Half Marathon Training Tips

This is a guest post from Emily, who blogs at Big Life, Little Blog: One girl’s bigger than life journey to a healthier, happier self; and tweets at @emtucky. Not only does she have the best name ever *smirk*, she is a great encourager and I asked her to share some tips that I could use while training for the RunTheBluegrass half. It’s one thing to already be a runner to do this race, but if you carry any extra weight (or a lot like me) and usually just walk, the task of just getting started is daunting.

February 13 will mark my 2nd half-marathon. (Emmie note: she did it! Recap here.) Before I signed up for my first half-marathon in 2009, I couldn’t even walk 3 miles. In fact, before I started the 16 week training program, I spent several weeks working up to being able to walk 3 miles at a time.

I signed up for my first half-marathon on December 31, 2008. How’s that for a New Year’s Resolution? Let’s just say I was in New Orleans at the time and there may been some courage giving Hurricanes involved.

I firmly believe anyone can walk a half-marathon if they train properly and commit the time and determination it takes to walk upwards of 10-20 miles a week. Below are a few things I wish I would have known when I took on my first half-marathon plunge.

1. Get fitted for proper shoes and insoles – Go to your locally owned running store where they will measure your foot, assess your foot type and watch your gait cycle to fit you for the perfect shoe.

You will hear this over and over from people who run and walk races on the regular. $100+ might seem like a huge investment in something you will only get 6 months of use out of (or, in my case 4), but it makes all the difference in no pain vs. lots of pain. I did the first 3 months of my first half-marathon training in shoes I bought off the DSW clearance rack. When I got the “right” shoes, I felt like I had just bought a brand new pair of feet!

2. Find a training program that works for you – I used the training calendar at about.com both times I trained. This year, each week I did 2 shorter walks and then 1 longer walk with cross training 2 other days. The important thing is to find a program that works with your fitness level and ability. You can also subscribe to about.com‘s half-marathon training course to receive weekly emails with the suggested walking schedule for the week and tips on walking form, nutrition, pacing and so much more. I highly recommend reading through all of their articles on marathon training.

3. Invest in sport socks – You do not want to be walking high miles in cotton socks – ever! Invest in several pairs of socks that are made of materials that “wick” away moisture. This will keep your feet as happy as possible. If you are unsure of what kind of socks to get, ask the associate at your local running store when you get fitted for shoes/insoles.

4. Dress properly – Like socks, it’s a great idea to invest in workout clothing that wicks away moisture. If you will be training during winter months, dress in layers that you can remove as you and the temperature warms up.

5. Clear your calendar – You may think I’m joking, but I’m not really. It is time consuming to train for a half-marathon. Typical beginner training programs are around 16 weeks. During that time you will typically do 2-3 shorter walks and a higher mileage walk each week. Plan to devote 5-10 hours a week to training. Try not to skip walks, as each time you walk – whether it’s 3 or 12 miles, is helping your body build its endurance.

6. Body Glide is your friend – Body Glide is a product that you put on your skin to prevent blisters, chaffing, rubbing, etc. There are several brands out there that do the job, and Body Glide is just one of them. In all honestly, I use basic Vaseline on my feet. I saw Vaseline provided at the medic tent during my first half-marathon for people having blister issues and ever since I’ve used this low cost solution. Use your training walks to try these types of products out to see what works best for you.

7. Hydration and nutrition – My rule of thumb is walks longer than 3 miles, I carry water with me. There are fuel belts or CamelBak packs that make carrying your own hydration easier. Also, any walk 8 miles or longer I carry exercise fuel like GU gels or chomps, Cliff Shot Bloks, sports beans, etc. These products are an acquired taste and I encourage you to sample several brands and types (gels vs. gummies) to find one you like. Another thing to consider after (or during) a long walk are electrolyte replacement drinks (Powerade, Gatorade, CytoMax), which are important for replacing the electrolytes lost during an endurance event. Every race has different sponsors for exercise nutrition and hydration. Find out what yours is offering and try it out before the race.

8. Everyday nutrition – endurance sports require carbohydrates. Don’t be afraid of (the right) carbs. Incorporate things like bananas, berries, potatoes (white and sweet), brown rice, whole wheat pasta, beans and lentils and whole grain breads into your diet if you do not already eat them regularly. Make sure you are eating a balanced diet with plenty of protein and vegetables. You may find that you feel more hungry the first 4-8 weeks of training, this is your body adjusting to your new level of exercise. Don’t be afraid to add an additional high protein/fiber snack in your day.

9. Stretch, stretch, stretch – this will be the #1 thing for preventing muscle soreness as you build your mileage. Pay special attention to your calves, hamstrings, glutes, lower back and hips. I never stretch before I walk, but always after. Everyone has their own theories on this, so try a few different ways (before and after, or just after) and figure out what works best for you. You can find some basic walking stretches here.

10. Get up and move – I’m not talking just during your walks, but surprisingly after a long walk as well. You may feel like crashing in front of the TV after an 8 or 12 mile walk, but try to avoid too much sitting after a training session. It will make you sore and stiff. Set aside an hour or two to rest directly after a walk, then try to do some low impact things for the rest of your day (go grocery shopping, clean the bathroom, make dinner, etc).

You will find that training for an endurance event is mostly about trial and error and figuring out what works best for you. With motivation, commitment and determination you’ll be hitting 13.1 miles before you know it. You might even sign up to do it a second time!

Thanks Emily for sharing your tips! What other tips do you have? Leave them in the comments!

  • http://awonderingspirit.blogspot.com Holli

    Thanks, both Emilys for the tips! I am going to bookmark this post!

  • http://www.lessbrittmorelife.com Brittany

    Great guest post! Great tips too! I know for my next race– i’ll be doing ALL of my training walks!

  • http://Www.shiningfromwithin.wordpress.com Julie @ Shining From Within

    Great post! You’re an inspiration.

  • http://www.anna-walker.blogspot.com Anna Walker

    I’m not nearly to the point where I could do a half-marathon, but I hope to get there eventually. Thanks for these tips; I’ll definitely try to use them!

  • http://www.singlegirlinethiopia.com the MRS.

    Good work!!! My COOK BOOK CAME!!!! Im posting about it tomorrow. I am so excited.

  • http://www.curvaciouslyfierce.com Sandra

    Hi Emmie!!!!

    Wow!!! That is what I said when I found/read your blog!!! GOOO GIRL!!!!!!! I stumbled on your blog and all I have to say is I’m so proud of you!!!!
    You are doing a great job!!! I’m surely going to subscribe and watch step by step!!!

  • Jeff Harington

    Thank you very much for this! There’s some great half marathon training tips here as well, for anyone who may be interested: 
    http://www.halfmarathontrainingguide.co.uk/10-tips-for-half-marathon-trainers