4 unexpected steps to preparing for a half marathon
You’ve submitted your entry fee, found your ideal running shoes, and ditched your soggy cotton clothing in favor of some fresh techwear. You’re ready to train for your first half marathon. You know you need to increase your mileage, but what else? As you start to map out your training plan, there are a few items of importance you may not have considered yet. Thankfully, we’ve tackled a few of those unexpected hurdles, so that you can keep your eyes on the road to race day.
Step one: Tame tummy troubles
You’re going to talk way too much about your, and your running friends’, BMs—and we aren’t talking body mass. Tummy troubles are a big problem for many endurance runners, particularly in the beginning. Something funky happens in your GI tract when you increase mileage, and your bowel movements go a little wonky. (It’s gross, we know, but it’s going to happen so it’s best to be prepared.)
Distance running causes the stomach to push blood from the digestive track into the working muscles as you run; when you stop, the blood returns. This rush of blood can cause diarrhea, or what runners lovingly refer to as “runners’ trots.”
Additionally, some runners find that the jostling the body experiences during longer runs causes regular bathroom breaks, while still others find certain foods or liquids lead to repeated trips to the toilet. Doing some detective work early in your training can help you find the reason for your stomach woes and reduce the number of visits to the porta-potties on race day.
Step two: Learn to eat on your feet
While some runners use gels to curb hunger and increase energy on long runs, others need real food to get through a race. We’re not suggesting you eat donuts like this guy annotation or a pizza like Dean Karnazes. Instead, munch on something solid and healthy to keep your energy level up. This is especially true for those with low blood sugar problems or runners who plan to be on the course for longer than two hours. Learning to eat on your feet can keep you from bonking halfway through the race, or crashing altogether when it ends.
Step three: Consider a run/walk strategy
You’ve just paid a lot of money to run 13.1 miles, which, in case you didn’t realize, is approximately 23,000 steps. That’s a long way. There is no shame in walking during a race.
One of the most popular programs, created by Jeff Galloway, incorporates scheduled run/walk intervals based on your current pace. For instance, you might alternate between running four minutes and walking one minute for the entirety of the race.
You might create your own run/walk strategy or follow Hal Higdon’s advice, which is to walk through water stations. Whatever you choose, remember this: There is no shame in walking during a half marathon.
Step four: Increase your (running) vocabulary
Does the world fartlek make you giggle like a first grader? It should! But can you define the word? As you increase mileage, unfamiliar lingo will pop up in reading material and training plans. The following are a few you should know. For a more comprehensive vocab list, check out our definitions for 45 common running terms.
Fartlek: Not a bodily function but a speed training method, fartlek means "speed play" in Swedish. It refers to a training run in which you choose objects in the distance to run fast between, and then you run a slower recovery period. For instance, you might run fast between mailbox #1 and mailbox #5 and then run slower between mailboxes #6 through #10. Don’t check pace; simply run with effort and then recover.
Tempo Run: Another speed training method, a tempo runs pushes you beyond your comfort zone and prepares you for running longer distances at a faster pace. Typically, these runs last for a specific distance or time (i.e.: 4 miles or 30 minutes), and they are sandwiched between a warm up and cool down period. You may run a warm up of one mile, a three mile tempo atfaster than your normal pace (i.e.: 9:30 if you run 10 minute miles), and then a one mile cool down.
Calf Sleeves: A newish trend in distance running, compression socks (or calf sleeves) are worn on your legs during or following a run. Designed to aid in muscle recovery, the socks are somewhat tight without cutting off circulation. They should not be worn by those susceptible to blood clots. Purchase socks that require you to measure the widest distance around your calf to ensure they aren’t too loose or too tight.
Now, get out there
The next several months of training will test your patience and determination. It will likely also test your sanity. Expect to spend a large amount of time reading, planning, and dreaming all things race related. To help settle your nerves, review our race day checklist to ensure you have everything you'll need. Advance planning and preparation makes all the difference as you step up to the starting line. And when you cross the finish, you’ll realize you can do anything you set your mind to.