Sunday, May 19, 2013

TRAINING FOR YOUR FIRST HALF MARATHON: The journey into distance running

The humble half marathon has in recent years outgrown all other event distances by far.  Many are labelling this event as the 'ideal race distance'.  Maybe it's because it's tagged with the age old 'Marathon' brand, but more reachable for the less crazy folk who don't wish to put in the training that the full version demands.

Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not suggesting this is easy.  In fact it will still offer quite a challenge if you're coming from the typical 5-10km running range.  21.1km is a fair distance by any standard, and to think that just anybody can get up and do it without obstacles would be naïve.

Firstly, I'd like to add that most people looking up this type of info are already into the running gig a bit (or more) and researching info for continual improvement.  Which is a great audience for this topic.  Should you be perusing through here coming from a ZERO running base, can I highly recommend to take this info in your stride (pun intended, lol), and look towards building up a base level of weekly mileage first and get through to at least running 8-10km's single runs comfortably.

So how do you make the leap up to the half?  In one word "strategically".......... Not the word you were expecting?  haha, I bet not.  Why do I say this rather than typical key words like "hard work, consistency, dedication," etc?  I say this because it is my personal belief that your success in finishing your first half marathon doesn't have anything to do with the race itself.  It's whether you get through your training successfully without injury.  If you find yourself arriving at the tapering stage of your training schedule, you're sure to finish on the day. (assuming you don't come down with a virus the day before, but that would be just bad luck!!!!)  Sadly, many people don't make it to this point.

You can work as hard as a mule, and be as committed as an Olympian, but unless you can 'think on your feet' as you fumble your way through your training you are at risk of becoming part of the growing statistics of people who don't even make it to the starting line..........  That's certainly not an ideal position to be in.

So what I'm saying here is, it's not HOW MUCH you train that gets you there, but HOW you train.  The 2 most important things you should invest in from the outset is:
  1. Shoes:  Get professionally fitted and preferably, gait analysed.  Get this right early can save you big time down the track
  2. Training Programme:  And by training programme, I mean a proper, personally designed programme based around YOU.  Where you're at now, what you can and can't commit to, and assessing ALL the variables that you as an individual throw into the mix.  I'm certainly not referring one of those online, 5 minute responses that spit out the 'ideal training programme' simply because you put in the event date and length that you're doing.
Simple........ I don't know you, what your circumstances are, what your goals are, or any of the vital data that makes up the backbone of your programme.

There are a few aspects you need to consider going into a half that you don't normally get faced with on the 10-12km sessions.  Firstly, the time on feet is obviously double.  Not just for the event, but again in the training.  For a first half, you're looking at race times of somewhere between 1:50:00 & 2:30:00.  Where most people come unstuck in training is with injuries relating to soft tissue damage and/or joints between the feet to hips.  These are the areas of most concern for continuous, slow, quality development.  Sadly, I see way too often, posts and other random comments from people who have pulled up injured only weeks before their first big event.  There's a fine line you need to follow between taking it easy, and pushing the body hard enough to encourage development.  This line is easy to manage on 5k-12k training...... Not so easy to recognise with half marathons to marathons. 

One bad decision in the outset of your journey, may determine your fate.  By this I mean, just because you are training, it doesn't mean this training is useful and/or helpful.  To validate your efforts, make sure you utilise the proven sciences of previous research and experience.  Get yourself a QUALITY TRAINING PROGRAMME. 

Next is to make sure that you make it work within your personal, social, educational and career commitments.  Training can take up a fair whack of your free time.  Do not go into this blind!!!! You need to assess and commit to set times that your training runs will take place.  Be sure to present this plan to your family, boss, or others that you are accountable to and express just how much this goal means to you.  It is important for these people to know what you are spending this time doing and more to the point, WHY!

Should this be your first half marathon, your first goal is to finish.  Ideally, you may set yourself a target of finishing without stopping.  Seriously, who cares what your time is???  Chances are, you won't remember what this time is in a few years, but you sure will remember that finish line!!!!  Go for that.  Times/pacing etc will become more of a focus as you continue to develop further after you finish this one.

You sure don't want to make your long term memory of this event a horrible, painful, recollection of how you cramped up, short of breath and struggling the whole way through.  Just chill out, soak up the atmosphere, learn from some of the experienced runners and have a blast.  Maybe even share the track with a friend and plan to stick it out together.

To help you keep your cool in this race and not run off as though it's the one and only you'll ever do, why not commit yourself to the next one first?  With this in your mind through the race, you're more likely to hold the right mindset, and follow the previous comments of taking it easy, and utilising the experience correctly.

Secondly, it'll help you keep your consistency moving beyond your race.  Sadly, some people lose a lot of their training efforts post race as they didn't have their sights set on anything else.  Then they decide a little later and have to start all over again.  "If you don't like starting over, don't stop."  Of course a well deserved rest and recovery period is required after a tough session, but you only need a few days to a week for most people.  Even during this time, it's generally useful to have some light activity after 48 hours to help loosen things up.  Leave it 2-3 weeks with nothing as you mull over what you've just achieved and you're heading back towards square one.

"If you don't like starting over, don't stop."

If the next half near you is too long away, sign up for anything else.  a 5k, 12k, whatever.  Get involved and stay on track!

Completing your first half marathon is an awesome achievement.  Let's make it enjoyable at the same time.  It doesn't matter who you are or how much you love running.  Sometimes, the training can become a bit much.  So if you find this, don't worry, you're not alone.  The vital thing about training is it's consistency.  However, today you're just really not in the mood for your tough intervals session........  Obviously it's great if you can stick to your programme as much as possible but if sticking to it 100% is going to end up meaning that you pull out completely because it's becoming too much to the point where you're not enjoying yourself anymore and you're dreading the sight of your runners, maybe it's better you just go out for a nice, relaxing meditational jog.  It's not to plan, but it's far better than doing nothing!

Like I said to begin with, be strategic about how you go into your first half.  In fact, be strategic about running in general.  Running should not be easy, but it should not be a chore either.  Lace up, drink up, build up and get going..................... See you at the finish line!

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