I’m assuming you landed here because you’re either committed to, or are seriously thinking about running a half marathon. Either way, you’ve come to the right place! Perhaps you’re planning to run a marathon in the near future but want to start by running the half marathon. Or maybe you’re just beginning to get into the sport of running and are thinking of a way to push or challenge yourself … whatever your reasons, the half marathon is an excellent distance to strive for.
If you’re a seasoned distance runner, the half marathon can be a good training run before your next marathon. If you’re a beginning runner, the half marathon can be a distance to work towards … a distance within reach with proper training, but not too imposing like the marathon.
In this article, I’ll be talking about the basic components of training for a half marathon and provide links and information about the various half marathon training plans. Based on the information provided, you’ll ultimately have to choose which program will work the best for you.
I’m a huge fan of Jeff Galloway’s “run/walk” method, but this may not be the best option for you. I’m hoping that, by providing you with information about the most popular and respected half marathon training programs, you’ll find the one that will get you through your next 13.1 miles!
I’ve also included information related to your diet, best running shoes to wear, some good training tips to prevent injury, and a brief summary of half marathon training components.
Below are links to FREE half marathon training programs. I’ve also included a link to a great online coaching site, and where you can buy some great books on half marathon training – all you need to make running the half marathon a fun and successful endeavor!
Since you’ll be racking up a lot of miles each week training for the half marathon, you’ll need shoes that will provide adequate support to get you through it all without injury. Of course there are many other factors to help prevent running injuries such as proper stretching, cross training etc., but finding the right pair of running shoes to suit your individual needs is key.
There are many factors to consider when searching for running shoes, one of which is pronation. Pronation is the way our feet roll inward from heel to toe while running or walking. I’ve explained the varying degrees of pronation below, and which type of running shoes work best for each particular type of pronation.
As our feet go through a normal stride, the foot strikes the ground at the heel and proceeds downward, rolling inward roughly 5%, and then pushes off the toes to complete the stride. The foot’s rolling motion helps distribute the force or impact of the foot strike evenly, and still provides adequate support for the runner. This is the ideal running stride. Often with normal pronation, the person will have “normal” arches, as opposed to high arches as seen in Under Pronation, or more flat arches as seen in flat feet.
Shoes for Normal Pronation
A basic “Stability” shoe works best and provides plenty of support for those with a normal degree of pronation. Since a runner with normal pronation already has good balance built into his/her stride for absorbing shock evenly and naturally, a more beefed up running shoe with added sole support etc. is not generally needed. But again, every runner is different and it’s a good idea to see the specialists at your local shoe store for help in determining which shoe will work best for you.
As you can probably guess – with Under Pronation, the inward rolling movement happens at less than 5%. Therefore, the outside of the foot is left to manage the bulk of the impact. During the push-off phase of the stride, the smaller toes carry most of the responsibility for the completion of the stride – and this type of stride is not as efficient overall. As a general rule, high arched runners tend to under pronate.
Shoes for Under Pronation
“Neutral” or “Neutral Cushioned” shoes work best for encouraging a more natural stride. Runners with high arches tend to be Under Pronators. Of course there are exceptions to every rule so, again, you will want to get a gait analysis done at a running store to determine what type of pronator you are and then purchase your running shoes accordingly.
With some running strides, the feet roll excessively inward toward the arch or inside of the foot – this is called Over-Pronation and is also common. Over pronation happens when the foot rolls in more than the ideal 5%, so the shock of each impact is not distributed evenly throughout each stride – as a result, the foot and ankle have more difficulty managing the impact and stabilizing the body. With the long term repetitive nature of long distance running, this can lead to injury if proper precautions aren’t taken ie. getting supportive shoes to counteract the effects of this type of pronation. Cross training can also help by strengthening the surrounding muscles so they are better able to assist in absorbing the impact as well. More on cross training later.
Shoes for Over Pronation
“Motion Control shoes” tend to work best for people with more excessive or pronounced over pronation. These shoes have features in the arch and sole (or last) of the shoes which help to assist the foot as it rolls inward to help balance out the stride and provide added support.
Stability shoes are adequate for those with mild to moderate over pronation. Motion Control shoes are helpful in providing much more support for execessive over pronators and tend to be a bit bulkier and/or heavier. However, if it means preventing injury and allowing a runner an injury free experience over the long haul – it’s worth it! Because of the added supporting features, the motion control shoe can be advantageous for the heavier runner as well.
As mentioned earlier – it’s helpful to go to a major running store to get a “gait analysis,” done to determine which type of pronation you have. Many times, this can be done for free, depending on the running store. The store personnel at a running shoe store will watch you run on a treadmill and determine what type of pronation you have. At that point, they can then help you find which type of running shoes will work best for you i.e. cushioned, stability, or motion control.
