As the coordinator for the New York Road Runners' Official TCS New York City Marathon Online Training Program, I've worked with over 12,000 runners on the basics of proper training, fueling and racing. And I can tell you how imperative it is to put your health first and set action steps for what will be one of your greatest achievements if you too are training for a race. Whether you are new to running or a veteran athlete, these 13.1 steps break down what you need for a successful 13.1 mile, half marathon race.
1. Start your training 10-16 weeks before the race.
Sure, you can probably finish it if you give yourself less time, but why risk injury and run a slower, more uncomfortable race when you can be fitter and faster instead? Joining a running club can help you stick to your training plan and inspire you to train for your best race yet.
2. Set a reasonable goal.
With help from coaches, running websites, and your own knowledge and experience, you can find out what kind of time you're capable of. If you don't have an idea of what a reasonable goal is, odds are you'll start too fast or too slow.
3. Learn the course.
Your training will depend in part on the race terrain. If you live close enough to train on the course itself, all the better.
4. Follow a careful, intelligent and flexible training plan.
Your training plan should include the three main elements of successful racing each week: an interval workout, a tempo run and a long run. Make sure to incorporate easy or rest days between them.
5. Get lots of sleep.
The strength and endurance that workouts make possible actually occur during sleep, when your body repairs itself and adapts to new stresses. Missing sleep is as bad as missing training.
6. Eat like a distance runner.
You'll need all three of the major nutrients during training and to run a successful race: carbohydrates and fat for fuel, protein for muscle-building (fat also lets you metabolize protein). Eat a protein/carb meal within an hour after a training session to expedite recovery.
7. Watch great runners.
You can read about good running form or work with a coach, but an easy way to internalize the elements of economical form is to watch coverage or video of races or big track meets. Those people are doing it right and watching them will let you visualize proper form later.
In your last two weeks, err on the side of rest. Cramming in another hard run won't help. Sleep, stay off your feet, go to an early day of the expo and run less, and slower, than you know you can.
9. Get organized before race day.
Go over a list of everything you'll need on race day — twice — and make sure you've got it all in one place. This includes what you'll be eating and drinking pre-race. And no new shoes on race day; getting proper running shoes is the first thing you should do when you start training!
10. Relax for the first half.
13.1 miles is a long way. Don't push the pace or race anybody until after the six-mile point. Run the first half of the race like a serious training run with several thousand friends.
11. Drink at the aid stations.
The earlier water stations are important, even if you're not thirsty yet. You won't benefit from a drink with a mile to go like you will earlier. Bring at least one energy gel with you on race day as it might be just the thing you need to carry you through a rough patch.
12. Challenge yourself with three miles to go.
If you've trained and you're past 10 miles, you're going to finish. Why not see how much you've really got left? Watch the mile markers and try to drop a few seconds on each of the last few. And catch that runner you've been looking at for half an hour!
13. Become Usain Bolt with 200 meters to go.
You actually have another energy source besides carbohydrates, and it's called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). It kicks in when YOU kick it in. If you go to full sprint mode with less than a minute left in the race, you'll be pleasantly surprised at the response.
13.1. Take care of yourself afterward.
Yes, you did it! And that's all that feels important at the moment. But drinking water and an energy drink right away, getting into dry clothes, walking a bit before you sit down and having a good meal with carbs and protein will speed your recovery, making the next couple of days less uncomfortable. (But yes, celebrate your accomplishment, too)!