What You Need To Know About Training For Your First Half Marathon
The running bug hit me a few years ago; I had only dabbled in the occasional jaunt around the block before then. I had once tried my hand at a five kilometre run and had even attempted a ten kilometre race winding through the Toronto Zoo. Finally, I truly committed to attending a run club in the winter of 2013. We would knock out five kilometres every Wednesday night after work, and everyone would gleefully chat about the races they had signed up for. I decided that I was going to complete a Tough Mudder in the spring of 2013. The distance for Tough Mudder was around 16 kilometres, so I decided to start pushing my weight-lifting body to tackle more endurance training. I committed to a long run every weekend (in addition to my weekly five kilometre run club) to get more mileage in my training. One day, I was randomly urged, via Instagram, to sign up for my first half marathon. Two hours later, I was registered and asking myself, “Am I really doing this?”. I justified my rash decision by reminding myself that the race was just a few more kilometres than the Tough Mudder distance- surely I could do it.
I had fun with my training, pushing myself to new limits with each workout. I made some mistakes along the way, but these mistakes ultimately allowed me to figure out what worked best for my body.
Here are my top ten tips on training for your first half marathon.
1. Invest in a great pair of running shoes.
I have been running in Mizunos shoes [http://www.mizunocda.com/] since I started. Luckily, I had a staff employee at Running Room fit me with my first pair and have been in love ever since. I started running in the Wave Rider, which is their flagship shoe. It is ideal for a neutral running gait and has enough support and cushioning for high mileage training. If you’re really keen on getting the right pair of shoes, consult with a physiotherapist or athletic therapist before you start. You can even get your running gait analyzed to see if you’re a neutral or pronated runner. This will impact the type of shoe that is great for you.
2. Stock up on run tights or shorts (depending on the season).
I love running outside, no matter the time of year. I’ve invested in really warm winter running tights with pockets on the legs for my cell phone and also have a pair of summer shorts with a zip pocket for my gels. Another additional tip is to purchase Body Glide balm for anti chafing. This is essential in the winter to ease friction from run tights on your thighs or for certain shorts that just seem to rub the inner thighs the wrong way. The summer can be really humid, so it’s super important to have the right gear.
3. Buy a GPS watch or download a running app.
I did my research over the beginning of this year between Garmin and Polar GPS products. There are simple models to start with or you can invest in more complicated products. I loved my Garmin Forerunner 310XT. I can measure my heart rate, distance traveled, average pace, current pace, and time spent all on one screen, which makes my OCD, alpha-female heart happy. If you’re not ready to invest in a watch, you can download a free running app. I started running with the Nike + app and now use the Strava app. I like the Strava app because it tracks the distance of your run, the time it took you to complete it, average pace, kilometre speed splits, and also features a really cool tool that allows you to compete on segments of your run with other people. It will tell you where you land in the rankings of certain routes in your city.
4. Find a run club you love.
Sometimes it’s nice to run solo and get lost in your thoughts. Other times, it’s just so much fun to be social with a run club. You can laugh and chat as you run. You can push yourself to keep up with someone else’s pace or help pace someone looking to get faster. I try to get out with a club at least once a week for the camaraderie.
5. Learn how to properly fuel for long runs.
There are many different perspectives on proper nutrition for running with so many articles out there. I suggest some reading and experimenting with what works for you. When I started going on longer runs, I needed to increase my carbohydrate intake for energy production to keep my body fuelled.
I really like incorporating protein pancakes made with oats in the morning for breakfast and more brown rice & sweet potatoes in my evening meal the night before. I also experimented with gels and started bringing one with me for runs over ten kilometres. Personally, I’d eat half a gel at the seven kilometre mark and the other half when I reached distances over 14 kilometres. Everyone is different and you will eventually find what works for your body best. Working with a nutritionist is also recommended.
6. Get yourself a foam roller.
Breaking down tight muscles is a key to recovery. When you break down tight muscles, you give them the chance to heal. Most runners deal with tight IT bands, which run down the outer sides of both thighs. The IT band tightens due to your glute muscles firing and can sometime cause pain in the knee area where the band inserts into the joint. By foam rolling your legs before and after runs, you can minimize injury and maximize recovery time.
7. Go for monthly deep tissue massages.
Without going into the scientific specifics of deep tissue massage, just the simple principle of taking care of your body while training should make logical sense. Invest in the self care that will help your body recover. If you have benefits, you can submit this expense to many insurance companies-it’s a great bonus!
8. Don’t ignore any type of pain.
I, unfortunately, never thought the twinge of pain in my knee was anything significant, and I kept running on it. A few months of training went by and I could barely bend my legs some days. My IT bands had gotten so tight that they had begun pulling on the insertion point at my knee. After acupuncture, chiropractor, and physiotherapist appointments, I was able to restart my training again, but the pain was still there. I even ran my first half marathon with kin tape on my knees to alleviate some of the pain. The moral of the story? Treat the onset of pain immediately.
For all the ladies out there- running with a sparkly headband makes any day better. I promise.
10. Smile and let your mind wander when running. Enjoy the journey to your first marathon.