People running a half marathon

A half marathon is the perfect distance for many runners, as it’s a definite challenge that you can feel proud of, but more realistic than a full marathon for many. 

Despite not being a full marathon, a 13.1 mile run is nothing to underestimate and definitely must be prepared for. Without the proper training, you run the risk of short and long term injuries. 

To prepare yourself , check out these ten tips for how to train for a half marathon in the safest and most effective way possible:

1. Assess Your State of Fitness

Just about everyone can successfully train for a half marathon, but you must first assess where you’re at. For example, someone who is a bran new runner is going to have a very different training program than an experienced one. Since the key is preparing your body without pushing it too hard and risking injury, first take stock of your physical fitness.

For example, new runners might start with about ten miles per week, and slowly increase. More experienced runners will begin with significantly more than that. Accept that wherever you begin is just fine, and there’s no rush.

2. Slowly Increase Your Weekly Mileage

While experienced runners can probably train sufficiently in about two months for a half marathon, most people will do best with a 3-4 month plan. It’s important to look at how many weekly miles you put it now (even if that number is zero) and calculate a slow and steady increase during a 3-4 month period before the event. This might sound like a lot, but it allows time in case you get sick or other life circumstances come up that cut into your training.

Since many half marathon training programs begin with a three mile run (for newer runners), first begin by simply working up to this. Before your “official” training plan begins, start with one mile one week, then two miles the next, then three. It’s important to take this as slow as your body needs to avoid injuries common to new runners, like shin splints. A great way to do this is by scheduling three runs per week with a rest day in between, working up to one, three-mile run.

3. Master Proper Running Form

Proper form is essential for injury prevention and running efficiency. Some considerations are stride length, foot positioning, staying streamlined with the arms, up and downhills. More specifically:

Try to lengthen your stride too much can set you up for injury. Stick to short, quick strides, instead. Just like in a squat or a lunge, when you are running it’s important that your foot does not land in front of your knee on any given stride. The foot should land just beneath your knee, as this can also prevent injury. 

Keep your arms relaxed but at ninety degree angles by your sides, hands below your chest. This will help maintain a solid center of balance, and can work to increase speed and efficiency.

Instead of reaching forward with your front foot, focus on pushing off the ground with your back foot. 

Going both up and downhill offers specific challenges that can make us even more prone to injury if we’re not careful. When climbing, focus on keeping your head and chest up, and look ahead and instead of down at your feet. Continue to push off the ground with your back foot, and try to stay more on your toes. 

Running downhill can really open us up to injury more than any type of running, so it is essential keep your upper body and head upright, and look forward. Most importantly, keep your strides/steps short and soft, and try to maintain your head over your toes (not hinged forward).

To learn more, check this book out about Injury-Free Running.

4. Stretch

A dynamic warm-up simply means a movement-based warm-up that targets the muscles and joints being used when running. Shoot for at least 5 minutes of dynamic movements, such as hamstring (Frankenstein) kicks, butt-kickers, dynamic calf stretch, and hip circles. As far as a cool-down, give yourself time to walk and slow the heart rate, and the end of a run is a great time do some static stretching, meaning you hold stretches for a minimum of 30 seconds.

5. Don’t Skimp on Strength Training

This might seem like an odd one to begin with, but developing or maintaining a strength training routine is crucial to proper running form and even more-so for injury prevention.

Resistance training works to strengthen certain muscles necessary for runners, especially the glutes and core muscles. This will help to ensure that runners do not injure the low back, do not excessively hinge forward from the hip, and can keep an upright position even when fatigued. 

If you don’t have a gym membership, check out this article for the five best dumbbells for home workouts.

6. Invest in High Quality Running Shoes

Since this varies so much depending on the individual, I highly recommend going to a sporting goods store or (even better) one that specializes in running, where you can have a professional measure your feet, analyze your stride, and fit you with a good pair.

Nike Zoom Pegasus Turbo running shoes are one of the brands I highly recommend for distance running.

7. Fuel with a Healthy Diet

Sports nutrition for endurance events (like half marathons) is unique to other sorts of exercise. The special needs in this type of event are not so much to fortify against sudden injury or develop bursts of strength, but instead to develop expanded lung capacity, heart and vascular system, and protect against adrenal fatigue (over-stress). 

With that in mind, you’ll want to focus on a diet that includes plenty of long, slow-burning complex carbs such as millet, brown rice, whole wheat and buckwheat. Also, plenty of healthy fats and oils and essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins from grass fed butter, cold-pressed fresh oils (like extra virgin olive and coconut), and wild fish. 

Sugary foods and processed foods with high sodium content will rob the body of nutrients. Consider including Himalayan or Celtic salt versus table salt for minerals and proper hydration, and drink plenty of fresh water (at least half of your bodyweight in ounces of water, daily).

This is one of my favorite books that offers cutting edge science around the health, nutrition, recovery and mindset of sports nutrition and performance.

8. Plan Foods for Event Day

Race day itself is distinct, but it’s actually not at all necessary to load up on ridiculous amounts of carbohydrates. Simply eating more of the same sorts of plant-based, complex carbohydrate foods will be sufficient. 

A good general strategy the day before and the day of your event is to trade some of the fats in your diet for complex carbs, like the grains mentioned above alone with potatoes, sweet potatoes and other tubers or root veggies. Shoot for the prior day’s biggest meal to be lunch, followed by a lighter dinner, as this helps to avoid any sort of GI upset the night before a big run. If you suffer from GI symptoms like gas or bloating, consider decreasing your fiber intake the day before, too.

Have your pre-race breakfast consist of at least 100 grams of carbohydrates, 2-4 hours before running. Stay hydrated with water, but don’t overdo it. You’ll probably want to shoot for about 24 ounces of water every hour that you run, and 30-50 grams of carbohydrates per hour you run. This might come in the form of a sports gel, banana or energy bar, for example.

9. Allow for Recovery

Begin with allowing a day in between runs, if you are new to running. As your body adjusts, you can plan to run 5-6 days per week, assuming you’re feeling good. However, if you are injured, stop. Not forever, but long enough to allow your body to heal. If possible, find a physical therapist or knowledgeable personal trainer to help heal injuries and build proper strength and flexibility in order to prevent problems down the road.

10. Listen to Your Body

Last but definitely not least, listen to your body! During training and during your event, don’t let your ego get in the way. If you are in pain, this is a sign you need to slow down. If you intuitively know something doesn’t feel right, take a break. It’s much better to put your training plan on hold than to risk a serious injury.

A half marathon can be incredibly rewarding, and totally doable. Do the research, get the support you need and most importantly, have fun!