You know that you’ve got the running bug when you return home from your first 10K and are immediately “googling” your next challenge. You’re either itching to sign up to your next 10K to beat your time, or are beginning to dabble with the idea of stepping up the distance to a half marathon…
Anything with “marathon” in its name is undoubtedly daunting, but it doesn’t have to be – particularly when you have a 10K under your belt. A half marathon is the perfect test of endurance – in speed and mileage – and doesn’t require you make too many sacrifices in the training process.
After developing a good level of cardiovascular fitness, perfecting that mix of speed and endurance, and learning a huge sense of training discipline in preparing for your first 10K, you’re armed with the appropriate tools to run your first half marathon. But what else do you need to know and how should you take the next step? Follow our simple rules and you’ll have that half marathon medal taking pride of place on your bedpost in no time…
In training for your first 10K, you’ve learned to up the mileage each week, gradually developing your stamina to prepare for the distance. Stepping up from a 10K to a half marathon is exactly the same; reserve one day a week as your ‘long run’ day, increasing the time you run for each week. In weeks three, four and five of a 12-week plan, it’s crucial to test your stamina by adding an additional ten minutes to your run each week, and by week eight, you’ll be ready to run for around 75 minutes. By gradually building up to this distance, you will develop your cardiovascular and cardio-respiratory fitness and your body will be prepared for the mileage.
While you may have come away from your first 10K, having done no strength work, injury free, it’s a risk that can’t afford to be taken when training for a half. By upping the volume and mileage you are running each week, it is important to build strength in the thighs, glutes, hamstrings, calves and abdominals – to not only decrease your risk of injury, but increase your muscular power, prolonging the time it takes these muscle groups to fatigue.
Within your mid-week training sessions, it’s a good idea to undertake some speed-endurance intervals and threshold work to train your body to run harder and faster for longer, by raising your lactate threshold. “The lactate threshold is the point at which your body produces lactic acid quicker than it can be removed from the muscles, so it starts to build up in the bloodstream,” explains WR Editor Liz Hufton.
Your threshold pace is much quicker than your half marathon pace. “Threshold runs are done at 80% effort level,” explains running coach Martin Yelling. “If you can speak with effortless flow you’re not running fast enough, but if you’re gasping for every breath you’re over cooking it.” Speed intervals are even faster, demanding an 85% effort level, yet are interspersed with period of rests and recovery. Although such sessions are painful, they’re over quickly and will make your long slow runs feel much easer. You can find some threshold sessions to try here and speed intervals here.
As you increase the volume you are running, you’ll notice your legs feeling more fatigued than usual – even when walking up the stairs for example. To give your legs some relief, prevent painful and counter-productive training sessions and also reduce your risk of injury, integrate low-impact sports into your training such as swimming and cycling.
When you’re training up to four times a week, running for nearly two hours on some days, it’s important to plan your nutrition strategy carefully. Choose carb-based dishes on the evenings before your early-morning training runs, and protein-rich dishes post-run to aid your recovery. It’s important to eat breakfast each day – even on your rest days – to ensure you stay energised throughout the day. On the mornings you choose to do your longer, harder training sessions, you may well experience a serious case of ‘runger’. On these days, fuel up on a second breakfast, such as eggs on toasts for a protein hit.
By increasing your mileage and speed with each training session, you’ll eventually find your tempo pace – the pace at which you can run at a sustained effort for a lengthy time period. The more you run, the more familiar you’ll become with running at this effort level, meaning that, come race day, you’ll find the half marathon distance achievable and comfortable.
The half marathon is a distance to be respected. So that you roll into race day feeling confident and well prepared, it is important to stick to a plan. To take away the stress of trying to cram your training into a short period of time, while also reducing your risk of injury, take time to prepare months in advance, gradually building up your volume and mileage each week. Here is a 12-week beginner’s plan to print out, pop on your kitchen fridge and get preparing for that, not so far away, half marathon. Download the plan here.