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Half Marathon training

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So I can tick another event off my bucket list, the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon. As someone who’s more into sports like tennis and surfing, I never thought I would enter such an event. This half marathon training and participating helped me become more acutely aware of the strains runners place their bodies under during distance running.

I felt compelled to enter a half marathon for a number of reasons. Many of my patients here at The Physicaltherapy Centre are runners and have participated in events that range from fun runs like the City 2 Surf through to half and full marathons, and even the more death-wish inspired events like Ironman and the North Face 100. Entering and training for a half marathon would bring me closer to understanding the physical challenges and potential injuries runners subject themselves too. If I’m being honest with myself though, the real reason for my participation was to beat someone.

This certain individual stated that running your first half marathon
in under 100 minutes was an impressive achievement. As a competitive
individual, and one who probably has an inflated opinion of his physical
fitness, I scoffed at this. “I’m easily good for sub 95 minutes”, I
said. The look I received from my remark however, was a clear “well show
me then”.

Fortunately, with a wealth of experienced nut-case runners and
triathletes amongst my patient base, I began sourcing valuable training
tips from them. Here’s what I learnt:

What timeframe should I allow for half marathon training?

Perhaps irresponsibly, I gave myself six weeks of training before the
event. I was coming from a good fitness base from my tennis training
that involved a lot of running, albeit a very different form to road
running. The important point here was that I was used to exercising for
as long as 2.5-3hrs at a time. It is not uncommon for tennis matches and
training sessions to last as long. I was confident I could finish
21.1km in less than two hours and so I wasn’t worried about excessive
fatigue. My goal was to run as fast as I could without injuring myself
either in the lead up or the event itself.

It’s difficult to suggest a time frame for the average Joe as to how long one should allow for their half marathon training preparation. If your schedule allows however, I would recommend twelve weeks of preparation time. The basic aim in training for such an event is to familiarise your body with endurance running. For most people, three months is ample time to progress from shorter to longer runs. If you follow a properly designed training schedule, it won’t be a question of whether you finish or not, but rather a question of what time it will take you.

How often should I train?

I was recommended a three-day training schedule whereby I did one
long run per week, plus a hills session and a speed work session.

As I had only six weeks, I scheduled my long runs to start at 8km and
increase by two kilometres each week. I had to keep in mind however
that during week six I would be scaling back on the distances and
focussing just on running at race pace. I ended up doing 8km, 12km,
14.4km, 16km and finally 18km from weeks one to five. The long runs are
important for endurance; you need to get your body used to running
non-stop for long periods of time and distances.

For the hills sessions, I picked out a hilly section of road on one of Sydney’s north shore suburbs. I would run from the traffic lights at the bottom of Ben Boyd Road, Neutral Bay all the way up to the top by the primary school. This is exactly one kilometre. As I’d never done such a thing before, in week one I ran up and down three times, otherwise known as doing “three repeats”. The next week I did four repeats and the following two weeks I did five repeats.

sub 90min half marathon

half marathon training

ben boyd road

In week five I traded a hills session for a medium distance run
(13km) done at race pace. I was advised to do this for two reasons.
Firstly, each of my long runs by default included hills so I was still
effectively getting some hills training in these runs. Secondly, hills
sessions are taxing on your body. Ironically, the down hill running
places the most stress on your body. If you’re not a seasoned runner,
you will tend to take long strides and slap your feet against the road.
This can lead to foot and/or calf pain. It’s important to remain fresh
and ready the week of your event so I limited myself to runs I knew I
would recover quickly from.

If your goal is just to finish a half marathon, you might choose to
focus solely on endurance. Assuming you are intending on finishing in a
certain time frame however, speed work is arguably the most important
part of your training. Many of those whom I spoke to who did not achieve
their goals in similar events, told me of their regret for not having
done enough speed work.

Speed work is intended to increase your base running pace. When you
first start running training, you will find yourself running at a
particular pace. As you will have little experience running long
distances, you will find it difficult to know how much energy to expend
or conserve for your runs. The speed work will have you running shorter
distances but at significantly faster paces. In doing this, you will
essentially be throwing a different set of stimuli at your nervous
system. Your body will learn to move itself through space faster and in
turn, on the longer runs, you will start to increase your average
running pace.

