The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Training for a Half Marathon

Shannon Farrell
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Dirima/Getty

Dirima/Getty

 

When the temperatures dip this low, it’s easy to let our lazy-girl ways get the best of us. What we need is a goal. It should be attainable, yet not too easy. It should have a clear finish to ignite accomplishment. The perfect choice: the half marathon. 13.1 miles of pain, sweat and glory.

Nothing has a clear finish quite like a race. “A half marathon goal is exciting for most people and it keeps them more motivated,” says Laurie Villarreal, a running and lifestyle coach who provides training plans and guidance for runners and non-runners alike. While a 5K is doable for most, a half takes real commitment and offers bragging rights. Join us as Villarreal provides some of her training tips, free of charge.

Mark Your Calendar.
If you were planning on an April half, it’s time to push your finish line back a bit. “A 12-16 week training plan is about average. Twelve would be for someone who’s already a runner and sixteen would be for someone who’s starting from scratch.” Training can even go 20-22 weeks if you’re starting from ground zero. The muscles need enough time to build up to the distance.

Schedule in Runs.
The best part about training for a half is that it doesn’t take over your schedule. Depending on your level of activity on a normal basis (do you cycle, even walk a lot?), you can get by with 1-3 runs a week. “Two days is average, but you will see more improvement with three.” If you can log in three runs, Villarreal recommends one long run, one short faster run (either intervals or tempo) and another short run at any easy pace. On busier weeks, skip the easy jog.

Go Part of the Distance.
A common training mistake is running the full distance of the race as your longest run. “You don’t need to do the full distance before the event because it actually wear out your body.” For a half, she recommends finishing with an 11 mile training run. “Some people may feel more mentally prepared having done the full distance one time before, but you don’t physically need to.” With proper training, you’ll have enough physical endurance and strength to add two more miles on race day.

…And Take It Slow.
“The biggest mistake I see is people running their long runs too fast. The purpose of the long run is to put more time on your legs and build endurance and to train a different energy system.” Essentially, you’re training your muscles to move past the moment of total exertion—which you’ll more than likely experience during the half. A faster pace focuses the muscles on providing a quick turnover instead. “You’re tiring your body much more than if you were doing a long, slow run.” You also risk getting injured more easily because your body is exhausted from heavy training.

Add in Cross Training.
Even with just three runs a week, your body will need a break from the pounding. “If you can do any kind of cross training, that’s great, regardless of what it is. But if I’m going to pick one, I’d say strength training.” Whether you lift or take classes like Pilates or yoga, the activity will work different muscles as well as provide the necessary cardio. “Once a week is sufficient, although you will see more benefits from twice a week.”

Practice Fueling.
 “If you’re going to be running more than 90 minutes, you need to think about fueling about 30 minutes before you get to that 90 minutes.” This puts you at the hour mark which is when your body starts to tire and your tank needs more energy. On runs over 90 minutes, plan to practice refueling with gel or sports beans. Purchase spandex with easy-to-reach pockets or even store it in your gloves.

Don’t Give Up!
If you experience a bump in your training—the flu, a busy schedule—don’t let it deter you. “Your body is still strong if you’ve consistently been running. A week or two is not going to affect you that much.” The only time you should consider pushing your race back is if you’ve suffered a running injury. “You have to scale back on training quite a bit and it can take a while to get yourself back to where you were.” A summer race may be more realistic.

Bottom line: keep going. “Training for a half marathon is a lot about mental preparation as well as physical. It’s important to keep yourself positive and work on taking little steps at a time and listening to your body along the way.”

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