The half marathon is a challenging distance and requires good preparation. It is not just two 10 kilometre fun-runs put together – it genuinely challenges the body.
Assuming a basic level of fitness, 12 weeks is a realistic time to prepare for a half marathon. As with anything, the more time the better, but this amount allows the body to undertake enough training to adapt and really be ready to meet the demands of the distance. Allowing less time for preparation leaves you open to potential injury.
12 Weeks before the event
Training for a half marathon requires endurance, speed and stamina – you’re going to have to dedicate a lot of time to your training if you want a good result.
Start by running shorter distances. Once you can run 10 kilometres at a constant pace, then increase the distance until you’re ready to progress again.
Have hard, intermediate and easy weeks throughout the program to push your body, then allow it to recover. In a hard week you may run every day, covering a total distance of up to 60 or 80 kilometres. During an easy week, four days with a total of 30 to 40 kilometres may suffice. If you’re not fussed about your time and you’re simply aiming to finish, then half these total weekly distances should be enough.
Mix up your sessions, in order to build endurance and speed. One day you may run 10 kilometres at a steady pace, while another you may run eight kilometres at race pace, so you will need to push. Also try some interval or sprint training to build speed, and increase your distances and speed as the weeks go by. There’s no need to complete a race distance run before the actual day, but some long, hard runs at around race distance and pace can help.
Core training is crucial for strengthening the hips, lower back and abdominals, while plyometric exercises build explosive strength. Strengthen your lower back by doing deadlifts and squats, with light weights and higher repetitions. Also try rotational abdominal type exercises like Russian twists, trunk rotations with a cable machine and walking trunk twists with a medicine ball.
For plyometric training, start with tuck jumps, split jumps and squat jumps. Progress to bounding and hopping over 20 metres then to high intensity drop jumps (where you jump off a box or step then jump straight back up again).
Drink plenty of water and refuel after your training runs, and consider using a foam roller or massage to relax tense muscles, aid recovery and prevent injuries.
2 Weeks before the event
Taper your training in the week or two before the event, and allow yourself three or four days’ rest before the run. The last week shouldn’t include any really hard training sessions. Maybe a long, slow distance, or some shorter pace training.
In the few days leading up to the event, start “carb loading” – consuming 80 per cent of your kilojoules from carbs. If you are doing light runs or jogs then ingest the carbs after these runs as that’s when the muscle glycogen is depleted and will ingest them quickly.
Don’t overeat the night before, and have a breakfast containing 150 grams of carbs about three hours before you race – even if this means getting up at 3am, and then going back to bed!
Put tape on any “hot spots” that you have noticed rubbing or blistering during training, and wear light clothing that allows sweat to evaporate. The race is not the time to try anything new – don’t wear new runners, or try a new sports gel or drink. Take note of what your body does during training so you can incorporate ‘lessons learned’ during the race.
Tips for success
- Remind yourself why you want to do this event. Is it for a charity? Because you enjoy it? Or just to prove you can? When the going gets tough, think about the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel when you cross that finishing line.
- Join as part of a team. Not only will you have others to train with, you’ll be motivated to work harder, too – no one wants to be the one letting the team down.
- Tell people your plans. Fade out before event day and you’ll have to ‘fess up that you’re a quitter.
- Like an exam, you’ll perform better and be less stressed if you prepare properly. Commit to a training regime early – cramming at the last minute isn’t going to work!