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Know Your Limits: How to Train Wisely for Half Marathons

Dec 22, 2009

Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to training for half marathons. If you've never run a road race before, be sure to plan plenty of time in advance, with steadily paced but consistent training, and a focus on total body fitness.

Don't Be Overambitious

This means leaving the proper number of weeks and months to train before the race, especially if you're starting from scratch. Eight weeks is the minimum training period suggested, but that comes with the assumption you'll be working out about five times a week. Be realistic and project how many times you'll actually be able to get out to run every week, and plan accordingly. Allowing roughly three months for training is a more reasonable time frame and will account for weeks that you can only run once or twice.

Pacing Is Key

Start out your overall training routine as well as your individual runs at a reasonable pace. The most important component of training for a half marathon is learning how to pace yourself for such a lengthy distance. Start out your training runs at what feels like a jogging pace, so you can get comfortable with your running routine. Your pace should increase as your run continues, but be sure to conserve energy for the final half mile or so of the run, to get a final burst of speed in and simulate the finish line at the actual half marathon. Try to run on different surfaces such as hard-packed sand. Be sure to hit the hills, as most race courses include a healthy dose of them.

Go the Distance

Start the first week with a one to two mile run, a three mile run and a five mile run. This serves as a good template for your weekly running plan, which should include a short, medium and long run, as well as a cross-training session. Add roughly one mile to each category of run every two to three weeks. If you can, try to participate in a few shorter distance road races during your training, to get a feel for the environment. Most physical fitness experts recommend your longest training run be about 75 percent to 80 percent of the actual race distance, so run a 10-mile run no less than a week before the race. If you're focused on getting a certain time on race day, you can get a few 10-mile runs in your final weeks of training or reach for a 12-mile training run. Only go on a few short, light runs the week before the race.

Think Holistically

Running half marathons isn't just about your legs. A healthy diet and good flexibility are essential in training. Most people think of intensive carbohydrate loading as the basic runner's diet, but eating the proper share of healthy fats and protein is important for replenishing energy and supporting muscle function. Be sure to cross train once a week, either by walking, biking or doing aerobics, Pilates or yoga classes. These activities will enhance your other muscles and improve your posture and flexibility, which are important in preventing injury during the actual half marathon.

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