If 5Ks and 10Ks are starting to lose their thrill, it just may be time to up your mileage, and make the jump to a half marathon. According to Running USA, the 13.1-mile distance had the second highest number of finishers in 2015. (5Ks were the most popular distance.) Last year nearly two million runners toed the line at 2,700 half marathons in the U.S., meaning more options than you can imagine. Want to run a half in every state, dressed in a costume, in a different country, in a big city, on a trail—you can lace up for all of this and more!
For the goal-oriented amongst us, there are already some wicked speedy half marathon world records in place. According to the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF), the men’s record is 58:23, set by Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea in 2010. For women, Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya set a new record of 1:05:06 this past February.
Now that the pressure is off, it’s time to focus on what you need to know to run 13.1 miles, and, hopefully, have a blast!
1) Make sure you’re sure.
Event related Instagram posts usually show the adrenaline-drenched glory of crossing a finish line and the joy of the post-race celebration. They don’t necessarily portray the blisters, sweaty efforts and unforeseen challenges that go into training for a half. Because, here’s the thing—you have to train.
2) You may be able to go from the couch to the finish line without training, but it will hurt.
A lot. Training is essential to make the most of your goal, avoid injury and enjoy the experience. But it’s also not as simple as cobbling together a few interesting runs. Aim to have a decent base, in the range of 15-20 miles a week, and make sure you are willing to commit to the process. Then….
3) Pick a plan.
If you have a spring half on your calendar, you should be well into your training. If you are eyeing a summer race, now is the time to get busy and decide on a training program in line with your fitness level and race goals. There’s no need to compare your efforts or program with colleagues or friends. You do you!
4) Ease into training.
Running lots of miles may sound fun at first. But you want to be smart about ramping up, especially if this is your first half or if you haven’t trained in a while. You want to reach your goal healthy and ready for more, not exhausted and injured. Success comes in consistency. You need more than just a couple of long or fast runs. Quality miles and cross training are your friends.
5) Speaking of cross training, now is the time to get serious about it.
Yes, you need to put in the miles to condition your legs, feet, lungs and heart for the rigors of running 13.1 miles. But your body will also benefit from switching up activities like mobility work (consider a weekly yoga class), weights, HIIT workouts or even a weekly swim or bike ride.
6) Sleep. Seriously.
Sleeping is some of the best recovery time because it’s passive rehabilitation. You don’t have to do a thing—no rolling, stretching or focus required. How much zzz’s your body needs varies from person to person, but experts suggest seven to nine hours nightly. Deena Kastor, the American record holder for the half marathon with a time of 1:07:34, likes to get 10 hours of sleep per night.
7) Eat Smart.
A 5-mile training run does not justify eating half of a pizza. If you’re around 150 pounds and running 12-minute miles, you’ll burn roughly 600 calories on your run. Aim for a slice or two, and a salad instead.
8) Get some new gear.
You don’t need a lot, but you want enough to run comfortably. Start with a visit to your local running store for new shoes. Be sure to let them size you. The extra effort just may save your toenails and make for more enjoyable running. Ladies, this is also the time to get fitted for a new running bra. Sports bras only last about a year and you should have three in rotation.
9) Join a running group.
While some people thrive on alone time, going the distance solo can get lonely for others. When you’re getting new gear, ask about local running groups or weekly runs. It’s a great way to meet like-minded people. The conversation and camaraderie helps miles to fly by. You may even be inspired to push your pace a bit!
10) Communicate with your family and friends.
You will need a good support system during training. Let your family and friends in on your goals and what it’s going to take to get there. The last thing you want is for them to write you off as a jerk because you stopped attending Thursday happy hour. Suggest meeting for brunch after your Sunday miles or ask them to join you on their bikes while you run. If that doesn’t work, including them in the post-race celebrations certainly will. However, too much communication can be a bad thing. Chances are they don’t want the TMI updates about your chafing or runner’s trots, and eyes will quickly glaze over when you begin relaying your latest splits. Save those details for the new friends you make in your running group.
11) Take care of yourself.
Get a massage, book maintenance visits to a physical therapist, foam roll, try cryotherapy or just stretch. This is the time to show your body some love. Simply thinking about foam rolling while it collects dust doesn’t count. Taking 5-10 minutes every day to address twinges before they become bigger problems is critical to long-term running success. Set a time and stick to it—first thing in the morning, after your run, while watching TV. Keeping yourself healthy is well worth the investment.
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12) Familiarize yourself with the course.
Once you’ve prepped physically, be sure to strengthen your mental game. For home races, you may be able to train on parts of the course, ride the route on your bike or drive it. If you’re traveling to a race, you can still study the course and elevation profile, as well as figure out when and where you’ll take advantage of aid stations. Knowing what to expect makes you better able to handle race day challenges.
13) Save the celebrations for after your race.
Nerves can get the best of anyone, but the night or two before a race is best enjoyed with feet up, sleeping or catching up on your favorite shows. And hydrating with lots of water.
13.1) Enjoy the process!
Remember, you’re doing this as a personal challenge and to have fun. Do I need to point out that this is a hobby? Sure, it’s hard and it may hurt, but you trained and forked over good money for the experience—make the most of it!