If you're new to running and have just signed up for your first half marathon, I know exactly how you feel. A mixture of emotions churn your stomach as you make the overwhelming realization that running 13.1 miles is a daunting prospect, especially if you're a beginner and the idea of even running one mile is scary.
Whether your reasons for signing up to run a half marathon are weight loss, charitable, in memory of someone or simply to get into running, this race is important to you and you want to do your best. The great thing about having a training goal such as a half marathon is that the deadline of race day will keep you tying up those laces for another run when you’d normally flake out for sofa and Netflix time.
I've now successfully completed two half marathons and am currently training for the Stockholm Marathon in May. Last year, I could barely run a mile without stopping to huff, puff and despair at myself. So here are my 13.1 tips for your first half marathon:
1. Find a training plan that works for you.
One of the mistakes I made in my first half marathon was not following any training plan at all. A quick search for "beginner half marathon training plan" will turn up many great options. Just pick one and go!
2. Don’t run every day.
Your body needs time to recover in between training runs and your rest days are actually just as important to your half marathon training as your long runs. Aim to run three times a week.
Did you know that your glutes power most of your stride when running? Squatting is the best way to strengthen your glutes and legs to condition them for your half marathon and will also build a great booty.
4. Find sneakers that are right for your feet.
I ran for years in the wrong type of shoe and without realizing, caused myself unnecessary injury and hardship. The type of shoe you need depends on how your feet land when you’re running: you can have either neutral, over-pronating or supinating arches. Sound complicated? Don’t worry, your local running shop will be able to evaluate your stride and point you in the right shoe-direction.
5. Plan a 10k race as part of your training.
Not only will a 10k keep you motivated during your half marathon training, but it'll also allow you to experience "race day" so you can establish your own routine when the big one comes around.
6. Have a training buddy.
Training with a friend — even if they don’t plan on running the race — makes training a social event and, therefore, more fun! You’re less likely to flake on a training run when it means letting someone else down too.
7. Cross train.
Sure, you'll need to run to train for the half marathon, but you should also make sure to incorporate other types of exercise into your routine. Cycling, swimming, an aerobic class or strength training are great ways to supplement your running because they all build strength and flexibility in muscles running doesn't always utilize. Expanding your training routine beyond running will also help prevent injury and boredom.
8. Plan your nutrition and hydration.
Practice drinking and eating energy-rich carbs on your run to avoid fatigue. Sip water rather than gulping it and take dried fruit with you on your longer runs for an instant boost without the horrible digestive side effects you can get from runner’s gels.
9. Incorporate yoga into your training.
Yoga is the perfect complement to running as it stretches and strengthens your muscles while also working your core and improving posture.
10. Study the course.
Knowing what to expect from the course on race day will help you prepare yourself mentally and physically. Watch out for where the hills and water stations are!
11. Invest in safety pins.
So important yet so easily forgotten! You’ll need four safety pins to attach your race bib/number to your top. Don’t forget!
12. Take care of your feet.
This may seem like a silly tip, but cutting your toe nails the night before race day is crucial. Think about all the pressure and friction you'll be putting on your feet during those 13.1 miles ... the shorter your toenails, the less likely they'll be to interfere with your stride.
13. Don’t set a time target.
Unless you’ve been running for a while and have a good level of fitness to start with, setting a time target for your first race could actually be a bad idea. 13.1 miles is a long distance and one that is completely new to your body. Setting yourself a time target could leave you feeling disappointed rather than proud, which would be terrible considering you’ve just run the longest distance ever in your life! Make your goal to finish with a smile instead!
13.1 Enjoy the amazing feeling commonly known as “runner’s high” once you’ve crossed the finish line!