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How to run a half marathon: A beginners guide
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Intro

Running a half-marathon is a significant accomplishment that demands physical endurance, mental strength, and thorough preparation. Whether you’re driven by a personal goal, the chance to fundraise for charity, or simply the love of running, knowing your motivation is crucial. This article shares my experience of returning to running after a ten-year break and provides a detailed manual on preparing for and finishing a half-marathon. From choosing the right race to post-race recovery, this guide will assist you through every stage of your half-marathon journey.

My Journey Back to Running

After a decade-long hiatus from running to focus on raising my two young children and building my physio clinic, I found myself reevaluating my lifestyle following a hospital stay in October 2023. This experience reignited my passion for running, and I decided to challenge myself by signing up for the Kew Half Marathon in April 2024. This marked the start of a transformative journey back to the sport I love.

Setting the Goal

Having previously run marathons and ultra-distance events, I knew the importance of setting a realistic and structured goal. The Kew Half Marathon was a perfect choice, allowing me enough time to train adequately while fitting into my busy life. Understanding my motivation was crucial – it was a personal challenge, a return to something I loved, and a demonstration of resilience to my children.

For Beginners

For those new to running or taking on their first half marathon, setting the goal involves recognising the significant step this represents. Understanding your reasons for running—whether it’s personal achievement, charity, or health—will help maintain motivation. Break the goal into manageable steps, and remember that every runner starts somewhere.

Training Plan

Given my history of injuries, including Achilles tendinopathy, a fractured left tibial plateau, lumbar disc bulges, and cervical disc degeneration, I needed a carefully balanced training plan. My schedule consisted of three runs and two strength and conditioning sessions each week:

  • Monday: 6km run
  • Tuesday: Strength and conditioning (Bulgarian squats, deadlifts, calf raises, bent over row, push-ups, and lateral pull across for the pecs)
  • Thursday: 8km run
  • Friday: Strength and conditioning
  • Weekend: Long run, gradually increasing by approximately 10% each week, peaking at 17km two weeks before the race

Strength and conditioning are crucial to any training plan, especially for a half-marathon. These workouts help improve muscle strength, enhance running efficiency, and reduce the risk of injuries. My strength and conditioning routine focused on core and leg strength, vital for maintaining good running form and endurance.

For Beginners:

If you’re new to half marathons, starting with a gradual training plan that emphasises building a solid foundation through long, slow runs is essential. Many beginner programs include too many weekly running sessions, which can lead to burnout and injury. Instead, aim for a balanced approach that includes non-impact cross-training and strength workouts.

A typical beginner plan might look like this:

  • Monday: Rest or light cross-training (swimming, bike, x-trainer)
  • Tuesday: Short run (3-5km)
  • Wednesday: Strength and conditioning (focusing on core and leg strength)
  • Thursday: Tempo run (4-6km at a comfortably hard pace)
  • Friday: Rest or light cross-training
  • Saturday: Long run (starting at 5km and increasing by 1km each week)
  • Sunday: Recovery run (2-3km) or rest

The Importance of Strength and Conditioning

Incorporating strength and conditioning into your training plan is essential, even if you’re primarily training for a running event. Strength workouts help improve muscle endurance, stabilise joints, and enhance overall running efficiency. Key exercises such as Bulgarian squats, deadlifts, calf raises, bent-over rows, push-ups, and lateral pulls for the pecs can significantly boost your performance and reduce the risk of common running injuries.

See The benefits of strength and conditioning

Cross-Training

Cross-training activities, such as cycling, swimming, or yoga, are excellent additions to your training regimen. These activities help build cardiovascular fitness without the repetitive impact of running, giving your joints a break and preventing overuse injuries. They also add variety to your workouts, keeping you engaged and motivated.

Building Your Base

For beginners, the primary focus should be building a strong base through long, slow runs. This approach gradually increases your mileage, allowing your body to adapt to the demands of longer distances. Consistency is more important than speed at this stage. By slowly increasing your long run distance by about 10% each week, you build the endurance needed for a half-marathon while minimising the risk of injury.

Recovery

Allow ample time for recovery to prevent burnout and overtraining. Rest days and lighter activities are just as important as your running and strength sessions. Listening to your body and allowing it to recover properly ensures you remain healthy and capable of progressing steadily toward your half-marathon goal.

By focusing on a balanced training plan that includes strength and conditioning, cross-training, and gradual mileage increases, beginners can build a strong foundation and enjoy a successful and injury-free journey to completing their first half-marathon.

