© copyright 23.Apr.2008 by Dena Harris.
The biggest question most first time half marathon runners face when they look in the mirror is, “Can I do it?” Let's answer that right now. Yes, you can. Absolutely. There are a bevy of training programs out there to ensure you are well prepared-mentally and physically-for race day.
Which program you pick depends on your goals and fitness level. Training programs for the half-marathon range from beginner to competitive. Most programs last twelve weeks. This is assuming you have a base level of fitness that allows you to run three miles 3-4 times per week. If you're not quite there yet, you may want to pick a race a little further out to allow time to build up your base. (There are also many training programs available for walk/run or all walk half-marathons.) The important thing is to select a program that works for you. Some plans have you running only three days a week while others are 5-6 days per week and include speed and hill work. Picking a plan that meshes with your lifestyle and goals (speed, strength, endurance) is key.
Speaking of goals, write yours down. Why are you running this half marathon? Some people do it for health reasons, others for self-esteem, others for charity, and one woman I know did it for revenge, to show her ex that she was faster and stronger than he was. (Whatever works.) Write your goal on a piece of paper early in your training and tape it to your computer or somewhere you'll see it every day. This is part of the ongoing mental training to get you psyched for race day.
As for staying motivated physically, running buddies truly are your best friends. Running groups keep you on track for the simple reason that the people there will hold you accountable. It's easier to skip a workout if it's just you, harder if you know you have 6-12 people waiting on you so they can start their run. Plus, running with others is simply more fun.
A few more tips for staying motivated:
Another motivator is to make your race about more than just you by participating in a charity drive. Team In Training is the largest and best known sports training charity program. They provide organized training for endurance sporting events around the world. You'll make friends with fellow team members and follow an organized training schedule. Plus, you'll stay inspired knowing you're doing something for yourself and for others.
Runners new to distance running sometimes look at the half-marathon schedule and tremble at those 8 and 10 mile runs staring up at them. It's okay. By the time you get to those distances, you'll have conditioned your body to take them. Besides, long runs are where you'll experiment with hydrating and fuelling. You need to know ahead of race day what works for you and what doesn't. Likewise, you'll eat "practice meals" before your long runs to determine what sits best in your belly. By race day, you'll have a clear picture of what you should be eating the night before and the morning of the race, as well as your fuelling strategy for the course.
How long is your longest training run? Some trainers advise running the full half-marathon distance before the race, simply to let yourself know you can. Consider, however, holding off on completing that full 13.1 mile distance until the race. That way the first time you run it, you'll have friends and family cheering you on at the end.
Should you cross train? It's not always necessary to cross train for a half marathon, but if you find alternate activities such as swimming, cycling, or walking help break up the monotony of running and keep you feeling fit, go for it. Simply substitute an easy run day on your training schedule with a cross training activity that lasts for a similar duration.
If you can find the time, yoga is a wonderful addition to any runner's schedule. Find a beginner's class or pop in a twenty-minute DVD at home and loosen up those tight muscles with some focused stretching and deep breathing. A couple sessions each week is enough to do the trick.
Just for fun, consider adding some 5K or 10K races to your training schedule. This gives you a feel for race day and how you'll perform in a crowd.
Finally, don't ignore rest days. Your body needs a chance to repair and rejuvenate. Running hard seven days a week won't make you a better runner. All you'll gain are injuries and frustrations. Sleep and rest are part of your training commitment. Honour them.
Nutrition and race performance go hand in hand. You'll be expending energy and burning calories with your runs. You'll want to make sure you're replenishing your body's supply of nutrients. The first rule for any runner is to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. After that, carbs are crucial, especially for your pre-race meal. Carbohydrates create glycogen which gives you energy for your run. A pasta meal with tomato sauce is usually a safe "last meal" before a race. You'll also do well to pay special attention to your diet the entire week before your race. Educate yourself on the proper balance of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and carb intake you'll need to optimally prepare your body for your run.
Whether you eat anything on race morning depends on you. Some runners rise early to eat a light meal—perhaps cereal, toast, or an energy bar—while others skip breakfast all together. You'll know from your training what works best for you.
Once race day arrives, relax and enjoy the event. Especially for your first half-marathon, don't worry so much about running a certain time or pace. Make your goal twofold: to finish and to have fun!
Running 13.1 miles is not easy. If it were, more people would do it. But therein lies the glory. You are accomplishing something few people will ever attempt. Remind yourself of this during your training. And on race day, know that you've put in the work necessary to see you through to a strong finish. There's no feeling in the world like crossing that finish line. Congratulations on a race well run!
Daily Runs is collection of motivational articles, tips & advice about the sport of running, written by authors who run for fun.
Writer and author Dena Harris ran her first marathon in 2007. After declaring at the finish line that she would "never, ever, do that again," she's continued to run at least two marathons a year and recently qualified to run Boston.
Visit www.denaharris.com for information on her writing, books, running, and cats.