There’s nothing quite like the feeling of running and finishing your first marathon. From the nervous anticipation the night before, to the butterflies flashing in your stomach as you stand at the starting line waiting for the gun, to that wonderful moment when you finally see the finish line ahead of you, within reach. And ultimately, as your toes cross the line, that flush of satisfaction as you realize the enormity of what you’ve accomplished.
These are the realities of the marathon runner, experienced by just a half percentage point of the North American population. Unfortunately, most people see marathons as a sport for fanatics, well outside the average runner’s skillset, and the fact is, they’re dead wrong. Marathons are about consistency and discipline, traits required of all professionals.
I’m going to assume you’ve been running for about a year, and that you’re averaging around 15 kilometers or so a week, in bouts of 30 minutes. A half marathon is 21 kilometers, and while this probably seems way outside your comfort zone, believe me, it isn’t that big of a deal. At this point, you should be running a regular distance of at least 3 to 4km, with at least one long run each week. If your long run takes you 5kms or more, you should have no problem blasting through a half marathon in four months. If you haven’t already, you should work in a 10k race before you try a half marathon.
Depending on your mindset, positive determination and commitment alone could probably get you all the way through the race, but for assured success, and without killing yourself in the process, I recommend taking a few more steps (pardon the pun):
Find a Good Plan: There are many great plans out there. Look for one that pushes moderation, with at least two rest days per week (preferably three), spread across at least 3 months. Depending on your energy and fitness level, you could swap one or two rest days for cross training. A good plan will also vary, stacking shorter runs next to increasingly longer runs.
Experiment with Your Routine: The last thing you want to do is get out there running full tilt every minute of practice. That’s a great way to burn out, or worse, injure yourself. Most pros recommend spurt running; that is, running a comfortable pace interlaced with fast sprints and cooling walks. Try to keep your regular runs under thirty minutes and where possible, work some hills into your routine. With each new run, try to decrease your walking time. You’ll know you’re working yourself too hard if you can’t hold a conversation with your running buddy.
Focus on the Long Haul: Race day will come before you know it. Now’s the time to start incremental training so that when it does come, you’ll have no problem breezing through. On a chart, plot your weekly time/distance goals to get yourself within 90% of target in fifteen weeks, and get out there and hit them. Very important – Even though you may feel like you’re strong enough to push up the calendar, don’t. Your body needs to adjust to the training. Be patient and you will persevere.
Don’t Forget Your Body: Nothing will destroy your plans faster than inadequate fuel and/or sleep. Drink tons of water and eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Avoid fatty foods whenever possible, and get plenty of sleep – at least eight hours a night. When you start training, and especially during a race, your food intake requirements will sky-rocket; you’re going to want to consult a nutritionist if you can, or do some intense research online.
All up, the most important thing to remember is to always take it easy. Don’t forget to take breaks – go play a team sport and have some fun, or treat your body to a soothing massage.