Your Guide To Completing Your First Half-Marathon - Women's Health

Your Guide To Completing Your First Half-Marathon

While the marathon looms mighty in the world of running, the half-marathon presents a distance that, although challenging, is certainly far more approachable for both the seasoned athlete and hobby jogger.

This week, social media was flooded with images of runners racing through the streets of New York. Even watching from a distance or via a computer screen, it was hard not to feel the palpable energy that extended across the course. As runners charged uphill and curved their torsos around corners, cheers erupted from the sidelines, crowds gathering just to express their support and encouragement for those challenging themselves to go the distance. 

The marathon is, without question, a distance that looms in the running world as something to work towards. Some might never feel a calling towards such a thing, but for many the allure of 42.2km is hard to shake. As anyone who has ticked off such a feat knows, it’s not just a physical challenge but a mental one, something that requires unwavering focus and dedication both on race day and in the months leading up to it. But while the marathon might prove daunting, the half marathon stands as the lesser of two evils. 21.1km is no easy feat by any stretch, but it is a distance that is achievable and should you build a steady, gradual base and train for it, it’s also a distance you can come to enjoy and, dare we say, even love. 

Whether you’re a seasoned runner or have only just discovered the joy of logging miles in lockdown, the half-marathon is a distance that attracts all runners, presenting a challenging goal to work towards. But while it might be tempting to jump right into the distance, patience is key – both for your own enjoyment and to avoid injury. As the temperature warms up and getting outdoors and moving through nature calls to all of us, it also marks the beginning of running festival season. And with the Nike Melbourne Marathon Festival just four weeks away, we thought it best to tap into the expertise of Nike Run Coach and marathoner, Lydia O’Donnell, to find out how best to approach and tackle a distance like the half-marathon. Here, Lydia shares her tips on training, footwear and the power of a positive mentality. 

What are the biggest mistakes you see runners make when embarking on a half-marathon training plan?

When in training for a half-marathon, many people can get consumed by the data and the numbers. There becomes this internal expectation to be running further and faster all the time. But this is not necessarily the case when running a solid half marathon. Undertaking that recovery runs are just as important as the harder runs will allow your mind to have rest days, and for the body to recover from all the training. Although you do want to be increasing specific runs (e.g. your long runs and potentially your speed sessions), you do not need to push every run to be farther each week.

How can runners gradually work their way up in distance? Is there a general rule you encourage most to follow when it comes to slowly building a base?

Be conscious of how much your overall weekly mileage is (a great way to track this through the Nike Run Club (NRC) app) and make sure that the increase is only around 5-10% per week, focusing on the extra distance being in your long run, and not in your recovery or easy runs. It is wise to follow a specific training plan that is built for your race. We’ve created some great Nike Melbourne Marathon Festival training plans on the NRC app are a great way to be sure that you are following a programme that is smart and sustainable. 

If you are someone who has never run before, if this is your first training journey, or if you are coming back from injury, be sure to make decisions that are right for you. Going for a half marathon could put too much pressure on your body, so start out by opting for a shorter distance first. It will still be a challenge and might be a better decision for your body and how conditioned you are to the load of running. The Nike Melbourne Marathon Festival includes 5k and 10k races, so its a great way to get that race-day atmosphere no matter what your level!

If you start with the 5km you can then set your sights on the 10km in the future, and then onto the half marathon later down the track. Building running up in a gradual way will allow you to create a sustainable way relationship with the sport and continue to do it well into the future. Whereas the risk of pushing the distance too early may result in injury or burnout. 

With so many of us navigating lockdown and work commitments, what’s your best advice to those who fear their training will be derailed by a few bad days that knock them off schedule?

It is important to take into account all of life’s other stresses when approaching a training plan. Understanding that having to sacrifice a few days, or a week, of training here and there to allow other things to be priority is totally okay. In fact, it will be better to plan ahead to take those days off when you need them, than to push through and put your body into a state of more stress and potential low energy availability. 

To be a better runner, consistency is key, but consistency is gained over a long period of time so don’t get caught up in the small interruptions and know that all of your training is no going to be lost or wasted by these days or short blocks off. Keep progressing forward in a smart and sustainable way. 

Athletes often talk about ‘listening to your body’. What’s the difference between the muscle aches we can expect when building distance and those that might be an indication of injury or muscle strain?

Listening to your body is really important when in a training block, but what is even more important is understanding what you are listening to. As you increase your load, even if you’re doing it gradually, you may still suffer some form of fatigue and muscle aches. It is normal for your body to be sore as you become more conditioned to the act of running. But in saying this, if something is unusually painful, if it gets worse throughout a run, if you rate it over a 3/10 in pain then this raises questions to if it is an injury. If the pain continues after the run and if there is an ache while sitting or sleeping, it is recommended to stop running and get a professional opinion. Try not to take pain killer to mask the pain, as you may do more damage which will not be beneficial long term. 

What are the most important factors when it comes to half-marathon training?

If you are in training for the half marathon distance, here are 5 key tips I would focus on:

      • Be sure to prioritize your rest and recovery days just as much as your training days. Use the Mindful Audio Guided Runs on NRC to focus on your mind during your easy runs. 
      • Follow your training plan but be flexible with it. You do not need to stick to every session on the plan. Do what feels right for you and take a holistic approach to your training. 
      • Create space for mobility. Use the Nike Training Club app to go through 2-3 mobility sessions a week to make the most of your recovery and your running. 
      • Be sure to fuel yourself for the training you are doing. Understand that you are most likely training more than have been therefore your body requires more energy. Give yourself the fuel you need to make the most of your training through a balanced diet. 
      • Enjoy the process of building fitness and becoming a better and stronger athlete. 

Is it important for runners to practice fuelling during training like they would on race day? Are there any tips you could share when it comes to nutrition and hydration for the half-marathon?

Anything that you plan to do on race day needs to be trialled ahead of time. Your race is your performance – therefore everything should have been practiced before. If you plan on taking on gels and water throughout your race, use the same products in your long runs and/or speed sessions. This is a good way to know what will sit well in your stomach and how your body will respond to them. For a half marathon you might want to have some energy gels, but how many gels depends on your pace and how long you will be out on course for. It is recommended to take on a gel every 6km or every 30 mins, and be sure to have them with water to help process the energy and keep you hydrated. 

What gear would you recommend both for training and racing, when it comes to the half-marathon distance?

Your footwear should be your key tool to get you through both the training and the half marathon race. The Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 38 is the perfect training shoe for you to get both your long runs and your speed runs in. The Pegasus is built for speed and comfort. They are your all-round running shoe to get you through the K’s required to train for 21.1km. As for any strength or endurance training work in the gym or at home, the Nike Air Zoom SuperRep2 Next Nature is created for quick movements and max heartrates. These shoes are great if you are adding in running specific strength training or high intensity work alongside your running. 

As for race day, the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next % should be your racing partner! The Alphafly is built with a full length carbonfiber plate and ZoomX cushioning providing you with a smooth transition and response to move fast over a long period of time. The Alphafly brings you an assistance you didn’t know you needed until you put these shoes on!! These shoes alongside all of your training with the NRC NMMF training plans will help you get to that finish line feeling fierce and strong on race day. 

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