated. An easier way to work this out is weigh yourself before and after a training session, that way you know the weight loss is due to fluid loss. The average fluid intake is suggested to be between 16 and 24 ounces per pound of fluid loss, therefore times the number of pounds you lost by these two figures to work out how much fluid you need to drink that day. Depending on your own preferences and body needs, this could split between before, during and after the training.
There you have it, the ultimate guide to training for a half marathon. My biggest tip for you is to make sure to know what works for you. Push too hard and you will cause yourself an injury, not hard enough and you might become bored, and probably won’t be ready for race day. Just keep going, and most of all: Good luck and enjoy yourself!