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How to prepare for your first half marathon

Are you one of those who have been bit by the running bug?

There are many reasons why people start running, such as seeking new challenges, reducing tension and stress, getting out in the nature, etc.

Half marathon is one of the distances with the highest growth with respect to participation in races. I myself think it is a good distance to train towards. Not too long and not too short. It is also beneficial to train for a half marathon before taking the further step towards the full marathon distance.

Why is your first half marathon different from other races you have performed?
Most beginners start by running a 5 km or a 10 km race. Most of them will make a 5 km with a good style and performance even after just a few weeks of training. It is however more challenging if you are going for the 10 km, and of course even more for the half marathon. Then it would be wise to have some more months of training behind you, not just a few weeks. Remember, a half marathon is much more than just 4 x 5 km. You need a solid basis of endurance training if you shall get a positive experience from the race.  To be able to run a half marathon race, it is not sufficient to just run some interval sessions per week for a few weeks.

How to stay healthy and free of injuries? This is a question I often get from beginners in running, and even from those who have been running for a while. The answer is to progress slowly with distance and frequency of long runs and with high intensity training such as interval sessions.

The most important one can do to get in good shape to a half marathon, is continuous traing over a longer period of time. Hard efforts over a short period of time is rarely successful. It takes time for the body to build up the strength and endurance that you need to be able to handle the heavy load it represents to run such a distance on asphalt.

You should not  start and you should not complete a competition if you are injured. If you get an injury due to overload, it can destroy your motivation. So, my advice is to not get too eager and not to run too intensively.

If you want to stay free of injuries, consider the following:

  1. Combination sessions: During your long run sessions, do a combination of running and walking . This will build up your fat burning ability. During such sessions you shall have a comfortable level of load from the training, and shall be able to talk while running.
  2. Do some alternative training in between the running session (for example bicycling, nordic walking, cross country skiing, bungy pump, swimming etc. ), to train and develop your aerobic capacity, which is what you need the most during long runs.
  3. Variation in the load on the feet reduces the risk of injury.  I am specifically thinking about shoes and surfaces. Have 2-3 different pair of shoes and vary the surface between grass,  gravel, asphalt, forest paths etc.

Getting distance to your legs: The long run
It is about endurance, mentally and physically. To improve your endurance you need to have one weekly long run of a certain distance. How long it shall be depends on how much and how long you have been running before. A basic rule is to increase the distance around 1 km per week. Too quick increases of the distance may lead to injuries.

Unfortunately, you cannot “hurry up” to get in good shape. Before you start your half marathon race, I recommend that you have been running long runs, around 15-17 km, a couple of times. This to make sure you will be able to complete this distance.

I think half marathon is too long for a beginner, so I recommend 5-10 km races in the beginning. If these work out well, the natural next step can be to try the half marathon.

See also our page on training for half marathon.

Good luck with the training!

Author: Ingrid Kristiansen

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