Half Marathon Toolkit for Beginners
Goal number one: For your first half marathon your number one focus should be to just complete the race. One way to help with this is to think of your first half marathon as a practice run versus your one and only chance to “do this right”. There will be plenty of races down the road but for now, don’t worry about speed or what anyone else is doing. No matter what time you finish your first race in, you’ll be setting a new PR (personal record) This one’s for you!
Choose a Schedule that Fits YOU: there’s a training schedule out there for just about everyone, you just have to choose the one that’s right for you. From beginner to expert, the options are unlimited. Things to note when choosing a training schedule are:
Does this fit into my personal life?
What type of cross-training am I interested in?
Is this too advanced for me?
How long is the training plan?
Can I afford this?
For me, I’ve always chosen a free schedule by brands I find to be fairly reliable. For example, I used the Novice 1 Half Marathon Training Program by Hal Higdon, for my first half marathon. The schedule is free, simple and focuses on building endurance over the course of three months. If you’re looking for something simple this might be the right schedule for you.
Pros: I was never injured during the three months of training, I finished the race under 2 hours and 10 minutes without focusing on speed and the schedule was easy to follow.
Cons: It doesn’t focus on recovery
Here is a list of free training schedules that might interest you:
*Remember, these schedules are designed to be a guide. If for some reason the designated long run days or rest days just don’t work for you on the suggested day, feel free to switch it up.
Find the Right Shoes: Just like tires on a car, you need shoes that work for you to make it through the miles. Because training for a half marathon requires a lot of time on your feet, it’s important to test more than one shoe to find the right pair. When trying on a running shoe, consider these factors:
If you’re still a little unsure, it might help if you consult a professional when trying on shoes. Most running stores can offer advice on a variety of styles and brands as well as observe your performance on a treadmill. You might even learn something new about yourself along the way.
Learn to Tie a Runner’s Knot: have you ever wondered what that second hole at the top of your shoe is? For more stability and security, you can use the second hole to create a runner’s knot (aka runner’s loop). At first it may seem confusing to do but I can assure you that you don’t have to be a boy scout to figure it out. Click here for a step-by-step guide.
Hydration for the Long Run: staying hydrated is extremely important for both performance and your overall wellbeing. Depending on the amount of running you are doing will make a difference in how much water you need but something to be mindful of is that electrolytes are a huge part of the hydration game. Understanding what an electrolyte is and how it plays a key role in this sport can help you make the right decisions about staying hydrated. For a deeper understanding of electrolytes and why they are so important to runners, check out this breakdown and master the art of electrolyte balance to avoid fatigue, cramping and dehydration.
Hydration tip: to ensure you’re getting the right amount of water, be mindful of the color of your urine. If it is a dark yellow, it means you are dehydrated. If it’s clear, you’ve had too much water to drink. Keep in mind that you want your urine to be pale yellow. This is especially important after a hard workout.
In addition to water, I typically drink 8-16 ounces of electrolyte drink, by Nuun, on days that I do run and 8 oz of electrolyte drink on recovery days. During a long run, I also carry a gel by GU with me to eat mid-run. GU is my preferred brand because it offers gels that contain: electrolytes, caffeine, carbohydrates and amino acids all in one little pouch. A gel mid-run helps to restore essential nutrients and energy to your body, allowing for optimal performance during the rest of your run as well as a better recovery.
*Please note that you shouldn’t need a gel on your shorter runs. Each person is different and temperature can play a huge role, but I like to start incorporating gels when I run more than 6 miles.
(photo credit @mollykinscarter)
Nutrition is Key: maintaining a healthy diet is always important but when it comes to performance it’s essential that you choose whole and healthy foods as part of a well-balanced diet:
Carbs: As a runner, healthy carbs are essential because they provide long lasting and sustainable energy. Choose whole grain carbohydrates, brown rice, sweet potato or oats versus pizza, cookies and chips. Running without carbs is like driving a car without gas, without them you won’t make it very far.
Eat the most carbs the night before your next run.
Protein: Protein is also extremely important because it helps build muscle and makes you stronger runner. Opt for leaner proteins such as fish or chicken versus red meats because lean proteins build lean muscle. The goal with muscle in running is strong and lean because muscle is heavy (heavier than fat), which can actually slow you down. Remember: the less you weigh, the easier it will be to run.
Eat a high protein meal after a run.
Fruits and Veggies: Last but not least, let’s talk veggie talk. Fruits and vegetables are vital for vitamins and nutrients the body needs for energy and the immune system. As a runner, they’re great for restoring energy and a faster recovery.
Incorporate vegetables and fruits into every meal.
For balanced nutrition that’s high in both proteins and vitamins, I try to drink at least one plant-based, protein smoothie a day. If you’re looking for a great protein powder to try, I highly recommend Sun Warrior. I personally use the Warrior Blend, which has 27 grams of plant-based protein, no sugar added, is both dairy and gluten free and its vegan!
For some, a vegan or vegetarian diet is already their lifestyle choice, but will that be sustainable enough to get you through a half marathon? The answer is yes! Just make sure you’re taking the vitamins and supplements your body needs to keep you healthy and energized. In addition, choose high protein, plant-based foods such as nuts, beans, peas and tofu.
