The half marathon is often described as the perfect race distance, and there’s plenty of reason for this. Unlike the 10k, the half-marathon is a true long-distance event that requires significant training, discipline, and strategy to complete.
It offers many of the appealing qualities of the marathon, without the wear and tear generally associated with running 26.2 miles. Half marathon races are also easier to find than marathons and cost less to enter.
Half marathon is a distance you can easily spend the rest of your life mastering. But first, here’s what you need to know before you lace up to race 13.1 miles.
The biggest difference between a basic 10k training plan to a half marathon plan is frequency of training. While a 10K plan might have you running 3 times/week, a half marathon plan will bring that up to 4-6 times/week. With less time between training sessions, rest and recovery become much more of a focus than they were at shorter distances.
Now, don’t think that more training sessions just means doing the same thing day in and day out. You still want to mix up your training sessions, keeping at least one interval workout, one tempo run, and one long run per week. Your paces for all of these runs will be a bit slower than your 10k training, and your intervals will likely be longer and more applicable to your goal race distance.
(Note: There are a wealth of half marathon training plans available online. While they all have slight differences, they will all incorporate these 3 kinds of workouts.)
If you are building your own training plan, be sure you give yourself plenty of time to ramp up your volume. Stick with the general guideline of adding no more than 10% to your volume per week and budget approximately 4 moths or 16 weeks to make the jump from 10K to half marathon. You can certainly make the move faster, but you will increase your risk of injury or burnout.
No matter how you slice it, 13.1 miles is a long way to run. And if you get your pacing wrong, it can feel impossibly long well before the finish line comes into view. A common mistake is running too fast at the start of a half marathon. Your legs are fresh, you’re surrounded by the energy of the other racers, and you’re sky-high on adrenaline. If you go out too fast at this distance, you WILL pay for it later in the race.
A much better strategy is to run the first couple miles slightly slower than you goal pace and then gradually speed up from there. Running the second half of your race faster than the first is know as negative splitting. It can be difficult, but it should be your goal.
Your goal half marathon pace can be determined by taking your most recent 10k pace and adding 5%-8%. For example: if you are a 60-minute 10k racer, your 10k pace is 9:41/mile. Add 5%-8%, and that becomes 10:10 to 10:27. Keep in mind this will be your average pace over the 13.1 miles. If you start slower than this, you will need to run faster than your goal pace over the second half of the race.
The 10k distance is very forgiving of nutrition mistakes, the half marathon is not. At the very least, you will need to take in some form of hydration over the course of your race, especially if the weather is warm. You will probably also want to take in calories during the race.
These calories can come from gels, bars, food, or sports drinks. It is critical that you train with the food and drinks your will be taking in during the race. Turn your weekly long runs into practice sessions for your race nutrition plan. This way you can weed out anything that doesn’t digest well and prevent unpleasant race day surprises.
In addition to food and drinks, you may want to consider sodium/electrolyte supplements, especially if you are prone to cramping. These supplements are commonly available as tablets you swallow and powders you mix into your hydration drinks. As with your other nutrition, be sure to practice with salt supplements during training so you know what to expect during your race.
Expect to be noticeably sore for 2 or more days after your race. Post-race massages and hydration can help shorten this. Give yourself a full week to recover from your race. This doesn’t mean sitting around and doing nothing all week. It means dialing your training way back and easing into your normal routine. Focus on rolling, stretching and easy walking for the first couple days.
Once you feel up to it, try slowly jogging a mile. If that feels ok, try adding another mile the next day, again keeping it extra slow and easy. From there, add distance as you feel comfortable, but keep the intensity low until all race soreness is gone and your energy levels are back up to normal.
Grab Some Friends and Get Training
It takes a lot of commitment to complete a half marathon. Do yourself a favor by signing up for a race with a few of your friends. This can be a great way to round up training partners for all those extra miles your will be putting in each week. Plus, you’ll want to have people you know to hang out with and celebrate after the race.