Saturday, April 23, 2016
How to Know If You're Ready to Train for a Half Marathon
One of my new year's "challenges" was to sign up for another half marathon, a distance I haven't run for two years (almost to the day). After successfully running 4 - 5 mile distances (without stopping to walk) for several weeks now, I figured it was time to bite the bullet and just sign up for one already, since I know from experience that I'll only *really* start taking training seriously if I actually have a date set in stone.
So, it looks like on August 27th, I'll be running the Top of Utah half. Woo hoo!
Since training for and running a full marathon back in 2012 and a half in 2014, I've had a LOT of conversations with people about running. One thing that often comes up is that many people hear of a longer distance like those and immediately discount it as something that they "could just never do."
Believe me, you can trust me on this one--I signed up for a full marathon four years ago never having run more than 3 or 4 miles at a time in my life, and I was kind of scared to death of what I'd just done (and the fact that between Matt and me, we'd dropped over $200 on it and were therefore going to do it or die trying). So, if you're wondering whether you're ready to take the leap into training for a half marathon (or it's something that's always been on your bucket list but you've just been too scared to go for it yet), check out the following prerequisites for being able to run a half:
1. You can run 3 miles without stopping to walk.
I once read in Runner's World magazine that in order for your body to be able to comfortably tolerate a 12- or 16-week training program for a long race, you need to be able to have a baseline fitness level of being able to run 3 miles without stopping. They don't have to be fast miles by any stretch of the imagination, but you really shouldn't try and go into an intense training schedule without this basic level of fitness built up.
(Still want to go for a half but aren't quite there yet? Just set your sights on building up your endurance and cardio fitness gradually up to this level through a consistent run/walk program, then sign up for a race 12-16 weeks out once you've reached that milestone.)
2. You have the time in your schedule to devote to running or cross training 3 - 4 times a week, with some sessions near the end lasting a couple hours.
Many people think that to train for a long race (like a half or full marathon), you have to run almost every day. Not true! Many recent studies show that running about 3 times a week (and maybe cross training for another day or two, if you can) is actually the best way to go because it will significantly reduce your risk of injury. While I was in training for my previous races, I pretty much stuck to a 3X/week schedule, and I was able to run both races without stopping (and shatter some of my own time expectations, to boot).
In addition to just carving out time three times a week for running, you also need to realize that near the end of your training, some of those practice runs are going to last up to 2 or even 2.5 hours (depending on your speed and the length of your longest run before the half marathon). My schedule usually consisted of doing a short to mid-length (2 - 6 mile) run on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with my longest run being on Saturdays (anywhere from 5 - 12 miles, depending on which week of training you're on).
Even though the amount of time might initially scare some people, realize that if something is important to you, you can and will make the time to do it, even if it means getting up earlier in the morning or readjusting your schedule after work or other home responsibilities.
3. You are mentally prepared to challenge yourself and any preconceptions you might have about running or about yourself as a runner.
Many people hyper-focus on just the physical element of training for a longer-distance race, but as any distance runner will tell you, running is almost as much mental as it is physical, so you need to make sure you're in the right headspace for the training.
If this is your first longer race, it can be tempting to just knock yourself out of the arena mentally before you've even taken your first step. But think of it this way--even the most elite runners had to decide one day to do it once for the first time, and once you are able to mentally visualize yourself training for and completing a challenging race, you will find that the actual physical training will come.
4. You have excuse-proofed your training schedule.
The fact is, life will get in the way of your training sometimes -- you (or your child) will get sick, you have a looming deadline that requires extra hours to be put in, you go on vacation, you're just tired and exhausted and want to watch Netflix and eat chocolate...you get the idea. As much as possible, you need to prepare for such moments and make sure that you don't let your training get sidelined for too long.
In my marathon training, there were a couple weeks over the 4-month training span that I was only able to run once or twice in one week (and as long as you're fitting in all your long runs each week, you can often afford a slip-up every now and then.) However, make sure you're not letting excuses get in the way of actually doing the necessary work in order to be successful -- recruit a running buddy, force yourself to be accountable through social media, sign up for the same race a friend is doing, lay out your workout clothes the night before, schedule time to run during vacation, go to a local rec center to use the treadmill when the weather's bad, create an awesome running playlist -- basically, do whatever it takes to make sure that when push comes to shove and you really, REALLY don't want to run (or try to convince yourself that you "can't"), you can basically ensure that you do it anyway.
5. You have something or someone to keep you accountable.
I mentioned this in #4, but it bears repeating--pretty much the majority of the human race is more likely to succeed when held accountable by something external, so look for ways to hold yourself accountable. For my full marathon, I blogged about my training every week. For my half, I logged all my miles in a running diary and weekly reported what my plan was to my husband. The fact is, if you just let the half hover you as something you'd like to do "someday," but you're never held accountable to it, you probably won't ever just take the leap and try.
6. You have the $50-100 to drop on the race entry fee.
Often, just dropping the money alone might be enough of a motivator to keep you accountable and keep you motivated to complete your training (it works for me, anyway). If money's really tight but you really want to try a race, look for creative means of getting the cash--ask people to sponsor you (perhaps for a cause you believe in), sell some old stuff through eBay or through a local classified list, eat only beans and rice for two weeks and use the cash you saved from not buying any other food...you get the idea.
Here's a free tip, though---the sooner you sign up for a race, the cheaper it usually is. So rather than wait until the "last minute" to sign up (for whatever reason), just do yourself a favor and sign up for it early so that you save the cash and actually stick with your goal because you've already dropped the money.
7. You are ready to wholeheartedly embrace Yoda's mantra of "Do or do not--there is no try."
After having gone through an unmedicated childbirth, I find myself often comparing the experience of labor and delivery to running, and they have a surprising number of things in common. One thing my sister told me when I was trying to decide to go the natural route or not was that if I didn't firmly set it in my mind that I was pretty much going to go natural no matter what (unless a life-threatening complication came up), I wouldn't do it.
There is so much wisdom in that.
If we leave an escape route for ourselves when things get hard (because they WILL get hard), we will almost always take the escape route. So when you decide you're ready to take the plunge and sign up for your race, know that you're in it no matter what. Making that commitment to something so challenging but then actually following through on it is SO empowering, and it's one of the best ways I know of to really see what you're made of.
Met most of these factors? So, what are you waiting for? Sign up already! Let THIS be the year you take on the half.