Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Training For Your First Half Marathon

Yup, that's Kate. Lucky we're friends, or I'd have to kill her.
Having decided to finally get serious about training up for a half marathon in now 14 weeks, I turned to friend and kick ass state marathon runner Kate Scarlett for advice on how to do it. In the following interview, Kate answers my naive questions about what it takes to prepare for a half marathon.

Are there any reasons someone should not consider doing a half marathon?

Half-marathon's are great fun when you've put in the training to enable you to handle the distance. When you haven't, they can be horrible. If you haven't done the ground work, it's better to start with a race of a shorter distance and build up to the half-marathon distance gradually.

Of course if you're suffering from an injury, a half-marathon might not be a good idea. In that case, you should have a chat to your sports doc or physio to see what they would suggest. It might be that you can still run it, but need to adjust your goal time. Or it might be a better idea to have a total rest and pick one later in the year.

There are a lot of training programs out there, what are the key features you should look for in a half marathon training program?

It's got to be manageable for your level of running. If you have only been jogging once a week, a program which sees you do three interval sessions, a steady state run, a long run and extra miles on the other days will be too much.

The basic sessions I would expect to do would be intervals at least once a week, some easy runs of about 10-12 kms (build up to this if need be) a couple of times a week, and a long run. Most runners do this on a Sunday, but it doesn't really matter. It just needs to be a time when you can get out and run somewhere between 12 and 18kms at a comfortable pace.

If you've been running a bit, by all means pick a more intensive program.

What is the best way to work out a goal time for a half marathon?

In answering this, I'm assuming that you're doing a fun run, not a race. Or at least, your goal is about personal achievement rather than winning.

There are alot of different formulas and tools out there. I like the McMillan running calculator. You enter a known time e.g. your 10km race time, and it predicts what you would likely run a half marathon in.

I'd suggest that for your first half, don't tie yourself to a time. Just aim to finish it while running within yourself.

After the first one, you've got an idea of what you can do. The next race is time to start picking goal times. So if you ran 1:45, try to get the next one under 1:40. (yeah, if I get near 1:45, I think I'll just be happy with that!)

If you do have a goal time, figuring out your pacing is important. Work out how long you should run a km in to reach your time. Expect that you will slow down. Some people are lucky to be able to run negative splits (the second half quicker than the first), but most people go out too quickly and end up much slower than they started. If you want to run a 90 minute half, you'll need to do your kms in about 4:15. You'll feel fantastic at the start, but try to keep each km to time so that you conserve energy to get you through.

If you can already do a 10km race, how long do you need to train up to doing a half marathon?

As long as you're running consistently and make sure you get in some long runs, with one of at least 17-18kms, you should be able to build up to the half marathon over about 12 weeks.

Does losing excess weight help much when running the longer distances? (Is it worth trying to slim down while training?)

 Yes it does. If you're running competitively, it certainly makes a difference. But you also need to keep your energy levels up. You will probably find that starting a half-marathon program will result in some weight loss anyway. Just eat healthily, train consistently and don't sweat about the weight.
If you want to take your training up a level, talk to a running coach. They can help you with things like ideal race weight. It's easy to lose perspective (especially for women) so having someone you can turn to for advice really helps.

What are some common things newbies stuff up when getting ready for their first half marathon?

 Nutrition - the day before and of the race. Almost everyone has sufficient fat stores to get them through that distance. You don't need a giant meal the day before or the morning of the race. Eat a sensible sized portion of something that is primarily carb based, and not complex. I prefer pasta with a tomato based sauce and some green veggies.

Race day isn't the time to try new things. I have a friend who heard that protein was good for muscle growth, so on the morning of a race decided to eat 6 boiled eggs and drink half a litre of milk. He didn't have a very pleasant run...

Take some energy drinks, gels, lollies etc, but try eating these on your practice long runs.

Any other advice you would like to give?

Find a training group. A lot of big city marathon/half marathons offer organised training sessions. It's much easier to run with other people.

Or join your local running club. Most will offer coaching as well as providing you with the opportunity to do a number of races throughout the season, letting you build up to the half-marathon distance with some race experience under your belt.

Thanks Kate, that's great advice!

Taking her suggestions, I've downloaded a 1/2 marathon training app done by MapMyRun people: Half Marathon Coach.

Great things about it:
1. It's completely free (it appears that it used to be $5.99, as some reviews still say that, but it's now free!)
2. The training program includes long, easy and 'pace' runs (where you do 1 minute fast at pace speed and 1 minute easy. Not quite the intervals Kate recommends, but can be used like that).
3. Is designed by Olympians, so they claim.
4. Is very easy to personalise. You can choose to train to get fit or for an event. You then put in when your event is, how often you want to train and which day will be your long run. It then works out the rest!

Today is actually the first 'rest' day of the program, which is a bit strange, you start a program you sort of expect to start doing it that day. But I'm working with it.
I'll let you know how it goes.

Anyone else got any good training programs or tips? 

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