How to train, and not train, for a Half Marathon
In recent years, more and more people across the world are taking up marathoning. Marathoners and event-management companies in Tier-1 cities of India have jumped into the fray, sensing the business opportunity. While all this is welcome, the downside is that, many people are attempting marathon runs without the right training or information. This can expose them to serious injuries. This article is aimed at educating prospective marathoners on how to train right for a marathon or half-marathon, and enjoy the experience.
Running a Marathon or ‘marathoning’ is becoming a popular form of exercise, activity, hobby and sport all combined into one. While the trend started in western countries, health-conscious and middle-class Indians with some time to spare have taken it up in a big way. A typical Full Marathon is of 42 kms distance. Running a Full Marathon requires a lot of practice, stamina and dedication, and not everyone fits the bill for this. So, half this distance (13 miles or 21 kms) – or a ‘half marathon’ is extremely popular today.
While the desire to run a marathon is appreciated, not everyone is eligible. In order to do a half-marathon, your body must be able to face the challenge. You:
- Should not have any orthopaedic condition that makes long-distance running a risk
- Should not have any health-concern like poor vision, bladder or bowel incontinence, or any ailment for which the doctor has restricted long-distance running.
- Should have been running for at least a year. This means, you should be able to cover 15 to 25 miles a week comfortably. Further, you should have previous experience running one or two 5K races. 5k stands for 5 kms, which is 3.1 miles.
- Finally, you should have an 18-week window of time, before the big day, to train for the same. Travel, work-pressures or personal challenges should not come in the way of proper training.
Not being eligible and still running a marathon – can expose you to serious injuries.
Also Read: Simple Exercises for Healthy Feet
Dos and Don’ts
- Chandra Mouli is a half marathoner based in Mumbai. During his college days, when he was training as sculler and oarsman for the Tamil Nadu State Rowing Team and Madras Boat Club crew, running was part of the land training routine. In his later years, not having the advantage of a rowing course or club in Mumbai, he switched to running as a form of keeping fit. Till date, he has completed around 24 half marathons.
Chandramouli shares some valuable inputs, based on his personal experience:
“Running is not easy. You are moving your body weight balanced on your feet, hands and legs are in constant motion, and your lungs and heart are at work to maintain the momentum. Running medium or long distance, such as a 10 km, 15 km or half marathon is even more difficult. If you train correctly, even a non-runner can cherish the special moment of completing the desired distance,” he says.
Scheduling and Planning
Marathon schedules are generally decided and posted several months in advance. So, the training must begin 4 months or 16-18 weeks in advance. There are 4 key elements of the long-term training:
- Base mileage. You must build your weekly mileage gradually, hitting 50 miles around 4 weeks before the race day. You must run 3-5 times per week at a ‘conversational pace”, which means, you must be comfortable enough to hold a conversation with a fellow-runner without panting or swallowing your words.
- The long run. Once every 7–10 days, you must do a long run of 12-15 miles, so that your body can adjust gradually to long-distance running. Target the weekends for this. 12 miles on one weekend, 13 on the next, 14 on the next, and so on.
- Speed work. To increase your cardio capacity or your heart’s ability to bear the additional workload, you must vary your speed of running every now and then. You can do several iterations of fast sprints (intervals) and slow running for long distances (tempo runs) in between running at the regular pace.
- Rest and recovery. Running 3-5 days a week ensures you get adequate rest on the other days. This helps prevent injuries and mental burnout. It’s important to stay fit and eliminate any chances of injury. Injury can create limitations for you on the big day.
As the name implies, one must reduce the time spent in running, as one gets closer to the race day. This is important because training too much can affect your performance on the day of the marathon. So, 21 days before the marathon, you should start reducing your daily and weekly runs, so that you are giving your body adequate rest. This way, you can peak at the right time, which is the day of the marathon. How much to taper will depend on how long you have been running till date, and how rigorous has been your training before the last 21 days. A marathon trainer can help you decide this.
Strength Training and Cross Training
On all the days when you are not running, it’s important to build strength in your legs and overall body. This will improve your endurance, reduce risk of cramps or injury, and ensure a positive experience overall. Hit the gym and lift weights (dumbbells, barbells or kettlebells), do yoga or Pilates. Swimming, aerobics and cycling also helps. Free-hand exercises to do at the gym or home would be split-squats, bridges, single-leg squats, planks and half-planks.
Also Read: Weight-bearing Exercises – 6 Effective Workouts for Strengthening Bones
Gearing up right
A very big part of training for, or running a marathon, is the use of the right kind of gear.
- A brand-new pair of shoes with good arch support – visit the dedicated store of any leading shoe-brand, ask the salesperson to recommend a shoe made for running (example you should not be buying a cross-trainer or a shoe meant for casual wear).
- Buy running socks – should be little longer than ankle socks. A double-layered sock is preferable. This is thicker and will not collapse down while running.
- If you already have t-shirts, track pants or shorts, no need to invest in these accessories again.
- Buy a stopwatch – not the expensive ones – any brand that costs from Rs. 750 to Rs. 1,500 will do, and no need for the fancy ones that measure your steps or distance (at least not for those who are starting fresh).
A week before the big day
It’s important to be aware of the arrangements at the marathon venue, route, facilities available on the route, time of the run, number of participants, expected weather etc. All this information will prepare you better for the big day. Once you have this information, you must do a rehearsal. Visit the venue at the same time of the day, start off a run, and run along the same route.
Fuelling and hydrating right
Food and Beverage – or eating and drinking right is a very big part of training for or running a marathon. It can surely make or break your performance.
- Carbs: It’s important to have a diet rich in carbs, as these provide the necessary energy for the run. Some of the sugar (glucose) is stored as glycogen in your muscles, so ensure you are building a good reservoir of glycogen months ahead of the big day. Again, the quality of carbs matters. Avoid refined grains (maida) and use food made from whole grains only (like wheat flour, rice flour, rava and millets). Avoid excessively sweet or sugary stuff as these cause frequent blood-sugar spikes that can leave you tired.
- Water: It’s important to drink adequate water throughout your training period. While any normal person who may or may not exercise needs 10-12 glasses of water a day, those training for a marathon should drink 2 to 3 glasses more. The colour of the urine is the best indicator of how much water is required. Aim for plain colourless or pale yellow at all times. Again, don’t overdo this point. Drinking excessive water causes a dangerous condition called hyponatremia (low sodium levels in the blood).
The big day
Ensure you reach the venue on time. Depending on how good the arrangements are, you may have to wait/stand for long. By reaching early, you can complete all formalities and be ready for the run, without much stress.
Do not do anything which is new or different from what you did during your training. Do not wear new clothes or shoes for the big day. They can cause chafing, pain and discomfort. Do not experiment with a new diet or new dishes. Eat, drink, wear and gear-up exactly the same way as you did in the last couple of months. No surprises mean no stress.
What happens when you successfully finish your very first half or full marathon?
“You take a break for two days, and start training again, because now you are a runner and nothing can stop you,” Chandramouli says, adding that for a dedicated runner, a long-distance event is like a North Star, always a guide but never the final destination.
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- Feb 23, 2023