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Running novice? Try a half marathon for beginners

From my experience as a trainer, I have seen how important it is to have a goal, because you’re more likely to stick at it (and enjoy it) if you have a reason to keep going. You may find your inspiration comes from beating a set time or distance, but it’s a good idea to enter an event to focus your motivation.

There are plenty of races geared at every level of competitor. Completing a half-marathon is the ideal target for many reasons. At 21km (13.1 miles), it is a true endurance challenge that requires thorough preparation and a sound training programme to ensure you are ready to push your body for the two hours or longer it often takes beginners to complete the distance. It’s no light undertaking, but neither does it require the time-sapping dedication needed to prepare for a marathon.

Rest days improve your performance

Half-marathon events have never been so popular. Mass runs such as the Great North Run, the biggest half-marathon in the world, with more than 57,000 entrants, are attracting unprecedented numbers. In a 2015 report on running trends by Running USA, the half-marathon was listed as the fastest-growing event in terms of popularity, with 61 per cent of the runners completing the distance being women. With guidance and the right training, anyone can do it.

What to expect during my three-month training programme

My 12-week training programme is tailored to beginners as well as first-time half-marathon runners who have a basic level of fitness. Every week you will do one steady run (which starts at 25 minutes in week one) that is at a pace faster than a jog, but should still feel comfortable. If you’re fairly fit, but don’t run, you may find the first couple of runs difficult. If that’s the case, don’t be disheartened. Don’t stop completely, just change to a brisk walk, then run again when you can — or try a walking break mid-run for 2-3 minutes to recover a bit, then start running again.

By week two/three you should be able to run the full distance specified in the programme without any trouble. If you are someone who does very little exercise, take a month before you start the programme and do lots of walking, building up to gentle runs.

Every week you will do one session of interval training, which is repeated bursts of fast running interspersed with gentle bouts of recovery. This style of training will build up your speed. You will also do tempo training every week, which is continuous running at a faster, but sustainable pace (ie doing five minutes at a moderate pace, then eight minutes at a faster pace, then five minutes at a moderate pace, etc) and that builds endurance.

Why you should back up your running with resistance training

You will find longer distances easier if you incorporate some basic resistance training alongside your running to strengthen your legs and core. Having a strong core will help you to maintain a good running technique. When people get tired during a run, the first thing that suffers is technique — and a poor technique can lead to injury.

Post-exercise stretching is particularly important

Building up strength in your legs is of course important for speed and endurance. Do the seven exercises in the resistance circuit on the next page twice a week (two sets each time) — it won’t take more than 20 minutes. I have built in one rest day a week, too. Not taking a rest day is one of the most common mistakes that people make. Every time that you train, whether you are doing strength or cardiovascular work, you are building strength by causing tiny amounts of damage to the fibres of your muscles. During rest, muscles and tissues are rejuvenated and new cells are generated — so your muscles end up stronger than before. If you do not allow your body time to repair, you will make slower progress.

Rest days improve your performance, as a 2013 study at the University of Stirling found. Researchers showed that cyclists who incorporated regular rest days into their programmes had double improvement in power and performance compared with those who neglected recovery. The rest day in my programme can be swapped with one of your resistance days if that suits you better.

What to eat to boost your performance

By week three you’ll notice your body becoming leaner and stronger. As training gets harder, you will need to fuel your body adequately. In recent years there has been a trend for eating more protein and fewer carbohydrates. However, you will need to increase your carbohydrate intake because endurance training depletes your glycogen stores, which carbohydrates top up. People “hit the wall” when running long distances, because their glycogen levels are too low. Every day (apart from rest days), eat healthy carbs (such as sweet potatoes, wholewheat pasta, quinoa, brown rice) and protein, to help your muscles to repair.

After week five, you will need to eat more, and may need to eat before a run. Many long-distance runners find a bowl of porridge consumed two to three hours before a long run is ideal.

You will lose fluid with all the running you are doing, which needs to be replenished. Aim to drink 2.5 litres of water or other fluids (you can include tea and coffee in this) every day, increasing that to 3 litres on hard running days. You need to drink about half a litre of water every hour when running — so if you drink 500ml in the hour before a longer run, you shouldn’t need to drink during it. Once your runs get longer than 60 to 90 minutes, you will need to drink on the run and should try a sports drink to top up your glycogen stores. After you finish, eat a balanced meal with protein, carbohydrates and good fats, such as avocado, salmon, nuts or yoghurt, to replenish the fluid and salts lost in sweat.

Why you need to warm up before your run

Do a gentle stretching programme before and after each run. It should take no longer than ten minutes and should include stretches for the hamstrings, glutes, calf muscles, quads and back. Post-exercise stretching is particularly important, because running — like other forms of exercise — can cause your muscles to contract and shorten, temporarily reducing flexibility.

Muscles are warm and responsive after a run and stretching will help to disperse the lactic acid that has built up, as well as reducing your risk of injury.

