Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Half Marathon Training for Dummies

In 2012, I ran my first ever half marathon - the Great North Run to be exact. I enjoyed the event so much, I signed up for two more half marathons in 2013 and after nursing a knee injury, I have signed up for my 4th half marathon this year. If we rewind to my school days, you will see a chubby, bookish child who hated P.E. I was terrible at sports, always picked last for teams, picked on for throwing like a girl and despised by my sports teachers. I hated hockey because my gum guard made me retch, I hated netball because I was put on the E Team (not the B Team....the E Team...) and one time, I was made to do the High Jump at sports day. I'm 5 foot all ended in tears and with a large bruise on my bottom. Most of all, I hated running. It made me feel sick, and it was so tiring. I was considerably slower than everyone else in my class, and I didn't like the way it made my chest burn on a cold day.

The point I'm trying to make is, I am not a good runner. I don't always enjoy my training runs, and I spend more time putting off going on a run than I do running, but something keeps me signing up for these events. If you're a novice runner who's looking to enter your first event, it doesn't have to be a half marathon - it could be a 5k, a 10k....anything, you might appreciate some advice from someone who is far from superhuman!


1. Stop putting it off

Go on a really short, slow, easy run for your very first time. No expectations, just enjoy it. You don't want to put yourself off running at the very start. Don't start running on Monday, don't wait to get all nice, new running kit that you can use for mirror selfies to put on Instagram. Just go now. As long as you actually have trainers (and a sports bra, girls), just do it. Now! It definitely won't be as bad as you've built it up to be, and you'll feel really good afterwards.

2. Add on a little each week

I tend to aim for 3 runs a week, one of those will be a 'long run' and the other two are shorter. When I say 'long run' I mean the furthest I've gone during that training period. An example of my training schedule would be as such:

Week One: 3 miles, 2 miles, 1 mile
Week Two: 4 miles, 2 miles, 2 miles
Week Three: 5 miles, 3 miles, 2 miles
Week Four: 6 miles, 4 miles, 2 miles
Week Five: 7 miles....etc etc.

Psychologically, I'm running half a mile further one way and half a mile further back each week. What's half a mile? For me, that's about 5-6 minutes of running, but it depends on how fast you are.  Before you know it,  you'll be clocking up quite a lot of miles. On my shorter runs, I try and get a slightly faster pace, or go on a route that I know is hilly, or challenging in another way.

3. There is no shame in walking


I remember, when I trained for my first half marathon, I used to hate myself for stopping and I gave myself a really hard time about it, but when I actually did the Great North Run, loads of people walked, and they started walking quite early on. At the end of the day, you've still gone on a run, so who cares if you stopped to catch your breath? Enjoy the view and the fresh air, we only live once after all.

4. You will have tough days

For some reason, I always get days where I feel like I'm running through treacle. My legs aren't in it, my head isn't in it. Everything just goes wrong. Don't worry about it - take a little break if you need to. When I was training last year, I got so bogged down with my own expectations, I stopped enjoying running. I took some time off, and when I felt ready I did a 10k....I felt like I was flying, it was amazing, and I got such a good time. We're not professional athletes, don't get stressed out if you do a disappointing time, or if you get tired quicker than doesn't matter, and no one is going to judge you!

5. Give yourself a lot of time to train

Designing and making a beautiful training schedule is all well and good, but sometimes life happens, which means that you might not be able to train when you are supposed to. I pretty much always get ill when I am training, I have no idea why. While I'm not saying running makes you ill, you will need to take into account the fact you will probably need to take a couple of days off here and there. Oh, and never try and fool yourself that you're going to go on a run the day after you've had a night out. It is not going happen.

6. You're capable of more than you think you are

Your brain will give up hours before your body does. I usually want to pack up, go home and have a packet of crisps about 10 minutes into a run. But, I know for a fact I could go further than 13 miles because no one has ever to pick me up and carry me over the finish line. I've heard so many people say 'I can't even run a mile'. Unless you have a heart condition, or asthma, you probably can run a mile...even if you do it really slowly. The only reason a healthy person can't run a mile is because they don't want to run a mile. Once you've got that first mile...the others will come easier than you think.

Et voilà....half marathon training for dummies. I think mere mortals get put off by the fact we look up to fitness gods and godesses, who always show off the results of their hard work, but fail to mention the psychological battle that can make a lot of people give in. The only person you have to compare yourself to is you, it doesn't matter that you're not quite as fast as Mo Farah, as long as you're out there having fun and getting fitter, that's all that matters. Running is hard, it's uncomfortable on hot days and it makes your legs hurt, but doing a half marathon was honestly the best thing I ever did. I sustained a knee injury 4 miles into my last event and ran the next 9 miles in tears and I am still hungry for more. The atmosphere and camaraderie is incredible, the sense of achievement and the fact you can eat guilt-free afterwards is even better.


  1. these are great tips, I'm definitely no runner and have always hated running more than any other exercise which is a shame because the health benefits are amazing! Tip 2 is perfect, rather than expect too much in the beginning it makes sense to add more on each week and gain strength gradually. Good luck with your half marathon! x

    1. Yeah, I found that's worked out really well so far. Thanks so much!

  2. I love to run, it is far from easy though. I did the Leeds half marathon last month and really enjoyed it. I'd love to do the Great North run but there are only charity places left for this year so hopefully there will be another local half soon!

    Great post :)

    Keli |

    1. I ran for Guide Dogs last year, and it was really good. I think I only had to raise £300 so it wasn't that bad! I know it's not really local if you're in the North, but the Great Birmingham Run is in isn't as well known, so you might be able to get a place in that one.


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