Your First Half Marathon: How to Train and Run it Well!
Editor’s Note: This post is written by Minneapolis Running Ambassador, Aaron Gregerson, and has been edited for length and clarity.
Congratulations! You’re probably reading this because you’ve run a few different race distances and are ready to tackle the 13.1-mile distance. Even if you have completed double-digit distances in the past (say, 10-milers), the extra 3.1 miles of a half marathon can be a completely different ball game.
Here’s a short guide on how to train and run your first half marathon race.
Training for Your First Half Marathon
First, let’s talk about training for a half marathon. If this is your first time running 13.1 miles, you will want to have a good fitness level and be able to run 3 miles (without stopping or resting) three times per week.
From there, you’ll want to design a training plan. There are a few options on the Internet that have great training plans. Or, you can download a training plan from Minneapolis Running here. A typical first-time half marathon training cycle lasts 12-14 weeks.
When I ran my first half marathon, I broke my training plan down into three types of runs:
- Weekly easy runs. Twice per week, you’ll run easy-paced runs during the week. These runs will start out at 3 miles and build to 4-4.5 miles by the end of training.
- Mid-week workout runs. Once per week, you’ll want to step up your run to build strength, endurance, and speed during your training. These runs will be shorter than your easy runs – 2-3 miles – but you’ll be trying to achieve a set pace or heart rate goal.
- Weekend long runs. And finally, the LONG RUN! In order to properly ready your body for the 13.1 distance, you’ll need to incorporate at least one long run per week into your training. Starting out at either 5 or 6 miles, and building to 10 or 11 miles during the training cycle, your weekend long run is essential to building endurance for your first half marathon.
I also recommend including a couple of races during the 12-14 weeks in order to break things up and have mini-goals to shoot for. Doing a 5k, 10k or even a 10-mile race during training helps make the training cycle more mentally manageable.
Lastly, running a half marathon for the first time is no joke. By the time you get past the 10-mile mark, your body will be ready to quit and your calf muscles will likely be screaming at you to stop. So take the training seriously. There may be a week or two where you aren’t able to complete each run, and that’s okay. But your training plan is there to help you get to the finish line without overdoing it or injuring yourself.
Running Your First Half Marathon Race
Race day is here! Now is when you get to show off all of that hard work and training!
Assuming that you are not a professional-level athlete and are not attempting to set a new age group record at the half marathon distance, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind as you run your race. Here are a few pointers on how to run your first half marathon:
- Don’t go out too fast. You’ve probably heard this one before, but it bears repeating! You’re going to be excited! You’re going to be pumped up! But remember, you have 13 miles in front of you after the gun goes off. Keep your pace and heart rate in check for the first few miles. If your race has pace groups, find one for your goal pace and stay with them.
- Remember to hydrate and fuel. Through your training, you probably trained taking water and/or electrolyte drinks and maybe even some fuel (such as gels, etc.) on your runs. Remember to do this during the race, too! Don’t deviate too far from what you did in training and you’ll be set.
- The halfway point is 10 miles. One common mistake that I see in first-time distance runners (and admittedly, one that I’ve made countless times) is believing that the halfway point is the true, distance-based, halfway point. You’re likely going to be feeling GREAT at mile 6.55 of the race. You should be feeling that way! So avoid the temptation to take it up a notch and really try hard to blow away a negative back-half split. The real test of how you’re feeling is at the 10-mile mark. If you’re feeling good here, bring it home for the last 3.1!
- Keep expectations in check. It’s important to point out that putting a lot of expectations or goals on your first half marathon race can lead to trouble. Even after running many half marathons in my running career, race plans blow up. Goals are not met. Be prepared to adapt your goal or expectation for the race based on how your body feels that day or what race day weather has in store.
Now you’re ready! It’s time to tackle a half marathon! Remember, training for a distance running race is a journey. Make sure to enjoy it! And remember: it’s a half marathon. Not a sprint!