Week 1

Monday: Resistance workout

Tuesday: 25 min gentle, steady run (interspersed with short periods of walking if needed)

Wednesday: 5 min warm-up jog; 8 x 60 sec at a brisk pace, each burst of speed followed by 60 sec jog; 5 min cool-down jog

Thursday: Resistance workout

Friday: 5 min easy jog; 12 min faster pace; 5 min cool-down jog

Saturday: Rest

Sunday: 30 min slow run

Week 2

Monday: Resistance workout

Tuesday: 25 min gentle, steady run

Wednesday: 5 min warm-up jog; 6 x 90 sec at a brisk pace, each burst of speed followed by 60 sec jog; 5 min cool-down jog

Thursday: Resistance workout

Friday: 5 min easy run; 8 min faster; 5 min easy; 8 min faster; 5 min cool-down jog

Saturday: Rest

Sunday: 40 min slow run

Week 3

Monday: Resistance workout

Tuesday: 30 min gentle, steady run

Wednesday: 5 min warm-up jog; 8 x 90 sec at a brisk pace, each burst of speed followed by 60 sec jog; 5 min cool-down jog

Thursday: Rest

Friday: 5 min easy run; 8 min faster; 5 min easy; 8 min faster; 5 min cool-down jog

Saturday: Resistance workout

Sunday: 50 min slow run

Week 4

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: 30 min steady run

Wednesday: 10 min warm-up jog; 5 x 30 sec sprint; 30 sec jog; 10 min cool-down jog

Thursday: Resistance workout

Friday: 5 min easy run; 8 min faster; 5 min easy; 8 min faster; 5 min cool-down jog

Saturday: Resistance workout

Sunday: 1 hour slow run

Week 5

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: 35 min steady run

Wednesday: 5 min warm-up jog; 8 x 90 sec brisk pace, each burst of speed followed by 90 sec jog; 5 min cool-down jog

Thursday: Resistance workout

Friday: 5 min easy pace; 12 min faster pace; 5 min easy; 12 min faster; 5 min cool-down jog

Saturday: Resistance workout

Sunday: 1 hour 10 min slow run

Week 6

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: 40 min steady run

Wednesday: 10 min warm-up jog; 6 x 200m uphill, each hill run followed with a jog back down to recover; 10 min cool-down jog

Thursday: Resistance workout

Friday: 5 min easy pace; 15 min faster pace; 5 min easy; 15 min faster; 5 min cool-down jog

Saturday: Resistance workout

Sunday: 1 hour 20 min slow run

Week 7

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: 45 min steady run

Wednesday: 5 min warm-up jog, 8 x 2 min brisk pace; each burst of speed followed by 60 sec jog recovery; 5 min cool-down jog

Thursday: Resistance workout

Friday: 40 min steady run; 5 min cool-down jog to finish

Saturday: Resistance workout

Sunday: 1 hour 30 min slow run

Week 8

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: 50 min steady run

Wednesday: 10 min warm-up jog; 10 x 30 sec sprint; each burst of speed followed by 30 sec jog; 10 min cool-down jog

Thursday: Resistance workout

Friday: 30 min steady run

Saturday: Resistance workout

Sunday: 10km at a fast pace

Week 9

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: 55 min steady run

Wednesday: 5 min warm-up jog; 6 x 3 min at a brisk pace, each burst of speed followed by 1 min jog; 5 min cool-down jog

Thursday: Resistance workout

Friday: 5 min easy pace; 18 min faster pace; 5 min easy; 18 min faster; 5 min cool-down jog Saturday Resistance workout

Sunday: 1 hour 40 min slow run (aim for around 14-16km)

Week 10

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: 60 min steady run

Wednesday: 10 min warm-up; 8 x 200m uphill with a jog back down to recover; 10 min cool-down jog

Thursday: Resistance workout

Friday: 5 min easy pace; 20 min faster pace; 5 min easy; 20 min faster; 5 min cool-down jog

Saturday: Resistance workout

Sunday: 1 hour 50 min slow run (aim for 17-19km)

Week 11

Monday: Resistance workout

Tuesday: 50 min steady run

Wednesday: 5 min warm-up jog; 10 x 90 sec fast, each burst of speed followed by 30 sec jog recovery; 5 min jog cool-down

Thursday: Resistance workout

Friday: 5 min easy pace; 15 min faster pace; 5 min easy; 15 min faster; 5 min cool-down jog

Saturday: Rest

Sunday: 1 hour 15 min slow run (aim for 10-12km)

Week 12

Monday: Resistance workout

Tuesday: 30 min steady run

Wednesday: 10 min warm-up jog; 5 x 30 sec fast, each burst of speed followed by 30 sec jog; 10 min cool-down jog

Thursday: Resistance workout

Friday: 20 min jog

Saturday: Rest

Sunday: Race day
How has this regime been for you? Have any you’d like to recommend yourself? Get in touch!!

If you are still looking for the right gear for training, running, in a marathon you can check out this wonderful a long list of running gifts in this article by Look What’s Cool.

 

– M
team@ijustbiked.com