Couch to Half Marathon Training
With the ever-increasing popularity of half marathons, many people are deciding to run one for the first time. In fact, according to data compiled by RunningUSA, there were over 2 million half marathon finishers in 2015, which is an all-time high. With new races popping up every year across the country to reflect this trend, it has never been easier to find a race. If half marathons are the new 5k, why not commit to a couch to half marathon training program?
Before you Begin
See a Doctor
Before you decide to start training seriously for a half marathon, there are a number of considerations that first must be made. Schedule an appointment with your family doctor and ask him or her whether you are healthy enough to begin training for a 13.1 mile race. Underlying medical conditions, such as heart abnormalities, can make regular running dangerous if not detected.
Get Fitted for Shoes
If your doctor gives the okay for regular exercise, the next step is to get fitted for proper running shoes. The right pair of shoes can be the difference between running comfortably and developing painful conditions such as shin splints, stress fractures, and other injuries. To get fitted for a shoe, go to your local running store and ask for a gait analysis. The running store staff will fit you in the best shoe for your needs.
Choose your Race
The next step is to choose your goal race. When starting a couch to half marathon training program, a minimum of 3 months is recommended in order to finish the race without injury. When choosing the right race, consider variables such as weather, cost of entry, travel cost, number of participants in the race, whether you know anyone in the area, and whether there are any post-race attractions you would be interested in seeing. Combining races and vacation is a popular trend right now, and many websites can help you plan your “runcation.” Look for online reviews about the races you are considering, as well.
Once you have determined which race you plan to run, the next step is to set goals. Finding the motivation to consistently train can be difficult, but having a solid set of goals will make getting out of the door in the morning easier. When setting goals, be as specific as possible. Having the goal of getting healthy is far vaguer than saying “I want to lose 10 lbs in three months.” Additionally, saying “My goal is to finish the race” may not be as motivating as “My goal is to finish the race without walking.” Be sure to have multiple goals that reflect different aspects of the couch to 5k journey, such as ones that are health related (“I want to lose 10 lbs”), fitness related (“I want to run 13.1 miles without walking”), and race related (“I want to finish in the top 50%”).
Couch to Half Marathon Training Phases
This couch to half marathon training plan consists of 4 phases that are designed to get you to your goal without injury or frustration.
Phase One: Build Endurance
When starting your couch to half marathon training (or any other distance) running program, the most important aspect is to not start out by running too much, too soon. For the first month of training you should slowly ease yourself into running with a run-walk-run program. Not only does this method condition your cardiovascular system without adding too much stress, but run-walk-runners suffer fewer overuse injuries.
Your first week of training will be focused on getting out the door and moving. During this week, you should aim to run 3 days, for instance Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Each day your workout will total 30:00. On days 1 and 2, you will alternate running for 2:00 (two minutes) and walking for 1:00 (one minute) until you complete this pattern 10 times. On day 3 you can increase the time spent running to 2:15 and decrease the time spent walking to 45 seconds.
During week two of the couch to half marathon training you will increase the amount of time spent running. On days 1 and 2, alternate running for 4:00 with walking for 1:00 a total of six times. On day 3 increase the running time to 5:00 and decrease the walking time to 1:00, but only repeat this pattern five times. If you really want to challenge yourself, add an extra day of running this week and try to run 10:00 without stopping.
At the start of week 3, take a moment to assess your progress. In two weeks, a lot can change within a body. Take note of how you feel, where you were two weeks ago, where you are now, and where you hope to be in another two weeks. This week you will again increase the time spent running and add in a permanent 4th day of training. On days 1 and 2 of week 3, alternate running for 9:00 and walking for 1:00, three times. On day 3, run 14:00 and walk 1:00 two times. On day 4, run 20:00 straight. Be sure to congratulate yourself for a job well done afterwards!
This will be the first week that you will focus on running continuously, and your plans will begin to have more flexibility. You will again run four days week. On days 1 and 2, run for 25:00 continuously. Do not fret if you have to take a walk break, but try to keep breaks to a minimum and only walk as long as is necessary until you feel you can start running again. On days 3 and 4, aim to run 30:00 without walking. Reward yourself at the end of a month with a special indulgence or treat, as you have just completed the hardest part of your training: getting started and forming a routine!
Phase Two: Build Strength
Now that you have developed the ability to run for extended periods of time, your couch to half marathon training should focus towards building the strength required to sustain running. Your half marathon will likely last anywhere from 2 – 5 hours, so it is important to begin increasing the amount of time spent on your feet. This month, weekly long runs will be added to the schedule.
