Talking to someone yesterday about training for their first half marathon, I realized that there are some small things a beginning runner may not realize when starting to train for their first big race. Here's just a few things that I find helpful when maintaining or getting to a point where I'm ready to train for something big.
Strive for consistency over distance.
Logging a consistent number of short runs is more helpful than a smaller number of long runs. In a week, five days of 2 mile runs is worth *a lot* more than two days of 5 mile runs. This is especially true when you're just starting out. The goal is to get your body used to running, so more exposure in short bursts is way more beneficial than hitting any distance goal.
Early on, count your effort in minutes, not distance.
Depending on the day, a two mile run can take anywhere from fifteen minutes to a half hour. A slow day, especially early in training, can be disheartening. On the other hand, a stopwatch doesn't care how far you go. If you're able to finish 30 minutes of running, five days a week, you'll be in great shape when you start ramping up for longer distances later in the training schedule. This also means that you'll already be taking advantage of the next point, running farther on good days and not so far on bad days.
When you feel like running faster, run faster.
Don't worry that you won't be able to keep it up for longer than two minutes. If you feel energetic, go for it! Run faster until you're tired of running fast, then jog or walk until the end of the time you've set out. Sure, your pace will be all over the place. That's kind of the point. It's early still, you just started training. It's hard to figure out what your pace should be if you don't know how fast you can go.
The last 3 weeks of training are the most important.
If you're following a schedule to get yourself in shape for a race, it's ok to futz around with the first half of planning, as long as you're logging time consistently. If you need to add some extra weeks or take them out, the first or middle half is when you're going to want to do it. The last month or so on the schedule will usually include some of the longest runs, followed by a week or two of tapering. These are the most important weeks to follow to the letter. The build up gets your body exhausted and the tapering gives it a chance to recover. Recover too much and you'll start to lose stamina. Don't take enough rest and you'll be feeling that last long training run during the race. Three weeks out is the time to be settling into a pace, pushing hard to get some good last long runs in and then relaxing before the big day.
What you eat matters.
Getting hungry after a big workout means that your body needs nutrients to replace the ones that you just sweated out. I often find myself craving fruit juice, almond milk, rice and beans, kale, chips and salsa -- basically anything vegan GF. (And a steak on Sundays!) In my experience, sugar is the biggest destroyer of my ability to run well the next day, but maybe your mileage will vary.
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