Importance of Running Shoes in Long Distance Running
I’m an average sized runner (perhaps a bit heavier:) with moderate over pronation and now wear Stability running shoes. But when I first started running longer distances I didn’t realize there were different types of shoes for the varying degrees of pronation and bought a lightweight pair of Cushioned Nikes (which would be better suited for someone with higher arches). After a few months of long runs, I injured my knee, which required surgery and months of rehabilitation.
It was my Physical therapist who explained to me that I had more pronounced over pronation and recommended I use a heavy duty Stability running shoe or Motion control shoe. Had I known then what I know now – I would have gotten a gait analysis done before starting my long distance running pursuits and likely prevented my knee injury altogether…thus the impetus for article. I’m hoping you won’t do things in reverse order and get injured like I did!
Buying Running Shoes Online vs. Running Shoe Stores
All of the major running shoe brands such as Nike, Reebok, Brooks, Adidas, Asics, Mizuno, Ecco, Fila, to name a few, carry a model which is designed to target each type of pronation. Plan to spend more money on quality running shoes, likely between $50.00 and $200.00 as an estimate. I can’t afford the real high end models, but have found plenty of good running shoes between $50.00 and $110.00, especially if I hunt down the clearance sales!
There are many reputable companies online which have free shipping and/or free return shipping so you can return the shoes and get a refund with little hassle. You can also find some great deals online.
However, I also appreciate my local running stores – they are generally priced a bit higher than what you find online, but the staff know a lot about running and can help you find the right running shoes or other running gear etc. so this can be well worth the extra costs…at least I think so. It’s a tough call – when money’s tight, you want to save where you can…so you’ll have to decide which route to take based on what you value most.
Whatever you decide – it’s recommended you have at least 2 pairs of good running shoes and alternate them. The shoes cushioning properties last longer this way, making you less likely to develop a shoe related injury.
Half Marathon Running Apparel
Getting a good pair of running socks is also important for your feet. Avoid cotton socks – unless you’re running for under 30 minutes since cotton material holds moisture in, making your feet sweat more. This can lead to your skin getting boggy and, after running for a long period of time, the skin can start rubbing off, creating blisters or worse.
Find socks that indicate they have “wicking” materials in them – then you’ll know the materials allow your feet to breathe better and not retain moisture. Synthetic materials cost more but work best to promote wicking. The major running brands make good socks – Nike, Asics etc.
Also – Wigwam, Thorlo, Coolmax, and Smartwool are also excellent brands. Make sure you match the length of your sock to your shoe size (eg. so don’t buy a size 12 sock if you have a size 10 foot or you’ll get blisters).
Running shorts for long distance running should be soft and breathable, just like your running socks. You’ll be running for a long time so if you’re sweating excessively, you’ll end up with chaffing around your thighs – very painful! Again, avoid cottons or heavier materials.
Good running shorts have a V notch in the leg bottoms of the shorts to allow for easier running motion – this helps prevent chaffing. The different brands of running shorts vary somewhat in how far up the notch goes…I’ve seen men’s shorts that hang down to (maybe) the upper thigh with the v-notch running up to the waistband – there’s little left to the imagination with some of those shorts. I can understand how this would allow for great air movement and breathability but I, personally, would not feel comfortable wearing shorts hiked up that far. I’m truly not knocking them since they are preferred by a lot of runners and are made of quality materials.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are shorts that run close to knee length – these seem too long for running since they may cause chaffing over the long haul. For men, it’s helpful to find shorts with a liner inside since it will provide adequate support – and you can likely get by without wearing a jock strap.
It’s essentially up to your own personal taste – I like a mid-thigh short, with about a 1 inch V notch, made of Supplex Nylon or Coolmax. Not many running shorts have pockets in them, but I try to find running shorts that do so I can take my ID, a couple of dollars in case of emergency, or a snack. But again, this is just what I like to have with me on my long runs. You’ll decide what works best for you as you start training for the half marathon.
It’s the same principle as running socks or shorts…you want a breatheable material with wicking properties to prevent getting too hot and sweaty. Cotton will hold moisture, and does not breathe well. All of the major running brands (Nike, Reebok, New Balance, Asics…) make shirts designed specifically to wick away moisture and breathe. Many of the shirts available now have the ability to block UV sun rays too – another bonus when running when it’s hot out there.
Men – I’ve seen many bloody nipples in races from shirts chaffing the chest area. Just having the right shirt material alone will not necessarily prevent this from happening – but it can certainly go a long way. (You may have to use vaseline during the long runs and races to really take care of this issue). Finding a shirt that isn’t too tight is key.
Half Marathon Training Plan Components
Whatever training model you choose in deciding to run a half marathon, they will all discuss the importance of the long run. Essentially, the long run is the ONE long run you do each week. I stress the importance of doing only one long run per week or you could easily develop an injury. But each week (or nearly every week) you’ll do a long run.
