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Runners taking part in a half marathon

5 things you need to know when preparing for a half marathon

Preparing for a half marathon? Many runners say it’s their favourite distance. Long enough to be a challenge, yet with less commitment than the full 26 miles, half marathons bring the sense of excitement and achievement but with fewer risks. And the medal’s nice, too. 

Despite this, you shouldn’t sign up to a half marathon lightly. Running a half marathon is a big challenge, and it requires significant preparation. Taking on too much too fast will undoubtedly lead to injuries – and the potential of having to drop out. So, as someone who ran their first half marathon a few years back, here are the things I wish I had known.

1. Shoes matter

Guess who ran a half marathon in trainers a size too small? Guilty. I lost several toenails and bled through my socks.

If you’re already a keen runner, then you probably know that shoes matter. I, however, signed up for a half marathon with little experience, so I didn’t know about the variation when it comes to running shoes. I wandered into a shop, bought a nice blue pair, and assumed they’d do the job. They really didn’t (looked nice, though).

When it comes to running shoes, experts know best. Most running shops offer a service where they examine your running technique and assess your gait. They’ll then use the results to recommend certain trainers: looking at ankle support, midsole cushioning and injury prevention. But what if a gait analysis isn’t an option? Your best bet is to buy a few pairs and try them out at home before running outdoors.

Still got questions? I’m a huge fan of Emma Kirk Odunubi’s Instagram, where she regularly displays her wealth of knowledge on all things related to running footwear.

2. Planning is important

I am not a planning person. When I trained for my first half marathon, I would lace up my shoes and hit the streets without knowing where I was going or how far I intended to run. Yes, I crossed the finish line, but it was clear I could have benefited from a more strategic plan.

Now that I’m older, wiser and creakier, I can see that training plans are essential when it comes to preparing for a half marathon. A training plan eases you in gently and ensures your body is ready for the distances you’re running. It also helps prevent injuries and schedules rest and recovery days.

So, whether you want to write up your own half marathon training plan or use someone else’s (here’s ours), take the time to work out when you’ll be running and how far you want to go. It’ll put you in the best possible position for race day.

3. You need to train your brain

When you’re preparing for your first half marathon, people will constantly give you fitness tips. “Train on hills”, “breathe through the stitch”, “use downhill for recovery”. What they won’t tell you is the muscle you need to train the hardest is actually your brain.

When it comes to long distance running, mentality is everything. Some days, your mind simply won’t play ball. It will constantly tell you to stop, that you’ve had enough for the day, and that you can’t do this. But it’s lying. You can!

I learnt early on in my half marathon preparation that my mindset makes a big difference. My best runs happened either when I was angry or when I was relaxed. And, even now, if I’m stressed about work or worrying about time, my brain will try to make me stop. I have to train it to keep going and push through the urge to quit. But how do you do that?

Everyone has their own methods. I find that distraction works well, whether it’s listening to upbeat music, a podcast, or even talking on the phone (for slow recovery runs only!) I also enjoy Nike run club’s audio guided runs, which offer a nice balance of conversation, mindfulness and motivation. 

4. Stretch, stretch and stretch some more

Most inexperienced runners will stretch for less than a minute and bounce out the door. After reading this article, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that I was one of them. I actually forgot to stretch half the time, and it’s no wonder I spent the months preparing for my half marathon wincing when I walked down the stairs.

Stretching is something that people don’t talk about enough. A stretching session can be the difference between a good run and a bad one, a healthy muscle or a pulled one. It’s extremely important when it comes to running because it warms up our bodies, keeps them flexible and maintains motion in the joints. 

So, here’s my advice. Think about the amount of time you’d naturally spend stretching and double it. Then double that. A pre-run stretching session should last at least 10-15 minutes, with varied movements that work all areas of the body. We’re talking arms, legs, shoulders, ankles – and even the toes. Your post-run stretching doesn’t need to take as long, but you should still give it plenty of attention. Focus on your quadriceps, hip flexors, hamstrings and calf muscles, and use a foam roller to really focus on those pressure points. You can thank me later.

5. It will be hard

Running 13.1 miles is hard, fact. Sorry if you thought it would be easy – but it isn’t. I was at the peak of my physical fitness when I ran my first half marathon, but I still found it harder than I could possibly imagine.

I don’t say this to put you off. I say it because nobody told me how difficult it would be. I saw loads of my friends running half marathons and thought – hey that looks fun, why don’t I give it a try? But when I reached the 10 mile mark and realised there were still 3 miles to go, I hated each and every one of them with every fibre of my being.

I’ll say it again: I don’t say this to put you off. I say it so you’re aware. Half marathons are popular because they’re hard. If you can say you’ve run a half marathon you’re awesome. You overcame a difficult hurdle and you crossed the finish line. So don’t turn back now. Embrace the challenge and do the hard thing.


What do you wish you’d been told before your first half marathon? Let us know in the comments below!

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Briony is a writer currently living in London. While she spends a lot of time hunched over a desk trying to craft sentences, her other passion is running. She enjoys setting her own goals and is currently training for her second half marathon.

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Irun 2much

Nice article and fun approach. Thanks for providing some good gateway info into running obsession propaganda. Pump the brakes on the pre-run stretching tho

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/ask-the-doctor-stretching-before-exercise

http://www.bu.edu/articles/2015/stretch-before-exercise-not-so-fast/

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