Training programme for your first half marathon

With grateful thanks to Lindsey Parry

You have come some way now. You are running regularly and you have even attempted a 10 kilometre race. It went well and now you want more. But you are apprehensive. Others seem to keep breaking down with injury and sometimes you think running is just not for you?

Here you have the perfect guide to get you to a half marathon in six months – injury free and enjoying every step of the way. The number one stumbling block for beginners is patience, the longer you have been away from regular exercise the longer it will take before you can build up to a reasonable fitness without risking injury.

Starting out

What is your cardiovascular risk? If you answer yes to 2 or more of the following questions it is a good idea to have a medical before embarking on any exercise regime:
Do you have a family risk of cardiovascular disease?
Have you been told you suffer from and cardiovascular disease?
Do you smoke?
Experience bouts of dizziness or shortness of breath?
Are you more than 10km over weight?

The next step is getting kitted out in the correct gear. There is a lot to choose from on the market. The rule of thumb for shorts, tights and tops is: Make sure they are comfortable.

If you start your programme in winter, you will also need some warm cloths, gloves and a beanie to keep you warm if you are planning on training outside.

The most important aspect of your pre training preparation is running shoes. Although only a small percentage of running injuries can be attributed to footwear, it is worth getting into the correct pair from the start. Head to your nearest running specialist store where the staff are trained to put you in the correct pair of shoes. And since your feet are your weapons on the road buy yourself proper running socks so that you can be as comfortable as possible.

The last step before hitting the road is to buy yourself a reflective bid or belt and a flashing night light so that cars can clearly see you on the road. Guide to using the programme effectively:

Less is actually more:

This saying has never been truer than when dealing with novice runners, by building up slowly and making sure you rest you will allow your joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments to strengthen and adapt to the increasing demands being placed on them by training. Even though there is plenty of rest built into the programme, listen to your body and if you are sore then take an extra days rest. This will allow you to come back stronger and enjoy your next workout more. Ultimately managing the dose of the exercise with the rest/recovery will be the difference between breaking down with injury or not. Use the programme as a guide and do what you can when you feel your body is ready for it. Now you can enjoy rest days guilt free!

The weekend long run:

This is an important part of your training as we are preparing you to be on your feet for a long time. We start with more walking than running which allows you to stay out on the road for longer and get accustomed to longer bouts of exercise. For this strategy to be effective though you need to walk with purpose, it is not a stroll around the neighbourhood. As the training progresses and the walking becomes less, you may find that you enjoy the “rest” walking gives your legs. Do not be shy to use regular 1min walk breaks during all your long runs. On race day, short walk breaks are an effective way of keeping your legs fresher for longer allowing you to run at a faster pace for the duration of the run.

What is important is that you do not mark out a route and try to improve your time each week. The long run is to be done very easy and at a slow pace. Remember it is about time on your feet and not how fast you can run.

There is a 10km race and a 15km race planned into your long runs, these can be done with a bit more effort than your long training runs and are there to help build your confidence for race day. The extra rest day after each effort will see you recover from the extra effort.

Time Trials:

There are three 5 kilometre Time Trials built into the programme. The first is there so that you can do a 5 kilometre measured run and tick off that milestone. The second and third Time Trials are there so that you can measure your improvement over the three months and start to build your confidence to race day.

Another important reason for the Time Trial is to give you short term goals to keep you motivated while the main goal is still far out of sight and maybe not yet attainable in your mind. The 10km and 15km road races will further help to keep you focused and show you how well you are progressing.

Time Trials are also an excellent way of teaching you to pace yourself. Go out too easy and you feel like you have left something behind, go out too hard and five kilometres feels like a LONG way.

There is unfortunately a BUT here. When you add intensity into a training programme you also significantly increase your chance of injury. Therefore although these are “tests” to measure progress, set achievable, slightly conservative goals. There will be plenty of opportunity to chase time after you have done your first half Marathon.

As race day approaches:

As race day nears you will ask yourself all the typical questions: Why am I doing this? Can I do this? Did I do enough training? The answers are numerous but the important answers are: Yes you can do it and yes you did do enough. You can always do more next time, but remember as a novice less is more and you have done 6 months of consistent training, completed a 5km and a 15km and are now ready to complete 21.1km in an official race.

You have been running regularly for many weeks and done a few long runs along the way. Use these long runs to learn about your body. Take note of where your feet blister or where you chafe on your body. Put plasters where you blister and Vaseline wherever you chafe. Sunglasses and a cap will make the day more pleasant and sunscreen is a must as you will be out on the road for a few hours.

The programme decreases in volume as race day approaches, this is so that they can freshen up and you can feel really good on the morning of the race. Use this feeling of strength to build your confidence BUT do not take it to mean you are ready to sprint the whole way. Remember the lessons learnt on the Time Trials, 10km and 15km road races. Pace yourself, if you feel strong during the last 5km you can push yourself but the first half Marathon should be an enjoyable experience. If you have been using a walk run strategy in training then use it again on race day, especially if there are big climbs. This will leave you fresh for the flats and downs.

Get to the start early as you will be very nervous and rushing around getting organised will waste energy that you need for the race. If possible go with a regular half marathoner so that they can worry about the parking, and you can just focus on your race. Remind yourself that you can do this and try to enjoy it as much as possible.

On race day you need to focus on three things:
– Hold Back, especially in the first 5 kilometres. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and the crowds and go to fast, ruining your race.
– Take in small sips of coke or energy drink as provided all the way. This will keep you feeling energised.
– You are here to have fun.

After the race you can take a well-earned break. This is important so that you can recover well and start your next goal fresh. By taking a break after achieving each goal you get to enjoy your achievement and avoid burning out in a year or two. During your break you can also reflect on your progress and plot your next goal, some fast shorter distances, a fast Half Marathon or maybe something longer…