Are you ready to run a half marathon?

Assessing your half marathon fitness

So, one minute you've just taken up running and the next, you find yourself entering a half marathon! Whether it's for charity or simply a personal goal, a half marathon is on the bucket list of many runners.

Written by Louise Damen

Louise is a two-time England Cross Country Champion and a former European XC Trials winner. She has also represented GB at various international events and her marathon PB is 2:30:00.

One of the biggest mistakes that many people make when they step up to the half is that they fail to respect the distance and as a result, don't prepare properly. Of course we'd all like more time to train and to get fitter before any race and you certainly don't have to reach the training volume of an elite athlete. However, if you do want a positive experience, you will need to ensure that you've done your groundwork. So, how do you know if you're ready to race 13.1 miles (21.1km)?

You can run for 90 minutes or more without stopping

You probably don't need reminding that 13.1 miles (21.1 km) is a very long way! The volume of your training will of course be dictated by your experience and your aspirations. You don't necessarily have to have covered the half marathon distance beforehand in training but you're more likely to feel more physically and mentally comfortable if you're able to run for a substantial amount of time continuously. 

If there is one type of training session that you're going to do when training for a half marathon make it a weekly long run. The long run should be the bedrock of any distance runner’s training programme and is definitely bread and butter for half marathoners. Running long causes a number of physiological adaptations to your aerobic metabolism, including improving your body's ability to store glycogen (carbohydrate) and to burn fat for fuel.

If you're new to running then it's best to start with blocks of running, interspersed with blocks of walking. As the weeks go by you should aim to gradually increase the length of the running segments and reduce the length of the walking segments, with the aim of being able to build up to completing a continuous run. Once you can run for 90 minutes continuously you should be half marathon ready.

You've trained consistently

You don't have to rack up the miles of an elite runner or subject yourself to a brutal training regime before entering your first half marathon, but it's certainly a good idea to have some consistent training under your belt. The amount of preparation you'll need obviously depends on your fitness levels, your goals and your running history. However, if you're new to running, you'll generally need at least 16 weeks of training, ideally 2-3 times a week, before hitting your first half. It's important to remember that your training doesn't have to be record-breaking it just has to be consistent with no lengthy breaks due to illness or injury. If you can achieve that, it will stand you in good stead, leaving you physically and psychologically ready to tackle a half marathon.

You've done some training on the roads

In order to condition your legs to the impact of the road, it's a good idea to hit the roads for some of your training so that you don't experience any unnecessary muscle cramping during the later stages of the race. However too much road running too soon can pose an additional injury risk so be sure to build this into your training gradually and ensure that your shoes have the appropriate level of cushioning. 

You have some race experience

A half marathon is kind of a big deal so it's a good idea to try and gain some race experience over a shorter distance, such as a 5k or a 10k beforehand. Not only will this give you an indication of your current fitness levels and your potential over the half marathon distance, thus providing guidance when deciding upon a time goal, but it will also allow you to practice key aspects of your pre-race routine. Good luck and happy half marathoning!

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