Half Marathon Basics
Updated: Oct 2, 2020
I never dreamed of becoming a runner. To begin with, just the thought of a half marathon would make me tired and amazed at the same time. I always wondered how people were able to run that far without stopping. Well, now I know!
As I mentioned in a previous post—Running Is for All Shapes and Sizes—I ended up deciding to run my first half marathon after being pretty much convinced to do so. Looking back, what I find quite funny is the way I felt about running during middle and high school. During P.E., the teacher used to send us to run around the block and time our laps. We had no clue what we were doing except for the fact that we were trying to make it back on time before he would take off points because we were too slow. And that is the story of how I learned to hate running more than anything. Besides the run itself, when I headed back to the classroom, I had to deal with the fact my face looked like a red bell pepper. And it still does.
The hatred for running, however, changed after I moved to the United States and I got a gym membership. The treadmill area seemed like a movie theater: all dark and with a big scream playing a movie. I wasn't sure of what I was doing, but just the feeling of not being watched or judged took the weight off of my shoulders so I actually started to enjoy it.
Years, later due to the cold winter months in Louisville, I bought my own treadmill and placed in my basement. I didn't really enjoy the feeling of leaving the gym with a warm body after a workout or a shower and hitting the freezing weather outside afterward. The bad news is that I canceled my membership and ended up not using my treadmill as much as I hoped.
Then I moved to Miami. As a stay home mom, I needed a daily break and some time for myself, so I started to take evening walks around my neighborhood every day, mostly, a three-mile loop around beautiful homes and plenty of nature. At one point, I decided to alternate running and walking until I was able to run the whole three-mile loop nonstop. Around the same time, I saw a run club at a park close by and decided to join the group.
At the beginning, I wasn't even able to keep up with some of the runners for four miles, but eventually I caught up, and soon enough, I was training for my first half marathon with the goal of finishing it, regardless of how long it took me. I believe I finished it in 2 hours and 24 minutes, my slowest time so far. The Disney Princes Half Marathon actually took me longer, but it was a race for fun, since I kept stopping and waiting in line to take pictures with different Disney characters and certain photo spots.
I am not going to post any spreadsheet with a training program since I am not a professional and the ones I used weren't created by me. If you don't have a coach or if you are not a part of a run club (which I highly recommend), it is possible to find training programs online. My main objective here is to share a couple of basic tips when training for a half marathon and starting to work on longer runs.
My running mate and I training for our first half marathon in 2016/2017, going up the bridge at the Rickenbacker Causeway. It is very helpful to practice on a bridge since not many races are completely flat; they usually have several elevations.
Find a training program and stick with it
I learned from my former coach that for a half marathon, the training program should be sixteen weeks, plus the race day weekend.
You should be running at least three times a week during training season. I never really followed the short miles program during the week due to a tide schedule, which requires runs more frequently, but doing two weeknights of three and four miles each worked for me, along with the long miles the training chart recommended during the weekend.
I am no professional, but what I've learned in the past is that the long miles should follow a sequence of increase and decrease. For example: 5 miles, 7 miles, 9 miles ... back down to 6 miles, 8 miles, 10 miles ... and so on. Not to say there aren't other training programs out there, but again, this is what I have used and what has worked for me.
There is no need to run over 11 miles during training season. Not to say you can't or shouldn't. In fact, I tried to run 14 miles a couple of weeks prior to Miami Half last year but I felt like it really didn't help.
My last long run before the race is never over 8 miles.
If you start to feel very tired during a long run, instead of immediately beginning to walk, try first to just slow your pace to get your thoughts together. Sometimes, when your brain tells you it's time to stop, your endurance might tell you otherwise. Remember, running is a mind game.
Nutrition and hydration
Carb up way before race day: Don't wait until the night before to fill up on carbs. Start to carb up the week of the race. What my coach usually does is have a pasta dinner the Thursday before the race on Sunday. Avoid eating anything different from what you usually eat the night before your long runs.
Hydrate: You probably already know to drink plenty of water every day and watch for the color of your urine. Hydrating during the race is also extremely important. Even if you are not thirsty during the first couple of miles, drink a sip of water or use the water to cool off a bit by dumping it on your head. Also, mix Gatorade and water at the water stations. Grab a cup of each. NOTE: Do not try to be helpful and throw your cup away in the big trash cans between the volunteers at the water stations. Usually the cans are not trash—they contain water to fill up the cups! While training, try to hydrate every mile. If not possible, every two to three miles at least.
Gels and blocks: You should already know what kind of nutrition products work best for you. For a couple of races, I used gels, but they ended up causing me stomach cramps so I switched to blocks and they have worked much better for me. There are plenty of other options out there; it is just a matter of finding out what works for you. If you use gels, you can take one (or a half of one) before you start the run, another one at mile four, and so on. Remember to mix it with water. Again, you need to play around and find out what works best for you. If you choose to use the blocks, I usually break it in half before I start running and place them in my cheeks. I take another one every four miles. Some people prefer to chew them up, instead. During a half marathon, I don't wait until mile 12 to take the last block.
Prepare your muscles
Some runners start to wear compression pants, sleeves, or socks a week before the race. I start to wear my compression sleeves about five days prior to race day. I've found that they are very helpful with the run and help tremendously with the recovery as well. During the race, just like when training, I opt for wearing 2XU 7/8 or 3/4 compression pants. In addition to helping with circulation, since it helps provide oxygen to the muscles, they also are very effective in preventing the leg muscles from feeling extremely tired. It considerably reduces oscillation of the muscles during impact, avoiding energy waste.
Some runners choose to do a warm-up run the day prior to the race. I never do. Once again, I believe it is a matter of what works best for each runner.
If the race will start in chilly weather, you have the option to wear an old jacket and take it off once you start to run. Usually, the clothes picked up are donated. You can also buy a thermal blanket which is a thin foil to help keep you warm while you wait at your corral. Try to plan and order disposable shoe covers ahead of time. This is a strategy I use myself, since last year it was raining before Miami Half and I had to cover my shoes with plastic bags and tape to not get my shoes and socks soaked before I started running. You can also find rain ponchos for about a dollar at local stores. Besides that, try to do not do anything new or different from training season—from what you eat to what you wear.
The best advice I can give you is to shop at local running stores instead of the giant multi-sports ones. They have the most qualified personnel ever! They understand all about the subject, mostly because they are runners themselves, so it is easy for them to provide you all the gear and nutrition information you need to get on your feet and running. I promise you it is worth it! I won't even mention what my recommendation is, it's unnecessary. All it takes is for you to check out my pictures in this post. My running shirts say it all: Get ready and Go Run!
First and foremost: If you start to doubt yourself during the race, just remember the reason you started in the first place.
One day while training, a fellow runner passed by me heading the other direction and told me something I never forgot: If your legs get tired, run with your heart!
I hope I was able to help and best of luck! If you have any questions, you are more than welcome to message me. I might not have all the answers, but I promise I will try my best.
Link to Running is for All Shapes and Sizes post: