The secret to making your first half marathon a success

Training for your first half marathon? Expert running coach Nick Anderson from RunningWithUs shares his 13.1 mile training secrets.

The secret to making your first half marathon a success

Build a firm base

Harder is not always better. Easy running builds your aerobic capacity and increases capillary density. Embrace the speed of chat (being able to run and hold a conversation) and aim to build up bigger blocks of continuous running with a planned run/walk strategy. If you are running so fast that you can’t hold a conversation, you are running too hard.

Top tip: Focus your weekly long run towards a conversational pace of 6-7/10 effort, building volume by roughly 10% each week. Consider a planned walk/run strategy (e.g. run 5 mins/walk 5 mins, run 10 mins/walk 3 mins) reducing walking breaks as the weeks progress. If already up to 30 mins continuous running or you have completed a 5k look to start following a half marathon beginners/improvers plan 12 weeks out from race day.

Run to effort

Work in time and effort, not distance and pace. Your body is not a machine, some days you will feel stronger than others, so don’t set yourself up to fail with mileage and pace targets.

Top tip: Take the pressure off by concentrating on leaving your GPS at home – go old school focusing on time and listening to your effort, not worrying about pace. Choose exciting routes and love every run.

Try threshold training

Interval training is the key ingredient to speedy success. Just make sure that the sessions you do are suited to the half marathon. 10 x 1 minute busting a gut is hard but will be gearing you up to run a better 5K, less so a half marathon.

You don't want to burn out, but running at 3-4 word controlled discomfort effort or 8/10 should increase your endurance and fitness without leaving you exhausted. Professional athletes use threshold every week and we want you to do the same, because it works!

Top tip: Include a weekly session running longer ‘reps’ at a ‘threshold’ effort of about 8/10. Examples would be a 30-45 minute run including 3 x 5 mins with 2 min recovery, 6 x 4 mins with 90 secs, 5 x 5 mins, 3 x 8 mins etc. These build to eventually 3 x 10 mins in the final weeks of half marathon prep.

Rest is vital for runner

To progress you need to heal and recover. Busy work and home lives impact on your body as much as your training, so even if you are only running 3-4 times a week make sure that you focus on quality rest.

Top tip: Take a minimum of one complete rest day a week, considering cutting back your training every fourth week by roughly 30 per cent and prioritise sleep – even an extra 30 minutes can make a big difference to your progression, particularly as the long runs go further and sessions get tougher.

If you're running three times a week, spread these over seven days and alternate the days you run.

Include cross-training

Many beginner runners find half marathon training daunting if they are unable to run continuously for extended blocks of time. Recognise the value of cross training in supporting your running programme allowing you to sustain more training volume without the impact.

Top tip: Cross trainers, rowing machines and aqua jogging can supplement your running and even replace sessions if you are injured. Maintain the same time and effort levels as your running plan. This allows you to build strength and endurance while remaining injury free.

Bridge the gap

Don’t get daunted by the volume and the goal. A 12-16 week training plan can seem a lot, so aim to break your half marathon goal down with intermediate target races.

Top tip: Enter a 5K race or your local parkrun 4-6 weeks into your plan and then a 10K 3-4 weeks before your target half marathon.

Full body MOT

A half marathon can be quite a step up physically if you are not used to running continuously for up to three hours. Get to know your body and include a core and strength and conditioning session a couple of times a week to help you remain injury free.

Top tip: A good sports-specific physio will be able to give you an ‘MOT’ checking your posture, gait and specific areas of weakness and advising on the right exercises for you as an individual. Don’t wait until you get injured, safeguard yourself now. Good luck!

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