Running has been a favorite hobby of mine for many years, although I’ve never done a half marathon. I decided that 2012 is the year to finally make the commitment and participate in a race. A half marathon seemed like the perfect distance – 13.1 miles – long enough to feel like a challenge, but not nearly as time-consuming and daunting as training for the full 26.2 miles. So, before I could change my mind, I signed up for the Brooklyn Half Marathon on May 19th. Having never trained for a half marathon, I consulted a variety of online resources and came up with a list of best practices to help me train for the big day.
There are numerous training schedules available online. Popular guides from Runner’s World and Hal Higdon offer training schedules based on skill level. I decided to use Runner’s World’s Smart Coach, which creates a specific plan based on skill level and previous experience. Most guides suggest a 12-week training schedule that includes 3-4 runs per week, 1-2 cross-training days and 2 days of rest. Make sure you don’t skip your rest days! I’ve noticed that my runs improve dramatically after I’ve given my muscles a day or two to heal and recharge.
In addition to your weekly runs, you should incorporate aerobic cross-training and strength training 1-2 times per week. Try cycling, swimming, or the elliptical machine on your cross-training days. It will feel good to switch up your workouts and build different muscle groups. Find a strength-training program that tones your core and arms in order to prevent muscular imbalances and maintain good running form. Many people tend to neglect strength training because it seems tedious—I know I have in the past! My advice? Just focus on 15-30 minutes a couple of times per week and it will seem less daunting. Soon you will notice the muscle in your core and arms helps your runs!
You don’t need to follow a particular diet while training, however there are a few recommended foods every runner needs to boost immunity, improve performance, and speed up recovery time. Complex carbs such as quinoa, rolled oats and whole wheat are absorbed slowly and provide necessary protein to fuel your lengthy runs. For another great source of protein try greek yogurt with honey and fresh fruit. Omega-3 fatty acids from salmon or flax seeds will help ease joint pain and reduce inflammation. Bananas are perfect post-run snacks, providing potassium that helps repair fatigued muscles.
Don’t underestimate the importance of having the right training gear, especially when it comes to running shoes. Treat yourself to a nice pair of running shoes that will work specifically for your feet. Consult your local running store to make sure you have the right fit – trust me, you will notice the difference!
Nothing sidetracks a training program as much as an injury. The best way to stay injury-free is to stretch and rest throughout your half marathon training. You can avoid shin splints by stretching your calves frequently, even on your rest days. Steer clear of “Runner’s Knee” by stretching your hamstrings regularly, particularly after running. You can also break up your training with cycling and yoga to keep injuries at bay.