My speed work routine was ten 400m runs with 60 seconds rest in between. This is known as interval training. I chose a section of road in Manly. I would run from the sandstone archway on North Head Scenic Drive to the signpost at the start of the driveway you see below. It was slightly uphill in this direction. I would then turn around and run back for the next interval.

north head

To say the least, these sessions were horrible! The 400m run is renown as one of the toughest middle distance runs in the Olympics. Towards the end of my training, I was averaging 73secs across my ten by 400m speed work sessions. This was probably faster than it needed to be. Given my goal of breaking 90mins, averaging between 80-90secs would probably have been sufficient. Nonetheless, I was quite happy with this. I estimated this would put me around the 60-62 second mark for a one off best. Breaking 60 seconds in the 400m would definitely require specific 400m training. Perhaps one day I’ll be stupid enough to attempt this challenge as well.

What else should I be doing?

Whilst the actual running training is the most important component of
finishing your half-marathon, finishing it well, which means in a
faster time and injury free, requires further attention to detail. If
you strive for perfection or want to go about things in a more
professional manner, there are three other areas I would suggest you
give some thought to: weight training, nutrition and recovery.

Fortunately, I have conditioned my body over a number of years in the gym with exercises like squats, dead lifts, lunges and many more exercises for competitive tennis. This has provided the much needed leg strength needed to sustain the heavy pounding my body would be subjected to in the half-marathon training. In addition to this, the upper body strength work I had also done prevented me from looking like a bottom heavy weirdo keep your body in balance.

Nutrition is a huge factor, would you put ethanol fuel in your Ferrari? Of course not. The better you eat, the better you perform. You will need to be consuming good quality carbohydrates and fats for energy, adequate amounts of protein for muscle recovery and plenty of fruit and vegetables for the wealth of mineral nutrients they provide. The topic of nutrition is too broad to cover here, but try reading these tips on how to eat healthy for some ideas on where to start.

Recovery is another hugely neglected facet to training – for any
sport. Recovery includes rest and physical therapy. You must rest in
between your training sessions. I would never run on consecutive days.
Why run when you’re tired? How can you expect to perform effectively on
little sleep or energy? Run when you’re feeling fresh, strong and fast.

Very importantly, if you ever feel pain anywhere in your body, you
must see someone about it. Better yet, see someone for a check up before
you even commence training. If you’re stupid enough to drive your car
around whilst it bellows black smoke out of the exhaust, then you
deserve to break down in the middle of nowhere. An experienced health
practitioner can alert you to any potential weaknesses that lurk in your
body. Insure against injury with professional advice and further
capacity for training.

What gear do I need?

The good thing about running is that it does not see you spending
money like you would with golf or F1 racing. You can get carried away
with GPS watches and fancy sunglasses but all you really need is a
decent pair of shoes.

I would recommend going to a specialist running shop. Do some
research online if you must but be weary of making an online purchase
just to save $50. In my experience, the clerks in these running shops
are passionate runners; they will talk to you all day about shoes if
they have the time. Most often, they are sufficiently knowledgeable to
assess one’s foot type and recommend an appropriate shoe.

I would again recommend seeking professional advice from a health practitioner to assess your foot type. You do not want to be sold a pair of shoes that is going to end up giving you foot or leg pain.

adidas boston 3

What should your goal be?

By all means reach for the stars and set yourself a challenge but I would suggest seeing how fast you can complete a flattish 5km run first before you set any goals. This is essentially how I started. It’s a good starting point to gauge what you are capable of and what is a realistic or unrealistic goal for you completing 21.1km.

Personally, I don’t see the point in setting the goal of just finishing. I believe anyone could finish a half marathon, you might start off running and finish walking and it takes you two and a half hours. Rather set yourself the challenge of at least running non-stop, and then trying to beat that time on your following attempt.

There are many programs available for half marathon training – this was just my approach. If you’re suffering any injuries as a result of your running – book in with one of our experienced therapists today ONLINE.

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