Johnson Fitness and Wellness

What You Need to Know Before Training for a Half Marathon

training for half marathon
When you need a new training goal, a half marathon may well be the perfect distance.  The course is long enough to challenge experienced runners but manageable enough to allow training for a goal time or performance.  You can use your half marathon as the first step towards preparing for a full marathon or to level up your Saturday road races.  If you’ve set your sites on 13.1, there are a few essential training tips you need to know.

Are you Ready for a Half Marathon?

Training for a half marathon is going to require putting some miles on your running shoes.  While you don’t need to run the full distance prior to race day, a good training plan will slowly increase your mileage into the double digits. If your long run is currently 4 miles, give yourself about three months to prepare.  This will give you enough time for a couple of long runs in addition to a taper before the big day. If you’re just getting started or getting back to running, pick a race that’s five or six months out.  Before you really begin your half marathon training, you should ideally have a base of 10-15 miles per week.  This gives you the ability to tolerate the increases in distance that will be needed on your long runs. Lastly, look at your schedule.  As you get further into your training, your long runs move closer to the 2 hour mark.  With shorter daylight hours approaching, plan on some treadmill and weekend training sessions.  

The Most Important Training Runs  

Once you’ve scheduled your race, you’ll need a plan to get ready for it.  One of the great things about a half marathon is its ability to fit into a busy schedule.  You don’t need to run every day to prepare for your race, in fact you’ll do better if you don’t.  To perform well, the majority of your half marathon training should focus on two runs, the long run and the tempo run.  

The Long Run:

Not surprisingly, a weekly long run is going to be the most important piece of your training plan. Most runners like to schedule this for the weekend, but the sub-two hour duration of a half marathon long run makes it doable on a weekday as well. Add the majority of your weekly mileage increases to this run. Adding a mile each week is a good way of doing this.  Reduce the risk of injury and stress on your body by increasing your mileage by no more than 10% each week.  You don’t need to complete the entire distance of the half marathon before race day. Work up to one or two long runs of ten to twelve miles.   Complete your final long run about two weeks before the event so that you have time to recover before race day.  

The Tempo Run:

While your long runs will get you to the finish line, tempo runs are essential to hitting your goal pace.  A tempo run is a longer training run of around five to eight miles.  It will teach you to tolerate working at a faster pace for a longer duration.  Because your tempo runs will be about an hour they fit in well on a busy weekday.  Since you will be working a specific pace, tempo runs work well on a treadmill.  This takes the guesswork out of setting your pace. After warming up for a mile or two, complete three to five miles at your current goal pace per mile for the half marathon.  Follow this with a one to two mile cool down.  Over the duration of your half marathon training, you can increase both the pace and the distance of your tempo run.  

Additional Training:

The long run and tempo run are really the most essential components of a half marathon training plan.  If you’re comfortable adding more mileage, one or two additional short runs at a faster pace will also help you to get faster for race day, but are not essential to preparing for your half marathon. In addition to running, core work, strength training, and cross training will make a big difference in your performance and injury prevention.  HIIT cardio sessions, such as Sprint 8, will increase your cardiovascular performance and improve your running.  You can complete these on a treadmill or reduce your overall impact by using an indoor cycle or elliptical   Core work, upper body strength training , and mobility work will go a long way to improve your running posture and low back health.  

Race Day Preparations

Training runs are about more than just building up miles.  Your long run gives you the chance to try out your routine before the big day. As you schedule your final long runs, mimic your half marathon as much as possible.  This includes the time of day, the type of course, and, of course, your clothing and fuel. You might be surprised to find that shoes and clothing that felt fine for shorter runs cause chafing or blisters at longer distances. Additionally, as your runs pass an hour, you’ll perform better by adding in some easily digested fuel.  If you know which sports drink will be offered on your half marathon course, you can use it during training to be sure it will work for you.  You can also experiment with gels or other easily digested carbohydrates to be sure that they will work for you on race day. And lastly, don’t forget to taper.  Plan on your last long run a couple of weeks before the big day.  During the last week, you might include some shorter pace runs while focusing on mobility and recovery.   The Half Marathon is a powerful bucket list race.  It’s long enough to be challenging but attainable, even with a busy work and family schedule.   Since your longest training run will be over in less than two hours, you can schedule it for early on a Saturday morning and be done before the kids are out of bed.  Settle in to the essential training that makes you stronger and faster. When race day finally arrives, you’ll know that you’re ready.
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