It is highly recommended to follow a structured plan when half marathon training. This is an endurance sport and normal fitness training will not be enough. Going out for regular runs and training jogs will help get you prepared, but to do it right, it is best to follow a properly designed schedule. A half marathon training schedule will incorporate the key components of getting ready for race day, including building up the distances you are able to run.
They also ensure there is enough rest between runs as well as developing strength and the ability to run up hills. Finally, they assist with tapering, a process which reduces the length of runs in the days before the race so your body is at peak fitness for the event. Even veteran runners use training schedules when preparing for a run. So, whatever you level of fitness, goals or abilities, get a schedule.
Before you start half marathon training you should be physically able to jog for 30 minutes without stopping. How far or how fast you jog is not important. Your body just needs to be sufficiently conditioned to move at a jogging pace for that length of time. If you cannot do this and start training anyway, you will increase your risk of picking up an injury. If you cannot run for 30 minutes, you will need to build up to that before embarking on a training schedule. Do this by going out 3 or 4 times a week for a jog-walk, building up the length of time you jog, as opposed to walking, each time. The repetitive nature of this exercise will help you build up to the point where you can run the full 30 minutes. At this point you will be ready to start training for a half marathon.
The key to eating right while half marathon training is balance – eating a balanced diet. Following the latest fad diet will not help anywhere near as much as simply eating fresh, unprocessed food with a large emphasis on carbohydrates. That means over 50 percent of your diet should be fruit, vegetables and whole grains – pasta, bread, cereals etc. Other foods can of course be eaten, but, like with any dietary recommendation, they should be eaten in moderation. Balance is the key. Make sure you eat about an hour before you go out for a training run, and also go to the toilet before you set off. All sorts of parts of your body will start working better as a result of training, including your digestive system. Finally, many runners take sports gels when on a long distance run, including race days. If and when to use them is a personal choice. For a half marathon race, the guide would be to take one at 5 miles and another at 9 miles, making sure you drink water with each gel. If you are considering using them on race day it cannot be stressed enough that you should use them in training first to see how your body reacts to the gels alongside your regular diet. So, 8-mile-plus training days are the right days to try out training gels.
Water and Hydration
Staying hydrated during half marathon training and during race day is not only critical to performance, it is also critical for safety. Exactly how much you should be drinking is different for everyone. There are some general rules you can follow, however. You should drink water throughout the day, instead of loading up just before going out for a run. That means keeping a bottle of water with you as often as you can. And while all types of drink will keep you hydrated, water is easily the best. You do not have to give up your cup of coffee or occasional soft drink, but make sure water is the drink you take the most. A lot of factors come into consideration when deciding if you need to drink during a training run, such as weather conditions and the length of the run. As a general rule, if you are going to be training for more than 30 minutes it is best to take water with you. Having a drink at the end of the session will normally be sufficient if the run is less than 30 minutes long. Drinking alcohol the evening before a training run will have an effect on your performance, so the best recommendation is to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink while in training. Finally, deciding on whether to drink water or a sports drink comes down to personal choice. Both have their advocates so try different options while training to get what is best for you.
Rest and Recovery
Resting is as important as half marathon training itself. Your body needs to time to recover after a training run to avoid injuries and help you build up fitness. Half marathon training schedules have rest days included at regular and key times to ensure there is no burn out. That is not enough, however. Getting the right amount of sleep every night during training is also critical. The body repairs itself during sleep and it is important that that process is not interrupted. Putting a figure on how much sleep you should get is difficult as everyone is different. As a general guide, while training, go to bed 30 minutes earlier than you would normally do. You will feel fresher the following day making training easier and you will reap the benefit on race day.
Injuries can, unfortunately, happen during half marathon training. The most common injuries occur in the feet, ankles, shins and knees. If you do get an injury, do not run through it. This will only exacerbate the problem. Use ice on the affected area as often as possible and rest. That is the best prescription, even if it means missing days on your training schedule. There are a few things you can do to minimize the risk of injury. First, do not push yourself too far. For example, do not embark on a training schedule if you cannot already run non-stop for 30 minutes. Also, do not start running distances beyond your reach; or run too fast for your level of fitness. The advice is to stay realistic and keep within your limits. Another thing you can do to avoid injury is to stretch after each training run. Stretching should last for 5 to 10 minutes and each muscle in your legs should be individually stretched, with particular focus on hamstrings, calves and quads. Other things you can do to avoid injury is to stay hydrated and make sure you are using appropriate equipment, particularly footwear. Wearing ill-fitting shoes will put on you a fast-track to injury so take care when choosing.
A lot of this is down to common sense – eat a balanced diet, train according to a schedule, stay hydrated etc. But it can be difficult to keep up the standards because of the busy lives we all lead. On the positive side, half marathon training is a way to get focused as there is an end goal you are working towards – race day. It is the ideal time to exercise more, eat and sleep better, and get fit. And have fun.