Training for Your First Half Marathon? Here’s What You Should Know

After registering for your first half marathon, you may be wondering: what did I just get myself into?

Don’t worry; you’ve picked the perfect distance. Running 13.1 miles is an intimidating, yet achievable goal for both beginner and experienced runners alike. You should be looking forward to the challenge and the discovery of what you can achieve.

Still, you’ll need to dedicate a significant amount of time and energy into your training if you want your first half marathon to be a great experience.  Before you hit the pavement and start logging those miles, here are a few things that you should know about how to train for your first half marathon:

Running 13.1 miles is an intimidating, yet achievable goal for both beginner and experienced runners alike. You should be looking forward to the challenge and the discovery of what you can achieve.

Not All Training Plans Are Created Equal

Runners Hal Higdon and Jeff Galloway are well known within the running community for their half marathon training plans. But just because these plans are popular doesn’t necessarily mean that they are right for you.

Don’t be afraid to look at different plans to learn how to train for your first half marathon. The best plan is one that perfectly aligns with your schedule, experience level, and goals for the race. Whether this is Higdon’s Novice 1 Program, a modified version of Nike’s training plan, or something that your personal trainer has come up with—in the end it’s up to you to take the time to think about what will work best for you and find the one that’s going to meet your goals and needs.

Longer Distances Require Better Nutrition

The longer and more strenuous your workouts become, the more important it is that your body gets adequate fuel. Without this fuel, you could hit a wall mid-run and fall short of your training requirements.

Don’t wait until you’re running regular long runs to begin thinking about the role of nutrition and diet on your training. Be sure to incorporate healthy eating habits during the week to help fuel your increased training volume and to help your body with recovery. This is a good time to explore new and healthy foods and sample meal plans to meet your nutritional needs as an athlete.

During your long runs and for race day, having a plan for using during-run electrolytes and energy sources becomes more important and should be part of your fueling strategy and a part of your experimentation before the race.

Just remember the golden rule: no new foods on race day! For example, it’s not a good idea to try energy gels if you never used them in your training, as they are known to cause upset stomachs in some people.

Expect the Highs and the Lows

Training for a half marathon takes months of effort and not every run is going to be your best. However, experiencing these ups and downs in your training plays a key part in the triumph we feel after crossing that glorious finish line.

Preparing for these highs and lows will help you navigate them with ease. On days where you want to hit the snooze button—and trust us, there will be days—it helps to have a backup source of motivation. Consider recruiting a training buddy to help hold you accountable, tap into an encouraging running community on social media, or join a local running club for camaraderie.

And on days where you feel invincible, it’s important that you stick to your training plan. Doing too much too early can increase your risk of injury before race day.

Rest and Recovery

For a lot of runners, especially if we have a new and bigger goal, we tend to think we can just jump right into it. This can lead to over fatigue, injury and then cause burn out. Experienced runners know the importance of listening to their body during the training cycle and make sound choices in their health and mental attitude that will keep them healthy and ready for race day. A general rule of thumb is that If you are not feeling up to running, then don't. Be vigilant on getting the proper sleep, rest periods and nutrition to improve your performance. Pushing your body when it needs rest will only lead to injury and burnout. IT IS OKAY TO MISS A WORKOUT.

The Right Running Gear Can Make or Break Your Run

You may be able to get away with mediocre running gear on shorter runs, but good running gear is essential once your mileage begins creeping into double digits. Every small annoyance you feel early in your run can quickly become full-blown distractions later that end up hurting your performance.

To make the miles more bearable, investing in the right running gear and accessories is crucial. Moisture-wicking clothes, a good pair of running shoes, and breathable socks are a few essentials that you will need to train for your first half marathon. Other items such as a decent pair of headphones and a comfortable running belt can give you additional motivation and comfort to go the distance.

Check Your Technique

Proper technique and form are key to maximizing your efficiency and crossing the finish line safely. Unfortunately, many have bad running form without realizing it.

If you are worried about your running technique, it may be worth it to have a professional check your form and conduct a gait analysis. For instance, they can tell you if you’re striking with your heel or if you start slouching as you grow tired.

You can also self-correct your form by running on a treadmill at your local health clubs. These places often have mirrors in front for you to check your posture and technique.

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Have Fun

One of the most important tips for your first half marathon is that the experience should be fun. Go into race day with the only goal of finishing. If you set a goal time for your FIRST race, you will likely not make said goal and never want to do it again. Focus on enjoying the experience, including the process of training and on race day.

Prepare to Learn from Your Mistakes

People make mistakes; it’s what makes us human! But after investing so much time and effort into your training, a small mishap can feel like the end of the world.

Maybe you drank too much water before the race and had to go to the bathroom multiple times. Perhaps you got a little overzealous with your training at the end and suffered the consequences on race day.

Go easy on yourself. Coming out triumphant at the end despite these mistakes is exactly what makes completing your first half marathon such a rewarding experience.

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