Panic-free half marathon guide

Turn panic into a plan of action

Panic-free half marathon guide

Have you just had the stomach-lurching realisation that your half marathon is mere weeks away and that injury, illness, time constraints – or procrastination! – have meant that you’ve seriously under-trained? Whatever you do, don’t bin your race number! Follow our simple guide to emergency pre-race preparation, compiled by running coach Bennett Cohen, president of the International Association of Women Runners (, and you’ll be smiling all the way to the finish instead.

IF YOU’VE MISSED… up to five days’ training
Your fitness loss will be negligible. If this wasn’t due to injury or illness, start with an easy 30 to 40-minute run. The next day, do 40 minutes of fartlek to help stimulate your fast-twitch muscle fibres. Then, hop back into your training plan at the current date and don’t bother making up missed sessions.

IF YOU’VE MISSED… six to ten days’ training
This will have resulted in roughly a five per cent decrease in fitness, from which you can easily recover. You have plenty of time to transition (not jump!) into full training. Again, if skipping sessions wasn’t due to injury or illness, follow the same transition prescription above, but then resume training at the point you left off, not at the current date.

IF YOU’VE MISSED… more than ten days’ training

Take a week to transition back to training, then, increase your long run by no more than 2K (1.5 miles) per week, with a shorter long run every third week. You can complete a half marathon with a long run of 16K (ten miles), so don’t worry if it’s a few kilometres short of your original plan.

IF YOU’VE MISSED… training due to injury
If your hiatus from training was due to injury, add running-specific strengthening exercises to your routine to strengthen your biomechanically weak links that are injury-prone. Transition back into full training only if each step of the above transition plan is free of pain. Ice after each run to reduce inflammation.

IF YOU’VE MISSED… training due to illness
If most of your symptoms have disappeared, take a full week to gradually ease back into training.

1. ‘Do focus on your weekly long run,’ says UKA coach in Running Fitness Jane Greenfield ( ‘Remember to run it at a pace that feels relatively easy – you should be able to chat for most of the time if running with a partner.’
2. ‘Do some faster repetitions as this will make your pace feel more comfortable on race day,’ says physiotherapist Dave Jelley, founder of jelleylegs running holidays (
3. ‘Do include a taper period in the last two weeks of your plan,’ says Greenfield. ‘In this period you should aim to reduce the number, length and intensity of your runs in order to feel fully rested and to perform at your best.’

1. ‘Don’t attempt to compress your 14-week schedule into the last five weeks as you will hurt yourself,’ says Jelley.
2. ‘Don’t lie in bed and fantasise that despite not doing enough training you are going to do a personal best and win the first lady over 40 prize,’ says Jelley. ‘Enjoy the event and get round before the organisers head for the pub.’
3. ‘Don’t be frightened to adopt a walk/run strategy. You’re running for enjoyment – make sure you do!’ says Greenfield.

‘Three years ago I seriously injured my calf in a race, which meant I could no longer run long distances,’ says Belinda Carroll, 52, Croydon. ‘Then a running buddy invited me to this year’s Gothenburg Half Marathon. I failed to prepare for it properly because I’d never fully recovered from my injury and found it hard to find the time to train due to my busy lifestyle. During the race I had to keep telling myself, “You can do this, just get to the next water station” as it was such a lovely hot day. I walked whenever I needed to and then picked up the pace when I felt less pain. At the finish, despite having bleeding inner thighs due to failing to apply Vaseline, I was elated. Would I do it again? Without hesitation, in spite of the fact that I lost a toenail last week as a final reminder of what happens when you don’t prepare properly for a long race!’

‘Five years ago I entered the Silverstone Half Marathon in April, having done the Dublin Marathon the previous October,’ says Laura Wallis, 26, from Loughton in Essex. However, laziness over Christmas (combined with thinking I’d retained more marathon fitness than I had done!) meant I was very under-trained. With six weeks to go I went for a 30-minute run and really struggled, which filled me with panic for the upcoming race. On the start line I felt very nervous but decided to run for ten minutes and then walk for two. I managed to finish and although I was disappointed in myself for not training properly I was pleased that my walk/run strategy stopped me putting pressure on myself to run the whole way. I learnt a lesson though – I’ll never again underestimate the fitness needed for a half marathon!’

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