Recovery Days are Best Days: Recovery days are just as important as any of your workouts during training. Think of it this way, if you don’t allow your body to recover, how will you ever perform at your best? One way to focus on recovery is by taking an ice bath. It sounds miserable but there’s scientific evidence to support this madness. Taking an ice bath helps reduce inflammation and muscle soreness. According to Active, it’s best to never stay submersed for longer than 10 minutes and the temperature of the water should be approximately 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are in pain or experience extreme discomfort, drain the tub ASAP and seek medical advice if necessary.
For optimal blood flow and a faster recovery, it’s also a good idea to wear compression socks or leggings during your run and/or on recovery days. Compression helps with blood flow, reduces swelling and minimizes soreness. I personally like to wear 2XU compression leggings during my tough runs to ease soreness the following day and either 2XU or Cep compression socks on recovery days. The goal here is to bounce back!
Another helpful aid in recovery is the Garmin Forerunner 235. This affordable, Smart Watch tracks personalized health and fitness data, which is very beneficial to tracking recovery time. Garmin’s technology calculates the amount of recovery time needed between your most recent workout and the next. The calculations are based on the intensity level of your previous workout and your heart rate. Tracking recovery time with Garmin provides personalized data that is 100% custom to you meaning less injury and better runs.
Cross Train or No Gain: It may seem as if you’re already doing too much exercise but adding in cross training every week can actually be a game changer. Cross training is about working on other skills to become a better runner. For example, cycling is great for strengthening your legs, weight-lifting helps build muscle in areas other than your legs (such as arms, back, etc.), swimming is great for aerobic improvement and yoga helps focus the mind, stretch the body and find overall balance. There’s no rule as to which type of cross training is better than the other, it’s all a matter of personal preference. You can even switch it up to avoid cross-training burnout. One thing to note is that no matter which type of exercise you choose, when cross training it’s important that you “take it easy”. Although it’s a valuable asset to becoming a better runner, it shouldn’t be your main focus. Save your energy for the running.
Find Support: When taking on a new challenge in life, it’s always great to have a good support system. Apps like Strava are great for finding the motivation and support you need throughout training. The benefit of joining a virtual community is that you don’t have to meet up anywhere, change your schedule or even run with a buddy. Simply sync Strava to your workout, find friends or groups that interest you and just do you! Plus: if you have a Garmin smart watch, you can also link your workouts to Strava straight from your watch. Prefer meeting in person? You can also contact your local running store, such as Fleet Feet, to find out more about group runs in your community and other running events.
The Numbers Don’t Lie: From distance to speed, in running it’s all about the math. Although the focus of you first half marathon should be completion, it’s always good to have an idea of what your stats are because they tell you how you’re doing and guide you towards improvement. In order to understand your stats, you need to get to know yourself and your runs a little bit better. To do so, I highly recommend using a smart watch such as Garmin or the Apple Watch to track data and statistics from your runs/workouts. It’s not only good to know how you’re doing, it can also be highly motivational, encouraging you to push a little harder next time, resulting in an overall better performance.
Numbers you should track during training:
+ Heart Rate
Run to Your Own Beat: Something I didn’t learn until my second round of training is that you should aim to find your running cadence for two very important reasons:
Maintaining cadence helps with form
Running at a higher cadence decreases risk of injury
Bonus: ultimately, running at a recommended cadence of 180 will result in improved speed, but like I said before, the focus of your first half marathon should be 100% completion.
The main goal when running at a higher cadence is that you take smaller steps to avoid over-striding. Over-striding can be detrimental to your ankles, hips and lower back which is why it’s important to correct your form in the beginning to avoid future and potentially permanent damage. At first, running at a higher cadence may feel awkward but that is only because you aren’t accustomed to taking smaller strides. It’s also extremely helpful to use a metronome for cadence practice. I highly recommend using the Metronome Pro app. In addition to a metronome, you can either create a playlist of songs that are 180 BPM or check out this playlist on Apple Music. If rhythm isn’t your gig, the metronome app allows music to play in the background so you can run the app while listening to music at the same time. Overtime, the shorter strides will become second nature and you’ll no longer need the monotonous clinking sound in your ears while you run.
*Note: Running at 180 steps per minute is fast for most. It’s highly recommended that you start out slow and work your way there. For example, start by running a half-mile at a cadence of 170 to see how it feels. If you feel like you can do more, step it up on the next run but if not, don’t worry. Just run at 170 for the next couple of runs until you’re ready. From there try 175 until it feels comfortable and eventually you’ll be running at 180.
Wireless is like Music to My Ears: music is a great way to keep you pumped on a run, which is why ear buds are another great gadget to own. As a runner, factors such as water resistance, battery life, wireless and Bluetooth are all very valuable. I recommend JBuds Airby JLab. They are great for those of you looking to run without the wires meanwhile staying within budget. On the bright side, if you’re ever looking for headphones that are a little more advanced, JLab has a variety of options to consider in the future.
Keep in mind that some races may not permit the use of headphones so you may want to do a few practice runs without the entertainment if that is the case.
A Mantra a Day Keeps the Burnout Away: Burnout is common when doing anything over a long period of time including running but the goal is to be just as motivated come race day as you were on day one. To stay on track, practice saying mantras to yourself on a daily basis. You can use them before a run, during and even after. Remember, a little positivity can go a long way… 13.1 miles to be exact.
For more on mantras, check out 5 Mantras for Runners to keep you motivated on run days and focused on race day.
Happy running you half crazy,