So You Want to Run a Half Marathon: Here’s What You Need to Know

The first time I ran a half I thought I would be like a lot of you out there one and done. That turned out not to be the case for me and there’s another one on the schedule for next year. I’ve noticed that for a lot of runners out there, possibly especially lady runners, running a half is a popular bucket list item and that’s totally cool. Sure some of you will go on to run more than one or even fulls and ultras after that but if you only ever do one that’s cool too. But … if that’s your plan, or you plan that it’s just the first of many, there’s some stuff you need to know first!

A lot, like a lot a lot of ladies I run into, who aren’t even necessarily runners have either run one half marathon or want to. I think it’s a great thing to have on your bucket list no mater your gender and maybe 2019 is your year! There are a few practical things I think you should know before you start though. So that’s what I’m here to do today to let you know the (mostly) practical things you need to be aware of before you start training to set you up for success. Spoiler alert you do have to train! If you want check out my training recaps from last year’s half marathon for a week by week idea of what it’s like. Just search the site for “half marathon update” and go through from 1-13.

It is NOT just twice a 10k

I pretty much think that running a 10k is kinda sorta just like twice a 5k. Your taking your exercise time from a bit over (or under) a half hour to an hour. You can probably go round about the same pace and be cool. You can just make some of your runs a few km longer for a few weeks and cross that finish line. Also if you’re used to running 10k’s as a regular (see not a training type) runner you can. However … running a half IS NOT like twice a 10k! 

I love a good 10k, it might be my favorite distance, I haven’t tried them all…yet. When I’m just running for fun I can run a 10k on a day’s notice and I’m excited to do it. If I want to do a 10k in the future at some point and try at it I probably don’t have to buy new shoes, up my milage in race season or do anything too special. If I want to run a half I need to train, plan and buy stuff in order to make it happen. I can’t just get up and run one at the drop of a hat. I also can’t hold the same pace I can for a 5 or a 10k. I also don’t think most non-elite-type runners can either. With out getting too bogged down in the details here, read on for that, you should know it’s a lot more than “just two 10k’s”!

You need a plan and you need to train

Unless you are running more than 50 km weekly including a weekly long run (and for a while) you’ll need to train seriously for this. Most of us regular runners will always need a half plan to get up to snuff for a half. If it’s your first time you definitely will! The plan is two-fold sure it gets you up to the physical standard necessary and that’s important but completing it will give you all the confidence you need on race day. People who follow good plans usually finish their races and if you complete that plan you will too. Don’t underestimate the power of that as you line up on race day full of nerves! 

Physically you need to get yourself into that kind of shape over a period of a few months. And you have to be consistent. Unless you have a a lot of experience working endurance plans you probably need to look for someone else’s plan rather than making your own. I suggest picking a ‘typical’ sort of plan especially for your first time based on past proven results. Stay away from bare-minumum, plans that focus too much on things other than running and short duration plans. If not you’ll likely end up running into problems. A typical type plan will last about 12 weeks and bring your to about 60 km a week in peak week.

Look for a plan that is more than just a table of workouts. A good plan should do some of the first time work for you and take care of you a bit without you knowing. I designed the plans I write to be the plans I wanted when I was looking for one. Every single one includes the reasoning for what you’re doing and when you’re doing it. They all have a long list of definitions, tips for injury prevention, safety, gear, nutrition and of course a a training schedule. Plus a lot, lot more. If you’re interested in checking them out head on over here to my Etsy store! For a first timer I recommend the realistic half marathon training plan here. If you decide to do it again that plan will also grow with you since it has a first time and after options built in. What ever plan you choose make sure you’re getting what you pay for. Shop around and pick one where the plan philosophy seems to mesh well with you!

check it out here!

