The half-marathon is trending as the fastest growing race distance. Stepping up to the 13.1-mile distance for the first time is a major challenge. To ensure you’re ready for your first half-marathon, make sure you’re saying yes to the following questions before making the commitment.
DO YOU HAVE A SOLID MILEAGE BASE?
While you don’t have to be running 10 miles, you should have a solid mileage base that lays the foundation for completing 13 miles without too much suffering. If you’re new to running or haven’t run long distances, aim to run consistently for about six months before registering for the 13.1-mile distance.
This allows your body to adapt to the movement and pounding, which can help you avoid unnecessary injury that’s common when you increase your mileage too quickly. Once you’re running at least 3–4 days per week and can run for about an hour at a time without too much difficulty, beginning to train for the half-marathon distance should be reasonable.
DO YOU HAVE ENOUGH TIME TO TRAIN?
Stepping up to longer distances increases your time commitment. While the number of training sessions may not necessarily change, the length of your runs will. This may eat into the time you spend with your family on the weekends, require you to wake up earlier each morning and may influence how busy your overall schedule is.
For this reason, it’s good to take an honest look at your schedule and decide where running is on your priority list. If you can make the commitment to the extra time for proper training and recovery (stretching, icing and getting enough sleep), you’re probably ready to give it a shot.
ARE YOU INJURY FREE?
There’s no doubt running is good for your body and beneficial to your overall health. That said, running stresses on your joints — particularly your hips, knees and ankles. While a previous injury history in your lower extremities doesn’t mean a half-marathon is impossible, it should be factored into your training.
If you currently have pain or sore joints during training, deciding to run even further may put you more at risk. We recommend consulting a sports medicine doctor or a physical therapist to discuss your injury history before deciding to register.
DO YOU HAVE RACING EXPERIENCE?
Running 13.1 miles is one thing. Running that distance in a competitive atmosphere when your body is full of nerves and adrenaline is another. If a half-marathon is the first road race you’ve ever signed up for, the unusual atmosphere filled with loud music, spectators and thousands of other competitors can throw your pace off and create much more stress than you’re used to dealing with.
Consider easing into a few shorter distance races first by running a few 5K or 10K events while you’re training for the half to help you mentally prepare for a racing atmosphere. It also allows you to figure out which gear works best for you, get your pre-race routines down and decide on a race-day nutrition plan. Ironing out all these things prior to your half-marathon helps you minimize stress and feel more prepared for the big day.
HAVE YOU CREATED A SOLID TRAINING PLAN?
Preparing properly for a half-marathon takes a lot more than just getting out the door and running. In addition to increasing your current mileage correctly (no more than 10% per week), you’ll also need to take into account things like terrain and the weather you’ll face on race day. If you mostly run on flat roads but have signed up for a hilly race, you could be in for a few unpleasant surprises on race day.
Because of this, match your training to the race you’ve signed up for. If your race has a lot of elevation gain, you’ll need to run hill intervals, for instance. Give yourself plenty of time to ramp up your training (usually 12–16 weeks, depending on your fitness) and try to find an event that matches the style of running you’re best suited to.
ARE YOU MOTIVATED?
Once you start running longer distances, you’ll find out just how big a mental challenge it can be. If you find the 10K distance boring or hard to get through, the half-marathon will be twice as tough to deal with — especially during training when you may be logging long miles alone.
Having the proper motivation before deciding to step up can be a good way of determining if you’re ready. Whether the shorter distances have become easier, you have a charity you’re running for or you just want the challenge of pushing yourself to a new limit, decide why you want to run a half-marathon and keep this in mind for those times during your training when your motivation to run starts to wane.
ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS REASONABLE?
Setting time goals for your first crack at a longer distance can force you to go out too fast and cause you to bonk in the second half of the race — putting your prospects of finishing in doubt. And, worse, discouraging you from doing this again. Instead, have reasonable expectations for your first half-marathon. Your primary goal should be to finish. Listen to how your body feels, adjust your pace if necessary, and take walking breaks if you need them. Once you have a few under your belt, you can set time goals and adjust your training accordingly.