See Common running injuries and how to treat them

Physical and Mental Preparation

Ensuring I was physically and mentally prepared for the half marathon was essential. Physically, I focused on building endurance and strength while carefully monitoring any signs of injury. I gradually increased my load with strength and conditioning exercises and incrementally raised my mileage, which gave me the confidence to carry on. I understood there would be days when I didn’t feel like training due to life situations. It was important to follow the training program blindly, listen to my body, and adjust the plan as needed.

Mentally, I used visualisation techniques, picturing myself crossing the finish line, and employed stress management practices like deep breathing and meditation. These strategies helped maintain my motivation and focus throughout the training period.

For Beginners:

Ensuring you are physically and mentally prepared for the half marathon is crucial for first-time runners. Here are some key steps:

  1. 3D Running Assessment: If possible, get a 3D running assessment. This advanced analysis can provide detailed insights into your running form, identify biomechanical inefficiencies, and help prevent injuries by addressing potential issues early on.
  2. Visit a Physiotherapist: Before starting your training, consider visiting a physiotherapist. This can help assess your readiness, address any potential issues, and provide you with a solid foundation to begin your training.
  3. Listen to Your Body: Training plans are important, but listening to your body is more crucial. Life situations can affect your energy levels and motivation. Adjust your training schedule if you feel overly fatigued or encounter unexpected events. Prioritising rest and recovery when needed will help you avoid burnout and injury.
  4. Develop a Positive Mindset: Mental preparation is as important as physical training. Use visualisation techniques to picture your success and crossing the finish line—practice stress management strategies like meditation or deep breathing to stay calm and focused.
  5. Stay Resilient: Setbacks are a normal part of any training journey. Maintaining a resilient attitude will help you overcome obstacles and stay committed to your goal. Celebrate small victories along the way to keep your motivation high.

Attention to your physical and mental well-being can build a strong foundation for a successful half marathon. Listen to your body and adjust your training to ensure a healthy and rewarding experience.

Selecting the Right Marathon

I chose to participate in the Kew Half Marathon for strategic reasons. My key motivating factors were the scenic route, proximity to home, and the supportive crowd. The timing also allowed me to train properly, ensuring I was adequately prepared for the race.

For Beginners

When selecting your first half marathon, consider several important factors to ensure a successful and enjoyable experience. The right race can significantly affect your motivation and overall performance. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Course Difficulty: Evaluate the course’s terrain and elevation profile. Beginners may choose a relatively flat course to avoid the additional challenge of hills, which can be more demanding on the body.
  • Location and Climate: Choose a race in a climate that suits your preferences and training environment. If you’re used to running in cooler temperatures, a race in a hot and humid location might present additional challenges.
  • Supportive Crowd: A race with a supportive crowd can significantly boost morale. The energy from spectators can help keep you motivated, especially during the tougher parts of the race.
  • Scenic Route: A scenic route can make the race more enjoyable and help distract you from the physical effort. Running through beautiful landscapes or cityscapes can enhance your overall experience.
  • Race Date and Training Time: Ensure the race date allows enough time for comprehensive training. Beginners typically need around 16-20 weeks to prepare adequately for a half marathon. The training time will depend on your general base fitness and how active and fit you are already. If you start from a lower fitness level, you might need the full 20 weeks or even longer to build up your endurance gradually.

If you’re a first-timer to this sort of distance, here are some additional tips for selecting your first half marathon:

  • Start with a Local Race: Local races are often more convenient and less stressful, allowing you to focus on your performance without the added travel pressure.
  • Check Reviews and Feedback: Look for reviews and feedback from past participants to get an idea of the race’s organisation, support, and overall experience.
  • Consider the Size of the Race: Smaller races can be less overwhelming for first-timers, while larger races may offer more amenities and a bigger crowd for support.

By carefully considering these factors, you can select a half marathon that aligns with your fitness level, preferences, and goals, setting yourself up for a successful and rewarding race experience.

Training Challenges and Milestones

Training was not without its challenges. Balancing my schedule between work, family, and training required careful planning and discipline. I faced occasional setbacks with the resurgence of my Achilles problem, and I had to be diligent about rest and recovery. Celebrating small milestones, like completing my first 10km run after years, helped maintain my motivation.

For Beginners

As a beginner, starting with shorter runs and gradually increasing the distance is crucial. Begin with manageable distances and slowly build up to longer runs over several months. Overcoming initial challenges like soreness and fatigue is part of the process, so be patient with yourself. Celebrate milestones such as your first 5km and 10km runs to stay motivated and recognise your progress.