You shouldn’t deviate from that plan (too much)

This is mainly for two reasons one is injury prevention which we’ll deal with next but the other is  endurance. Running for two hours at a time is for sure a feat of endurance. When we reach into fitness challenges that build and test our endurance part of the training we’re doing is changing how we burn energy for long periods of exercise. Were working on making our available carbs last longer and practicing burning fat for energy. The thing is when we run out of carbs we ‘hit the wall’ or ‘bonk’ if you’re not trained for it. Unless you’ll be running this half in well less than an hour and a half you’ll need to practice this too. But don’t worry it’s not an extra step you’ll be doing this during your weekly long run. The thing is we lose this ability pretty dang fast, there is a noticeable difference in glucose metabolism with in two weeks of stopping exercising that means a week off from the plan and you’ll be taxing your body more than the plan intended. This is also the reason most running coaches will tell you to never miss a long run.

Injury prevention is a serious concern

Ahhh running and injury… some runners battle injury after injury and others seemly get a pass and are almost never injured. Here’s what we know for sure; most runners can expect to be out for two weeks or more every 1000 km run or so. The magic point for weekly milage seems to be north of 15 km per week and there is some (contested) suggestion that heel strikers get injured more often, but they also tend to be faster. A half training plan will probably have you running about 500 – 600 km which means there’s a non-zero chance you could end up injured. I think a good plan, especially at the half marathon distance should tell you about this and talk about prevention. Some things that you should know about are building an appropriate base before you start training, aim to never break the 10% rule and to do cross training. It’s very possible to run just one half and stay injury free but it’s something you need to be doing something about. As an injured runner (3 years since I’ve been out of the game) I take it seriously now, here are some posts you should check out on the subject:

Buy two pairs of shoes (probably)

This is a pretty simple one the amount of miles you’ll cover in training is like enough to wear out a pair of shoes leaving you with worn out kicks or brand new shoes on race day. So when you start training make sure you have two relatively new pairs of shoes available to you. I usually favor a less intense pair, like trail runners for everything but my speed work and long runs. It probably not a bad idea to rotate your runners for a variety of reasons too! For those I wear a more serious pair of shoes I plan to race in. I like my race shoes to have somewhere between 80 – 300 km for the race with a sweet spot of about 100 km for longer races. Basically just make a plan to have good shoes for the big day.

Things might come up that haven’t before

Maybe you’ve been a 10k three times a week for a decade or more before you’ve decided to tackle a half. You should know that things might come up that never have before. You’ll be working towards 60 km a week and at 5 runs a week. Running this much, this often means things might come up that have never been an issue before. You might have to run in weather that would have kept you indoors before. This is a great idea by the way because you never know what will be falling from the sky on race day. You might have issues with chaffing, yeast infections, bloody nipples, blisters, back pain, extreme fatigue, moodiness, intense hunger or a whole host of other things. It’s a pretty big deal what you’re putting your body through so if something comes up reach out to google I promise you’re not the first person to go through it. For example I wrote a whole post about exercising with a vagina! Stay aware of your body and don’t put your head in the sand! Dealing with a just forming blister in training is no big deal bit a bloody infected one might side line you.

Fuel and hydration need a strategy 

I think that the half is the first distance for most runners that necessitates a fueling and hydration strategy. That’s right you’re going to have to figure out how to eat while you run! You might be used to carrying water while you run but how do you carry enough to get you through 20 km maybe even in the heat is a different story. Since you’ll be going for way more than an hour you’ll need to take in calories for energy too. You have to decide what you’re going to eat, figure out how your stomach will tolerate it on the run and have a life plan if some of the things you try go poorly. What does that mean exactly it means you have to poo like right now while you’re running as a best case scenario and you already did as a worst case.

Weirdly I’ve never had an issue with runner’s trots (that’s what it’s called) because I don’t have the best stomach over all. So on longer runs I always carry some TP because I was a girl scout and we’re famous for always being prepared. But I live a (very) low dairy life vegetarian life anyway partly because of it. I’m also really careful with my diet on long run and race days. Generally you want a sugar source free from too much fiber or fat but you might test a few things before you find the one. If you plan on using what the race provides test it out before hand. Some runners swear different flavors of gels yield different results. For fueling here are some of your options:

  • Commercially produced gels, goos or beans
  • Gummy candy
  • Full sugar sports drinks
  • Dried fruit (I use raisins)
  • Marshmallows
  • Bananas
  • Energy bars
  • A peanut butter sandwich 
  • Or anything that works for you

When it comes to carrying water you might go for two really big bottles, a hydration vest, frozen bottles you drop off before going, stores along the way or something else you figure out but have a hydration strategy and it might evolve as you go.

