I’m not sure when it happened, maybe when it was happening to me in 2016 then but it seems running a half has become a common bucket list item. These tips are mostly directed for runners tackling their first half but you might find some gems here if you are a repeat offender too. Even though it’s ‘just’ half of something else it’s actually a really big deal. Whether you’re doing it once or not there are some mistakes you want to avoid. Since it is such a big part of your life for a long, long time it’s totally worth making it as easy as possible! I think I only did the last mistake on my first half so I guess I got off easy. I did do a lot of googling until the early morning back then though. Lots of these things did surprise me as they popped up though. Here are the mistakes you’re likely to make in training for a half marathon and how to avoid them.
Not building a base
You’re prep work for actually finishing your race starts long before day one of week one of that training plan. The plans that I write include a bonus three week base builder stage to help guide you in that process. You really can’t just go from running every once and a while to half training because that’s a recipe for getting injured (and really tiered) in the process. Whatever week one of your plan looks like in terms of milage and runs per week work up to that over at least 6 weeks. If you’re a regular runner already start heading in that direction over about 3 weeks. Bonus tip: try to mimic the days of the week you plan to run in training during base building to help get you into the routine.
Not planning for hydration
If you run 5k’s or even 10k’s you might not take water with you. I’m here to tell you you’re already missing out but as you step up to the half you will need to figure out a strategy. It might be a handheld bottle you refill, a belt or even a vest. You may be able to carry enough with you or you may have to buy or refill along the way. Bonus tip: on those long runs you might also need to make a water elimination related pit stop so you might as well plan for that too.
Not doing extra to figure out fuel
If you are to be running for much more than an hour and definitely closer to two hours you’ll have to eat as you run. Or as you walk that’s probably safer. The thing its not always easy to figure out what works for you. If you have a sensitive tummy it can take a lot to figure out something that works. You need to find something that you like, doesn’t have a lingering mouth feel and doesn’t make you poop when you run. Even if you don’t end up spending an hour and a half on you feet until week 8 you can totally start experimenting earlier. You will need it so take fueling seriously and start playing around with it early.
Not having a plan for skipped long runs
Your long runs are your most important runs in half training, most training cycles really. They are also the hardest ones to fit into your regular life. Some may take you roughly three hours to do. First make a plan for fitting them in each and every week for the next three months. For most of us that means weekends. What works best for me is to quit work early enough to cover my distance on whatever weekend day the weather is better. But… life sometimes happens and you’ll need a fall back option just in case you have too or just end up skipping one. That could be a half day at work the next day, a super early morning or switching a non-speedwork run out early in the next week for last week’s long run. (That one sounds good in my experience but in reality its hard for me to get done.)
Running too hard during your workouts
Long runs could also be called slow runs that go on forever, at least if you’re doing them right. You should be going at least 20 seconds per km or 30 seconds per mile slower than your regular ‘just running for fun’ pace. Not doing so drains too much out of the tank and leaves you too exhausted for everything else that week. These runs are about building your endurance for race day. Take it as slow as feels good. One marker for me is that I should be going slow enough that I actually want to sing along to my songs as I bop down the road.
Being unrealistic about who you are
Picking a plan and even committing to run a half at all is a really big deal for your life. I’ve been pretty good at fitting it into a busy life a few times but last summer it was hard. I was planning a surprise wedding, still tri training too and then an evening opportunity came from no where to do some work I love, gardening. Put all together it was really hard for me to get training done all of a sudden. No matter what I was doing I felt like I was letting someone down. I did the race but it wasn’t my strongest showing. Whether you decide to go for it, in picking your plan and how you’ll implement it just be realistic as to who you are. You know better than anyone what struggles you’re like to face. Then plan as hard as you can for that as soon as you start.
Freaking out about your results
Half training is a long, slow slog. Both in the time it goes on for and how slow and long those long runs are. You might even go slower as the weeks drag on. At some point you will calculate your finish time as if the race is done at the same pace as your slowest long run. Right after that you’ll freak out about how slow that is for no good reason. Even if you are that slow (you won’t be) you’ll still have finished a half marathon and that’s awesome. That’s something that less than 1% of the population will ever be able to say! You won’t be that slow though because during that taper phase your very well trained legs will have a chance to rest and be faster on the big day. The other thing is all that race day adrenaline will get into your veins and you’ll go way faster. I usually go about a full minute faster than my long runs in training. That was also true of my first one. Don’t worry about what people think or say about your time. If someone does say something $hitty I can almost guarantee that person is not a runner. If you do happen to be talking to a runner they are totally ready to celebrate any number you say!
If this is the year you decided to do a half or tackle a big challenge your race might be canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. I think mine in May will be cancelled for sure with the announcements our government made today. The race already has a virtual option so that’s probably what they will make available. If for some reason they don’t I’ll be signing up for a virtual race elsewhere to keep me motivated. Are you planning on running a half this year? Is it your first one? What mistakes have you made in half training? Leave it in the comments below!