Consistency is key—maintain a regular training schedule to build endurance and strength steadily. Gradual progression helps avoid burnout and injury, allowing your body to adapt to increasing demands. Focus on listening to your body and adjust your plan as needed.. Remember, the journey to a half marathon is as rewarding as the race itself, so enjoy each step and celebrate your achievements along the way.

Nutrition and Hydration

Proper nutrition and hydration were crucial for my training success. I followed a balanced diet of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats to ensure I had the energy needed for my runs and strength sessions. Hydration was especially important during longer runs, and I drank water and electrolytes in small amounts at regular intervals.

For Beginners

Maintaining a balanced diet with various nutrient-dense foods is essential for those new to long-distance running. Carbohydrates are crucial for energy, providing the fuel needed for your runs. Include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in your meals. Proteins in lean meats, beans, and dairy aid in muscle repair and recovery—healthy fats from sources like avocados, nuts, and olive oil support overall health and endurance.

Staying hydrated is equally important. Drink water regularly throughout the day and incorporate electrolyte drinks during longer runs to replenish lost minerals. Practice your race-day nutrition strategy during training to ensure your body responds well and avoids surprises on race day. Experiment with different energy gels, bars, or other fuel sources during your long runs to find what works best for you.

Race Day

Race day was a blend of excitement and nerves. My eldest child riding alongside me added a special touch to the experience, making it even more memorable. I started at a comfortable pace, mindful of conserving energy for the latter stages of the race. The crowd’s support and my child’s presence provided immense motivation, pushing me forward during challenging moments. Their cheers and encouragement were invaluable, helping me maintain focus and determination.

For Beginners

On race day, pacing is crucial—start at a comfortable pace to avoid burnout. It’s important to familiarise yourself with the race route and plan your hydration and nutrition strategy accordingly. Knowing where the water stations are and having a plan for refuelling will keep you energised. Having friends or family at key points along the route can boost morale significantly. Their support can lift your spirits and give you the extra push needed to keep going. Embrace the atmosphere, enjoy the experience, and remember your reasons for running. The journey and the support of loved ones make the race day special and fulfilling.

Post-Race Reflection

Crossing the finish line of the Kew Half Marathon was a powerful moment filled with pride and a sense of accomplishment. It reaffirmed my love for running and highlighted the importance of perseverance and preparation. Completing the race with my child by my side made the experience even more memorable.

For Beginners

Completing your first half marathon is an immense achievement. Reflect on your journey, acknowledge your effort and dedication, and celebrate your accomplishment. Use this milestone as inspiration for future running goals, and remember that every step was a testament to your hard work and commitment.

Tips for Aspiring Half Marathon Runners

If you’re considering running a half marathon, here are a few tips:

  • Set a realistic training plan: Tailor it to your fitness level and schedule.
  • Listen to your body: Rest when needed, and don’t ignore injuries.
  • Stay consistent: Regular training is key to building endurance.
  • Find a running community: Joining a group can provide support and motivation.
  • Enjoy the journey: Embrace the challenges and celebrate the milestones.

Conclusion

Running the Kew Half Marathon was a remarkable journey that rekindled my passion for running. The process of training, overcoming challenges, and ultimately crossing the finish line was immensely rewarding. Whether you’re a seasoned runner returning to the sport or a beginner taking your first steps, the journey to a half marathon is filled with opportunities for personal growth and achievement.

FAQs (PAAs)

Can you do a half marathon without training?

Running a half marathon without training is not recommended. It significantly increases the risk of injury, fatigue, and potential health issues. Proper training prepares your body for the physical demands and helps you complete the race safely and enjoyably.

How do you run a half marathon without getting tired?

To minimise fatigue during a half marathon, follow a training plan emphasising gradual mileage progression and strength training. Gradually increasing your running distance builds endurance, while strength training improves muscle stamina and overall fitness. This combination helps your body handle the distance more efficiently, reducing the likelihood of tiredness. Maintain a steady, comfortable pace throughout the race to conserve energy.

How to prepare your body for a half marathon?

Prepare your body for a half marathon by following a structured training plan that emphasises gradual mileage increases and strength training exercises. This approach builds endurance and reduces the risk of injury. Maintain a balanced diet, stay hydrated, and practice your race-day nutrition strategy during long runs.

What is a good marathon strategy for beginners?

A good strategy for beginners includes starting at a comfortable pace to conserve energy, gradually increasing your mileage during training, and incorporating strength training to improve overall fitness. Break the race into manageable segments, maintain consistent hydration and nutrition, and familiarise yourself with the course. Listen to your body and adjust your pace as needed.

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