Step 16: After I made a commitment to walk/run a half marathon, I had to choose a training plan to follow. I make it sound like this was an orderly, logical process for me (it wasn’t). What I should say is that once a person has chosen to run a half-marathon, they should choose a great training plan.
The way it actually happened for me was more haphazard. A runner at my office was inviting his coworker to run the Dallas Rock n Roll half with him. He was really playing up all the positives: music, atmosphere, beautiful girls, and free beer at the finish line. Why I was slightly offended he didn’t ask me is still a mystery. I mean, these are two of the nicest guys in the world, and I was (at the time) still 90 pounds overweight. Even though I had begun walking to fitness, I was keeping it a secret from the world. Well–I was keeping it a secret from the people I saw every day, and spilling it to the world on the internet through my blog.
I decided that I was going to show them. So…I began walking longer and longer distances, and incorporating small running intervals. Back then, my mantra was I run uphill. It sounded cool, at least in my mind, and was a fantastic metaphor for facing the things that challenge me. But since I live in Texas, there aren’t too many hills to challenge me. And that meant that my running intervals were few and far between.
The Racing Newbie’s Complete Guide to a Half Marathon
I will not pretend that I am a running coach. Right now, running for five minutes without stopping is still a challenge for me. And when I set out to complete a half-marathon, I had no idea what I was doing. Fortunately, a few running angels decided to encourage me along the way. My Instagram family really came in clutch (more on this later), and my cousin, who has run multiple full marathons over the past 10 years, provided me with a solid training program to walk/run a half marathon 10 weeks before the race.
I thought 10 weeks was plenty of time–but she was horrified I hadn’t been following a regular plan up until then. Most experts recommend a 12 – 20 week training schedule, especially if you haven’t been very active prior to your training. There are many free online training resources available; while I would recommend finding a real person to coach you through the training process, I recognize that money is not always available for such things. So, if you must train on your own (I did), there are a few elements I have learned to look for in a training program.
It’s important not to overtrain the same muscle groups when preparing for a half-marathon, especially if you are new to running. Biking, yoga, and strength training are all good activities to incorporate on cross-training days. Biking helps to prepare your muscles for any hills you may encounter in the race, while yoga helps stretch and strengthen your core muscles. Strong core muscles are a must to help prevent injury from the constant pounding your body takes on long runs. Strength training may help to build up additional glycogen stores for your muscles, so that you can carry on over longer distances without stopping to refuel.
Don’t overdo the long run
The training plan I followed was the walk/run plan, and it recommended using running/walking intervals to gradually build up speed and endurance. I reserved two days a week for shorter runs that usually totaled around 2-4 miles. The long run was reserved for Saturday or Sunday.
Look for a taper
No–I’m not talking about a tapeworm, or someone to tape your knees with athletic tape before a run. What you’re looking for is a training plan that reaches a climax and then “tapers off” to smaller distances before the race. This allows your body to recover prior to the big day, so that you’re ready to rumble. My long runs gradually increased in distance until I maxed out at 10 miles, about two weeks before the event.
When I set out to finish a half-marathon, I did it for the wrong reasons. I did it to prove to someone else I was capable. I wanted to show someone else I could do something they never even considered I could do. The funny thing is, neither one of those guys even signed up for the Rock n Roll. Neither one of them even ran the race.
The real reason you should sign up for a half marathon is for you.
Training for a half marathon is an amazing process. You will push your body beyond what you have always believed it could do. Each new distance, each new time, is a reward in and of itself. These are the tangible rewards–the things that are easy to measure.
The intangible rewards of half marathon training are a little harder to measure, but impossible to ignore. Each time you reach one of your training goals, your confidence in yourself grows. You stand a little straighter. You begin to rely on your body and be thankful for its strength. Each time you mark a new distance, a new time–you smile. That smile comes because finally, you are proud of who you are and what you are doing.
And when you cross the finish line, I can promise that you will feel pain from tired muscles and pounding your feet on the pavement. But I can also promise that you will feel unspeakable joy–because you know that you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to do.
*Please seek the medical advice of a health professional before embarking on a new fitness plan. If it’s not abundantly clear from the above story, I am not a running coach or a nutritionist. Nor am I a doctor. I am simply a girl who decided to reach for an unreachable goal. I reached out, and I took it. And I’m really really glad I did 🙂
*LOOK FOR THE REST OF THE RACING NEWBIE’S COMPLETE GUIDE TO A HALF-MARATHONSERIES:
(3) Newbie Training For A Half-Marathon: Managing Wear And Tear On Your Body
(4) Newbie Training For A Half-Marathon: Finding Your Tribe
(5) Newbie Training For A Half-Marathon: Preparing For The Final Week
(6) Newbie Training For A Half-Marathon: Rock n Roll Race Recap