The long runs will get incrementally longer with each passing week until you reach, or nearly reach, the 13.1 mile distance. Generally, you’ll increase the length of each long run by one mile per week. The best time for you to do the long run is usually over the weekend or whenever you can rest the following day. The long run is an essential component to getting better at running longer distances for the half marathon. And with each passing week, your body will acclimate to the added distance.
These runs are the runs you do throughout the week to keep your legs acclimated to running. They continue to help build endurance and stamina, but are not designed to be run at a fast pace. Depending on where you’re at in your half marathon training program, these runs will range between 1 or 2 miles up to 7-8 miles.
Cross training is a significant part of any half marathon training plan. These activities can be biking, swimming, walking, light weight training, to name a few. Cross training helps you build muscle in other areas of your body, not just the muscles you use for running. In so doing, you have more muscle groups to tap into for dispersing the constant pounding or impact that running entails. Cross training is key for injury prevention and nearly all the plans that I found incorporate it in some manner. Usually, it’s not a core component of a program and will be done once or twice per week. Cross training is also a nice break from the usual training, making the weekly training program more interesting.
This is one of my favorite parts of training for a half marathon. By working on increasing your speed at your local track or by sprinting for short distances during some of your weekly runs, you build up additional endurance and stamina. Usually you won’t be running an all out sprint, but many of the programs will encourage you to get a little winded during the speed portion.
Rest is the easiest part of any training plan…but so very important for every half marathon training program. Without rest, your body has no time to heal which can lead to injury. Also, it is during these rest phases that your muscles truly grow and acclimate to all the hard work you’ve put in! This is a difficult concept for some runners to understand since, it would tend to reason, that the harder you work yourself the better off you’ll be on race day. But a program that does not value rest at least one day per week will most certainly lead to either burn-out, injury, or both. So rest rest rest and see your overall running performance improve!
Each program has a build up of training intensity from the beginning to the end, usually peaking at the last month before the half marathon. But then a slow down is in order so you’re body is well rested for race day. Therefore, your entire training plan will slow down as well. You’ll continue to run maintenance runs during the week but usually won’t be doing any speed work or going on very long runs. The focus is more on resting up and preparing your body for the big day!
Another important part of your half marathon training is diet. It was once believed that the main emphasis for long distance runners was to load up on carbohydrates leading up to the race. But more recent research indicates that, although carbohydrate rich foods are key for any long distance running program, it’s also important to incorporate a blend of proteins and fats as well – important for muscle recovery. Basically, all three – carbs, proteins, and fats are important at different times of your training. I’ve included links to excellent resources on diet and long distance running, many of which have a large number of tasty recipes too!
Many of the most common foods used for long distance training are bananas, bagels and peanut butter (for both carbs and protein), power bars, sports drinks, multi-grain cereals, smoothies (yummy – my favorite).
I’ve researched many of the various schools of thought on nutrition for long distance running, and have found that the best rule of thumb is to focus primarily on carbs for your diet, especially when approaching race day, and not to worry as much about an exact formula. According to Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong’s nutritionist, the ratio of 7 parts carbohydrates to 1 part protein is the ideal proportion to aim for in your training diet.
The one thing you don’t want to do is get injured during the training phase – before you’ve even had the chance to compete in the half marathon event! It’s important to focus on proper stretching, especially after your long runs, and Cross training. Stretch only when your muscles have had a chance to warm up a little – this is especially important if you like to do your long runs early in the morning. So when you’re preparing for your long run, do some really light jogging or fast walking for a few minutes until your muscles are warm – then stretch more if you need to.
Stretching after a long running workout is most important – but wait long enough until those burning muscles have had a chance to cool down some. If you stretch too soon after a long run, you risk injuring some very sore, tender muscles. As a general rule, you don’t want to try to stretch your muscles if they’re hurting – this will simply make matters worse for your body and may actually invite or exacerbate an existing injury. Another way to prevent injury is by cross training, which I’ll cover next.
Cross training activities include biking, swimming, light weight lifting, sit ups – anything different than the usual running routine you do during the rest of the week. These activities help strengthen other muscles in the body which, in turn, help your running. If all you do in your training for the half marathon is run, run, run, and you do not include cross training, you’re relying only on the same muscles over and over again. These muscles, ligaments etc. can get injured with repeated use.
Cross training strengthens the surrounding muscles, thereby helping to distribute some of the impact to other nearby muscles in the body – making you stronger and less injury prone overall. For example, biking helps to strengthen the quadraceps, better supporting the area around your knees so you’ll be less likely to develop knee or ligament injuries in that area. Not only will cross training reduce your risk of injury, it’s a nice break from running. Cross training is generally done about 1-2 times/week and is never the primary focus of any half marathon training program.
