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What I learned training for a half marathon

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Our contributing writer crosses the finish line at a recent half marathon in Birmingham, Ala.

Last weekend I completed my second half marathon (13.1 miles!), beating my first time by two minutes. It may not be much, but for this novice runner, beating any finishing time at all feels great. Training for the Mercedes-Benz Half Marathon in Birmingham, Ala., taught me a lot because this time around, I didn’t do everything I should’ve done to prepare the right way. I missed a few training runs, I didn’t hydrate as well as I needed to and I didn’t always eat that well, either.

So, here’s what I learned to do, and not to do, when training for a half marathon:

1.    Find a training program — and stick to it! There are a lot of training programs online. The key for me was to work the short runs into my weekday schedule, and plan my long run, followed by a rest day, on the weekends. Keep this in mind: Your short runs are just as important as the long runs. Don’t skip them!

2.    Listen to your body. I weigh more (about 230 lbs.) than the average runner probably does, so having the right type of running shoes for my feet is very important. But this is true for all body types. If you’re feeling pain in your feet, visit a shoe store that specializes in running shoes and get fitted for a new pair (you should replace your running shoes every six months, or more, depending on the miles you put on them). If you’re feeling any other pain — knees, ankles, shins — visit a specialist and see if you need to wear a brace. I wear a knee brace and I’ve learned to ice any sore spots, especially my knees, after each run … and sometimes even before.

3.    Calorie intake and hydration is important. Make sure, in the days leading up to your long runs, and the race itself, you’re drinking plenty of water. And during a long training run, keep water stationed at several spots throughout your route. You also want to keep a granola bar or other type of calorie replenishment with you, especially when you run more than eight miles. I tend to eat about 100 calories during long runs, but more is OK if you feel you need it. (This goes back to the whole “listen to your body” thing!)

4.    Day-to-day nutrition is just as important. Yes, you need to drink before, after and during a run. And eat too. But during training, it’s important to eat lean protein and healthy carbohydrates (Don’t forget the fruit and veggies, too.). And drink enough water every day that you need to, ahem, relieve yourself every hour. I wasn’t as good with my diet or water intake this time around, and I suffered from muscle cramps because of it. My No. 1 cramp reliever, besides stretching? Bananas! That potassium does a world of good.

5.    Motivate yourself along the way! You’re going to have tough runs. You’re going to have days when running is the last thing you want to do. So give yourself mini rewards along the way. I let myself download any songs I wanted to add to my running playlist. I also treated myself to pedicures — the massage feels amazing — throughout my training period. When you cross that finish line, the medal waiting for you will be well worth the effort you put into training. But it doesn’t hurt to pat yourself on the back during the months leading up to the race!

Please note that Jennifer Dome is not a certified personal trainer or physician. These tips are based on things she’s learned while training for a half marathon. Please consult your physician before taking on a race of this length.

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