I had the idea to write this post a month ago, but life got in the way a bit (sorry!). I have a number of friends and co-workers who are planning to run their first half marathons this spring. A few have asked me for training advice, so here are some of my top tips, all in one place. If you are looking to run a shorter distance, most of the tips can still be applied.
1. Sign-up now!
Do you lack motivation? My advice is to pick a race you are interested in before you start training. This race should be about 3 months away to give yourself enough time to prepare. Now, pay that race fee today so you can't change your mind later (Bonus: races tend to be discounted if you sign up early). After you've hit submit, write it on your calendar in big, bold, colorful letters. Tell your friends, your mom, your dog, that random guy you see at the coffee shop, and anyone else who will listen. This will help you stay accountable and finish that race.
2. Set a goal to finish.
Don't set the bar too high if this is your first race. The best part of it being your first race? No matter how long it takes you to cross the finish line, it's an automatic Personal Record. But you have to cross that finish line! When I ran my first half, my training focused on being able to finish the miles without hurting myself. I did not worry about my pace, that comes later.
3. Make a training plan.
If you are training on your own or with a buddy, there are a ton of resources online with training plans. I suggest looking at a couple and then making it your own. Try to give yourself at least 12 weeks (3 months) to train. If you already run regularly, you may be able to get by with 8-10 weeks, but 12+ weeks is still recommended. For the half distance, I suggest committing to run at least 3 times a week. Here are my favorite beginner training plans. Half Higdon Novice Plan and Jeff Galloway's Beginner Plan. Local running stores/clubs should also have training groups if you need group motivation.
4. It's okay to walk.
It's okay to walk. During my first half, I walked nearly a whole mile because my legs needed a rest after some hills. I was still moving, and that is what was important. Jeff Galloway is a strong supporter of the run-walk method (see his link above). I still like to walk through the water stops, so I can hydrate and catch my breath.
5. Fuel is your friend.
I had no idea about Gu's or Energy Chews when I did my first half. I just remember someone handing me a red gummy thing at mile 9 of my first race that made me feel a ton better. I've learned since then that any time you run longer than 1 hour, you should be fueling your body. My fuel of choice is Clif Shot Bloks because they are easy to carry and chew on the run. Make sure to experiment before your run so you don't cramp during your race while trying something new.
6. Chafing is your enemy.
Don't wear a new outfit on race day. If you don't already own good running clothes, go buy some dri-fit fabric shirt and shorts (no cotton!). During your training runs, make sure your skin isn't rubbing and making you uncomfortable in different places. I won't go into details, but if you are still having issues, consider investing in some BodyGlide.
7. Consider new shoes.
If you are planning to train in your 5 year-old worn-in tennis shoes, you should rethink you plan. A good pair of running shoes is important to prevent injury and help with your running form. If there is a running store nearby, go get fitted by one of their employees. A good running store will watch you walk, determine what type of pronation your foot has, and suggest some shoes that will support your foot best.
8. Start slow.
This applies to both training runs and your race. It is easy when your legs are fresh to want to run really fast, but remember there are lots of miles ahead. Pace yourself and save that extra energy for when you need it at the end.
9. Know the race course.
I suggest running a local race if it is your first. Then, if possible, go practice running different parts of the half marathon course. This way, you won't be surprised on race day that there are 3 miles of steep hills (*cough Bearathon cough*). Also, it will put your mind at ease on race day if you are already comfortable running those roads.
10. Listen to Your Body
Rest is just as crucial to training as is the actual running. Make sure to listen to your body. I've written about it before. You don't want to get burned out mentally or injured physically.
11. Have Fun!
Enough said. Trust your training, you are going to do great!
Hopefully these tips will help you throughout training. Do any runners out there have other advice? Let me know in the comments. Happy running!