5K or 10K EVENTS
A great way to begin preparation for the half marathon is to incorporate a few 5k or 10k events into your training plan. These events can help you get a feel of what it will be like on race day, get used to lining up next to others and where to stand (either in front or in the back of the pack), practice focusing mentally on the race in an actual racing environment – all skills you’ll need to have when your big race day comes!
Since the distance is shorter, you could use it as one of your speed workouts for the week. Consider running at least one or two 5k or 10k events and you’ll feel less nervous when you’re lining up at your half marathon event since you’ll already have the experience of what racing is like. Of course if you’re a seasoned runner and have run many half marathons before, you’ll already know what that feeling is like, but may still want to consider a 5k or 10k event as a great warm up run or speed workout before your next half marathon race.
It’s easy to stay focused and on fire with your training program when you first start running. Everything is new…you feel good about the progress you’re making and everything seems great. But then, over time, all this wonderful training may start to get a bit stale…it’s getting harder to get out the door for your long run than it used to be, you start thinking of ways to cut corners – and the list goes on. You start losing momentum or motivation. It happens to everyone so there’s no need to feel guilty about it. But you do need to find a way to get out of this funk so you’ll successfully go on to complete your race. And let’s face it…without proper training – it will be difficult to complete your goal of running the half marathon.
Running Magazines and Running Books
Therefore, finding ways to stay motivated is essential. I stay motivated by purchasing running magazines – it helps me stay focused to read about running and see the pictures of other runners in the magazine. A lot of running magazines have inspirational stories in them – these really help! There are dozens of good running magazines out there – RUNNERS WORLD and RUNNING TIMES, are a couple of the most popular. If you visit the magazine rack of your local running store, department store, or even grocery store – you’ll find a sports section that may carry these magazines or other running magazines which cater to your geographic area of the country.
Since we’re on the topic of reading – buying a great book about running is another way to help keep you motivated. It can be a book about training, or an autobiography about a runner. For example, there is now a book out on Bill Bowerman – a hugely inspirational figure in the sport of running. Make it something fun to read – something that will keep you on track.
What many other people find helpful is to join a running club in their local area. Running clubs are great since you have the support of other runners around you to help keep you motivated and focused! It’s a great way to meet others who have similar interests as you too. You can find a running club in your area with a simple online search or by checking your phone book.
Running forums are a great way to get connected to other runners. Unless you’re already running with a friend or group of friends, running is generally done solo. So running forums are a great way to get connected to other runners and see what people are talking about. You can chime into an existing topic or write a question of your own. The runners who are part of a running forum already have an inherent interest in running, whether they’re new to the sport or veteran distance runners. Running forums allow you to ask questions from people who may have just the answers you need and can offer support and/or training tips so you can improve your overall running experience. I’ve included links to some of the most popular running forums on the web.
You’ve finally made it! You’ve followed your running program to a tee and tomorrow is race day. A few tips…stick with the routine that’s always worked for you. If you’ve always eaten a big bowl of spaghetti the night before your runs, stay with this meal. It’s not a good idea to try a new meal the night before – you may end up getting indigestion or diarrhea – something you definitely don’t want on race day.
Don’t buy a new pair of shoes the night before the event or you’ll be sporting some huge blisters at some point during the race, slowing down your time and making the race something to endure and not enjoy.
Also – try your best to head to bed early – no major parties the night before, just a casual and relaxed day. It’s up to you if you want to do a short run or not, but I don’t believe it’s necessary. However, many runners feel a short run – perhaps on the course itself, can be helpful in their preparation for the event. I say save up your strength for the race!
Lastly – enjoy it! You’ve trained so hard and made it to the event – try not to focus too much on your time so you forget to actually enjoy all the hoopla surrounding the event!
Walking The Half Marathon
I’ve decided to add information about training to walk the half marathon as well. Walking, at whatever pace works for you, is great exercise and helps to further minimize your risk of injury while training. Long distance walking can get you in good shape and is something you can do with a friend or group of friends. This can be accomplished while running too, but it’s not quite as easy if you’re really huffing and puffing!
There are just as many half marathon walking events as there are half marathon running events – and you’ll find that the majority of running events include walkers too. I’ve included links which cover training for half marathon walking.
Finding Half Marathon Events (Anywhere In The World)
I found a few excellent websites which list half marathon events all over the world! Here they are: http://www.halfmarathons.net/. Another great site is http://www.active.com, which is what I’ve used to find races in my area. The “Active” site has a wealth of information related to running and I reference it often. Check it out!
I hope this information was useful and you’ll be able to find some half marathon training programs that will fit well for you. Running events should be fun. I love planning mini-vacations around my running events – it’s a great way to see new places AND have the fun of running a Half Marathon in a new city. Half Marathon events can be found all over the world so don’t limit yourself just your hometown…branch out a little and have fun! Many of the running events are family friendly too, so it can be something your whole family can enjoy. I wish you the best of luck in running your next half marathon…wherever it may be!