Dealing with doubts

You will have doubts along the way that you can really do the next long run, do speed work for 14 km or even about being last on race day. That’s totally normal and your first time is especially hard. You might even question your sanity while you’re out there, also normal. You might think about giving up but you don’t really want to do that do you? For me long runs the first time were the hardest, especially the first half of them. The second half seemed so much less stressful maybe because at that point I didn’t have a choice but to run home. What I found most helpful was remembering that the person who wrote the plan designed it for someone to actually be able to complete week 10 after week 9 and cross the line on race day. I also found it helpful to break down my runs by km as a percentage, have a specific playlist and I did spend a lot of time googling so maybe find some resources for support beforehand. You might also find this post about moving past mental barriers helpful as well.

It will take over your life (somewhat)

If you’re a normal amount of busy or legit busy fitting in half training can be tough but totally doable. Usually it’s 5 runs and one rest and cross-training day a week. Skipping a day isn’t really an option because there isn’t enough days in the week for runs you’ve skipped to be put off. You’re going to need to plan times in your schedule to get all this running in if you don’t some of them won’t happen. You’ll be up stupid early sometimes or running when you should be done for the day sure but you will literally never, ever think about running more than when your training. What to eat before, whether your shoes are dry from yesterday, that you HAVE to do laundry today, checking the weather an the sunrise/sunset times to see if you need lights will take over your mind.

Some weeks later in the plan people asking about your plans for the week end will shake you to the core, you’re running all weekend again! Any ache or pain will send you spiraling thinking that all this work is for nothing now, and as fast as it came it will pass. You’re friends and family might roll their eyes or even tell you to stop when you start taking about running, again! This is also worse the first time because it’s new for you and top of mind. Should you decide to do it again you’ll weirdly find that it melds into your life more seamlessly the second time. The first time running was 85% of what I thought about and I googled stuff about it on average two hours a day the second time maybe 18% of my thoughts were running related.

Running in a storm

It’s really not that bad!

Here’s another secret that not a lot of fitness blog type people aren’t telling you… It’s actually not that bad. No really even after all that stuff I just said it’s not as intense as it seems. Say you pick one of those 12 week heading to 60 km a week plans, there are actually only 4 – 6 weeks of the plan that are really intense. The last two weeks are a tapering off of distances and the first few weeks it’s a slow build to more milage. Since you built your base before starting training (you did that right?) Those first weeks are actually pretty chill. For my half plan week 2 is only 26 km and you don’t cross 45 km a week until week 7. That’s a lot of running but still pretty doable. It’s really only weeks 7, 8, 9, and 10 that are as intense as you are thinking and that’s really only a month. 

  The first time I (and most) runners do a half it’s really largely a mental thing. I followed a chart only type plan and I had to google so much! Sometimes it was just terms like fartlek, interval, and tempo runs, the hill repeats seemed pretty self explanatory. I spent a ton of time trying to figure out why the particular workout was in that particular box on that particular day. So I ended up googling until the middle of the night almost weekly. I also think that it was my first half that taught me more about running, keeping fit and myself than I have from any other fitness experience I’ve had thus far which you can read about here. Chance are if you do decide to tackle a half it will lead to more self-growth after the pain during.

Here are some other post you might find helpful for tackling your first half marathon:

Not just two 10k’s I would only be smiling like this at the end of a 10k!

What so you wish you knew before you ran your first half marathon? What surprise you the most?

3 thoughts on “So You Want to Run a Half Marathon: Here’s What You Need to Know

Add yours

  1. I use to run 6 miles everyday so when a coworker asked if I’d want to run a half marathon with him I was like sure why not it’s only a couple more miles than I’m already running. Oh my gosh, I almost died! Hah, I had the biggest feeling of accomplishment I’ve ever had although I couldn’t walk for 2 days. I think I messed up my knee that day too but I’ll definitely train next time. Your tips are spot on!

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