Running your first half marathon? Congratulations! Signing up for a 13.1-mile race shows you are ready to take on a fun and exciting challenge.
Whether you are a new runner or have been running for years, deciding to foray into the half marathon world is a step that can be a little daunting. In order to prepare for the training weeks ahead of you, it's smart to prepare both a training plan, a nutrition plan, and a recovery plan.
For your first half marathon, you'll want to get into a weekly routine right away. Plans vary, but half marathon plans usually last about 6-10 weeks. Each week should include 3-5 days of running with at least one designated "long" run. It's okay if your first "long" run is three miles! Work your way up to doing at least 10 miles one time, about two weeks before race day. Make sure to include at least one day of strength training in your plan. This can be weight-lifting at the gym or a Vinyasa yoga class -- anything that focuses on building strength. And of course, make sure to have at least one or two rest days per week. Your body needs this recovery time in order to get stronger!
An often-overlooked aspect of training for a half marathon is having a quality nutrition plan. Low-mileage runners may get away with eating a standard diet, but when increasing mileage, you'll need to pay extra close attention to protein, carbohydrate, and healthy fat intake. A low-carb diet will leave you relying on fat stores during a long run. Which sounds great, until you are six miles into a 10-mile run and are experiencing extreme fatigue. Your body wants to burn carbs first -- make sure to supply it with enough of them! Protein and healthy fats work hand-in-hand to support and build muscle tissue. Each person's specific requirements are different, so it may be beneficial to discuss a nutrition plan with your physician or a sports nutritionist.
Don't skip this important step! Recovery times vary based upon your weekly mileage, your fitness level before starting the training plan, and how your actual race went. If you had a bad race, don't worry -- there will be another (better) race in your future. It may be tempting to immediately get back out there and train for another long event, but your body requires rest to repair damage. If you had a great race, be sure to still take a few days (or up to a week) off to allow your body to recover. It's important to get as much sleep as your body needs (8+ hours per night), continue to eat well, and maybe even practice meditation or yoga. In any case, don't push it. If you do, you'll be more prone to injury down the road.
By ensuring you have a specific plan in place for each of these three components, you will be well on your way toward a successful half marathon. Good luck!