Choosing Your First Half Marathon
Depending on how much you run, it's a good idea to plan for a half marathon that is at least several months away. Pick an event that is held in a popular location, over a flat course. Many half marathons are held on the same day as a full marathon. Some fun races are the Disney Half Marathon in Orlando, Florida, and the La Jolla Half Marathon in San Diego, California.
Choosing a half marathon that is months away will give you plenty of time to gradually increase your distance, and build stamina and the mental toughness you'll need to complete the race. It will also allow for events that get in the way of your training, like recovering from a cold or going out of town on business.
In addition to your training, don't forget to think about getting there. If you're traveling out of town, try to find a hotel or stay at a friend's house that is reasonably close to the starting line. Investigate transportation options and rehearse getting to the race the night before. Don't forget to think about your diet the night before and the morning of the race. The last thing you'll want to have to do is settle for an Egg McMuffin because you couldn't find a grocery store.
The Physical Training
The most difficult and time-consuming part of running a half marathon is going through the physical training. Half marathons are 13.1 miles, so depending on how fast you run, you could be on the road for over two hours.
Begin by building a solid base. If you routinely run several miles a day, three or four days a week, gradually increase your daily distance about 10 to 20 percent a week until two weeks before race day. Reserve one day a week for either hill runs or longer distance runs. For instance, if you're currently running 3 miles a day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, start increasing your distance or running time each time you go out. Add and extra half mile or 10 to 15 minutes to each run. On Saturday mornings, add an extra mile or two to your workout. On alternating Saturdays, dial back your distance and focus on running hills or integrating short sprints into your run.
Two weeks before the event, complete a 10- or 12-mile run. It will finish off your training program and give you the mental boost you need to convince you that you can successfully complete the distance.
Add at least two days of weight training to your training regimen. Work with a trainer at your gym to work on all of the major muscles--not just your legs. Most people who run their first long-distance race are amazed how much effort it takes to hold their arms up over a long course.
Stay flexible by stretching every day. Keep your muscles supple by working on the hamstrings, quadriceps, core muscles and upper extremities. Schedule a complete body massage several times during your training. Massage helps to remove toxins from your body and keeps your muscles supple and powerful.
Developing Mental Stamina
The first time you run a half marathon, your biggest challenge may not be the course. Instead, your mind will start reminding you around mile 8 how tired you are and that "it's a good time to quit, now."
To counter the mental obstacles you're likely to incur, use your longer training runs as an opportunity to build mental stamina. When your legs start to fatigue, remind yourself that the finish line is just around the next corner. The more frequently you successfully counter negative messages, the easier it will be to extend your distance and stay focused on your goal.
A Word About Diet
There are dozens of crazy approaches on what to eat in preparation for a long-distance foot race. Avoid them. Stay away from carbohydrate loading/depletion and all of the guarantees popularized in fitness magazines. Eat a well-balanced diet that emphasizes complex carbohydrates as well as fats and proteins. Stick with what you know works and continue eating the food you enjoy and can safely digest.