During this week, plan to complete four runs, in any order: two runs totaling 30:00, one run totaling 35:00, and a long run of 40:00. Be sure to listen to your body during your long run and slow down as necessary. In order to finish the run feeling strong, do not forget to start out conservatively.
This week, you will add a fifth day of running to your schedule in order to further increase your strength. Your long run will increase to 50:00 and you should do two 35:00 runs, a 40:00 run, and your fifth day will be a light 20:00 jog.
Following the same pattern as the previous weeks, you will again increase your long run by 10:00 (for a total of 60:00) and continue gradually increasing the amount of time spent running on subsequent days. Plan to run two 40:00 runs, a 45:00 run, and complete an easy 25:00 jog.
At the start of this week of couch to half marathon training you should again take stock of how far you have come in just 7 weeks. From sitting on the couch to completing long runs, you should feel great about yourself and your goals! This week, add another ten minutes to your long run (for a total of seventy minutes), and plan two 45:00 runs, a 50:00 run, and a light 30:00 run.
Phase Three: Build Speed
During the previous 8 weeks you have worked on being able to run without stopping and have built up your endurance to the point of being able to run for a very long time. This month you will work on improving your speed, which will help you be a more efficient runner. You will also continue to increase the length of your long run for three more weeks.
Besides your long run, the length of your other runs will not change this week. Your long run should be increased to eighty minutes. During one of your 45:00 runs, do the following workout: warm up for 10:00, then alternate running hard and running easy for 2:00 and 1:00, respectively for a total of 30:00. Run a 5:00 cool down. On your easy jog day, do “strides” afterwards. Find a flat, open area and sprint with good form for 30 – 40 seconds. Repeat five more times. Feel free to run your long run and hard workout (also known as a “fartlek”) on any days during the week, but do not run them back-to-back.
This week your long run will again increase, this time to ninety minutes. For your other running days, you should do a 45:00 run, a 50:00 run, a 30:00 run with strides, as well as a tempo run. For the tempo, you will start with a 10:00 warm up and then run 4 miles 10-20 seconds faster per mile than you typically run. For instance, if you normally run 10:00 per mile, aim to run 9:40 or 9:50 pace. Follow your tempo with a 10:00 cool down.
This week will be your longest long run before you begin to cut back. Your long run should last 1:40:00. During this run it is a good idea to practice taking any nutritional items you may be planning to use during the race (more on that below). Besides the long run, you will also do a 50:00 run, a 55:00 run, and again a 30:00 run with strides. You will also complete an interval workout of mile repeats this week. This workout will be like the tempo, where you will strive to run a set distance but at a faster pace than normal. After a 10:00 warm up, run a mile at a pace 10 – 15 seconds faster than the previous week’s tempo. If you averaged 9:40 pace for the tempo, plan to run 9:25 during the mile. Repeat this mile 3 more times and try to remain as consistent as possible. In between miles, rest for 3:00. Follow with a 10:00 cool down.
Your long run will drastically decrease this week, and you will “only” run sixty minutes (take a second to think back to 11 weeks ago and how you would have thought about the prospect of running for “only” for an hour!). The rest of the week’s runs will be the same as the previous week, but for the workout you will do “cruise intervals.” During a 50:00 run alternate running your normal pace for 9:00, and as fast as you comfortably can for 1:00.
Phase Four: Taper
At this stage of your couch to half marathon training, you should be approximately a week away from your goal race. Only plan to run two days this week in addition to your race. One run should be 30:00 long and the other only 15:00. At this stage, your focus should be rest, recovery, and saving your energy for the half marathon!
A Note on Nutrition
During the half marathon you will need to take in a source of carbohydrates throughout the race to avoid “hitting the wall.” As a general rule of thumb, you should consume 20 – 60 g of carbs per hour of exercise for any activity lasting more than 75 minutes. During your race you can carry gels, gummies, or energy bars; however, gels are the most convenient and easily digested source of fuel. Never try anything new on race day and be sure to practice during your long runs with any item you plan to use during the race. Whenever you take a gel or other carbohydrate source you should always follow up your consumption with water. Before race day, take a look at where water stops are located on the course and plan accordingly. Runners typically find that taking a gel every 45 minutes is ideal. Also find out whether the race will have Gatorade, Powerade, or another electrolyte drink. It is a good idea to practice with whatever will be available.
We would love to hear what you have to say about the couch to half marathon training plan. Please leave your comments below or join the discussion on Facebook
About the author:
Anna Weber is an elite marathoner racing for women’s clothing apparel company Oiselle. In 2015 she opted to take a leave of absence from graduate school to focus solely on training. She competed in the Olympic Trials in February, placing 56th. To follow more of her story, visit www.gobigorgohome2016.tumblr.com