How to handle your first half marathon
Approaching your debut half marathon race
If you’re thinking about running a half marathon then there are a few things that you need to bear in mind before you jump into your first race. Obviously you need to be capable of running the full 13.1 mile distance and also be confident that you have done all the training that will enable you to do this.
Written by Scott Overall
Scott is a British long distance athlete who represented Team GB at the 2012 Olympics. His marathon PB is currently 2:10:55.
You should plan your half marathon race at the end of a training block of around 12-15 weeks, as this will give you plenty of time to prepare and get used to running the longer distances. In the build up to the race you should also look to do a few shorter races, such as a 10k, as this will help develop your speed for the longer races.
From my own experience of moving up through the distances I have found it’s important to always maintain some faster running in your training. When you are running shorter distances like the 5k or even 1 mile races, the faster track training and shorter reps will always play a significant role. However once you start moving up the distances all the way up to the marathon, it’s important to forget about the speed sessions. The marathon is all about endurance and training for 26.2 miles is going to be completely different to preparing for a 5km. That said there will though be some cross over and you can always adapt your training to find out what works best for you.
There are two main ways to approach half marathon training; you can either be a 10k runner (speed racer) and throw in some longer runs to get used to the longer distance, or you can be a marathon runner (endurance machine) who already has the strength and then work on the faster stuff. Depending on how many years you’ve been running you should have a good idea what type of runner you are.
However you approach the race the long run is always going to be a stable in both approaches. You should be looking to run at least the full half marathon distance, probably even up to about 20 miles if you are more on the endurance side of things. This will give you the confidence that you can actually run the full race distance and it will give you the strength that will be required to have a good race.
Obviously you don't need to go out in week 1 of your training plan and run 20 miles. It’s something you build up to. I would say after about 6-7 weeks of consistent training you can hit the maximum distance on your long run. This does also depend on other factors such as the amount of running you’ve previously done before starting the half marathon training plan.
Get your half marathon pace right
During the race it is important to think about pace judgement. If you go out too fast the half marathon is not forgiving and you’ll find it is a long, long way to the finish! Your training should give you an indication as to what pace you can hold for 13.1 miles. How I break the race down is to divide it into a 10 mile race and then a 3 mile race, so basically get to 10 miles as comfortably as you can and then you have 5k to either maintain that pace or pick it up and race to the finish. The first 10 miles can be broken up even further into 2 x 5 mile segments; it just depends on what is easier to get your head round. For me, 10 miles is quite short, but then I am a marathon runner!
As you will be running for over an hour it’s also worth considering taking on board fluids during the race, or even an energy gel. Most of the half marathon races will have some fluid available on the course and you can always find out what it is before the race by looking at the race website or getting in touch with the race director. That way you can find out well in advance and practice with the drinks in training. Taking fluids is probably most important in the marathon distance, but it can be advantageous in the half as well. If you do eventually plan on doing a marathon then it is also good practice too. Good luck in the half marathon, prepare well, trust in your training, and race well!