Half Marathon Preparation – part 1

A series of blogs taking you through your half marathon preparation

With the marathon season behind us, experienced runners amongst you will be now turning your attention towards the shorter challenge and working on your half marathon preparation.

Newbies to running will perhaps be viewing it as their ultimate challenge, while serial charity fund raisers will be thinking up novelty ways of raising money, such as dressing as a Rhino or carrying a fridge (to name two of the more famous challenges undertaken).

Regardless of ability, all of these people have something in common – they will need to train to complete the event.

This series of blogs will attempt to lay out guidelines for your training including:

Part 1: timeframes – how long with the training take?

Part 2: kit you can wear, effective warm ups, nutrition both before and during the event, strength and conditioning, including stretching, foam rolling, and strengthening exercises

Part 3: the race itself, and lastly, effective recovery.


Part 1: Timeframes – how long will the training take?

Given the huge range of abilities that may be reading this blog, it’s hard to be very specific about how long it takes to train. At Advance Performance I constantly come into contact with people leaving it far too late to train for a half marathon.

Maybe lulled false sense of security due to the word ‘half’, they’re over optimistic. In reality, the average runner will take approximately 2hrs 22mins – the time required to finish half way between first place and last place in last year’s Perkins Great East Run. That’s a long period of time running and it takes time to prepare for.

Beginners – If you are a complete beginner then first and foremost you have to prepare your body for running. We suggest the NHS Couch to 5K program as it gives you a framework to build up to running 5 kilometers in a timely manner i.e. it doesn’t rush the training and it gradually builds in intensity. It’s a nine week program. I point this out in a single sentence because it underlines the gradual build up in intensity, frequency and time that is required by a non-runner to safely progress their training. It also underlines how long it takes to reach 5k as a beginner, if you’re planning to run a half marathon a year of training isn’t unreasonable.

A year, I hear you say?! Well yes, to go from couch potato to comfortably running a half marathon, a year of progressive training is a sensible period of time to build up your resilience and endurance. Is it possible in less time? Absolutely, yes, but the faster you pile on the mileage the more stress you are placing on your body and the higher your injury chances. If you remain uninjured while getting to the required distance in 6 weeks, then you’re lucky, but if a fast time was your objective I’m willing to bet you would have run faster with 36 weeks of training.

Building mileage – The ten percent rule is banded around frequently in running, i.e. you don’t add more than 10% of the previous week’s training volume to your current training volume in a week. It’s not bad advice, but the only issue here is that everybody is different, some people have genetic make-ups that will allow them to train harder and/or faster, while some will not be able to achieve a 10% increase. A better rule of thumb is to gradually increase your mileage and then remain at that new mileage for at least a couple of weeks, allowing the body to adapt over time rather than continually stressing it.

Don’t run every day – Whether you are a beginner or an experienced runner your body is placed under stress when you run, at the end of your run you are less fit than when you started your run and your body now has some repair work to carry out. Running the next day will only stress the system more. Also, don’t get sucked into the ‘recovery run’ myth. There isn’t such a thing, yes your run the next day may be at a lower easier tempo than the run the day before but it is still stressing your system, asking tired muscles to work again. Yes it increases blood flow but a swim or slow walk will also achieve this while giving your legs time to mend themselves.

Do the half marathon distance in training – This is somewhat controversial in the running world with some coaches believing you don’t need to in order to complete a half marathon or a marathon. However, we believe that having the experience of completing a half marathon before you run on the day is a massive confidence boost. You’re not heading into the unknown and you can be confident in the knowledge that this race is no different to the training run you had four to six weeks ago. Why four to six weeks? Simply because your body will need time to recover before race day. Don’t forget to factor this into your training schedule, the build up in mileage should start early enough so that it is gradual and gets you to the 13.1 miles with the four weeks to spare.

Experienced – If you’re an experienced runner who is looking to knock time off your personal best then make sure you are including different types of run don’t just complete four identical runs a week and expect progression, remember the body responds to the demands placed upon it. A tempo run (sustained lactate threshold run), a slower longer run,  a sprint (400m) interval training session and a fartlek session will stress the cardiovascular system, different energy systems and different muscle fibres. This allows progression to be made in the various areas of fitness that running requires, not just the ones addressed by an identical steady state run over a set distance.

Read Part 2…

Anyone who would like more advice is always welcome to pop in-store for help

Blog by – Matt Jeffery

Synergy Physical Training @ Advance Performance

About the author; Matt Jeffery is Advance Performance’s strength and conditioning specialist, he’s a certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist with the National Academy of Sports Medicine and runs a strength and conditioning company called Synergy Physical Training