When I was first invited by my friend to run a half marathon - 13.1 long miles - I truly did not believe it was possible. Once I accepted that at the very least I could walk the distance I began to do research. What I found surprised me.
Me: "The longest I've ever run is 3.5 miles"
Research: "If you can run 30 minutes without stopping you can train to run a half marathon in 12 weeks"
In fact, they said that even if you can not run 30 minutes without stopping you can still successfully train for a half. It just takes more time. Well, those 3.5 miles took me a good 50 minutes so that must count. There were 13 weeks before the race. Perfect timing.
You know the internet, there are endless possibilities! I spent many obsessive hours looking at various sites with different training programs. There are sites that offer training programs for fees and there are sites that offer their training programs for free. There are hundreds of books on the subjects of not just training for a half marathon, but for 5k's, 10k's, marathon's and just plain ol' running. Endless. A bit overwhelming for a newbie!
I decided to go the free route and make up my own based on what I found. I delved into the quest for the common thread in all these training programs. What I learned is that there is a training program for just about any goal (time goals, weight loss goals, 'just finish' goals, etc). My personal goal has nothing to do with running a certain time or beating my PR (personal record, it took me a bit to figure out this runner's world lingo). No my goal would be simply to cover the entire 13.1 miles in one outing. I stumbled across what seemed to be the perfect site for me; marathonrookie.com - I mean, does the title not say it all?!
I want to emphasize that originally I honestly did not think I would ever actually be able to run 13.1 miles. It was the sensible and pragmatic approach of this training program that allowed me to even accept this challenge. My own naive intuition told me that if I was planning on running 13 miles, 9.5 more than I'd ever covered, then I needed to go out and run more. And more. And more. That felt daunting. In reality my intuition was wrong, it was exactly the opposite of what is true. My eyes were opened through thorough research. Here's some of what I first learned;
Recovery is key. Running (all exercise) breaks down muscle fibers. When the fibers rebuild they are slightly stronger than before. This is why rest days are not just important, but critical to success. In the two months prior to my research I was running 6 days a week and my body was hurting. Especially my knees. I didn't realize it but I was over-training. Since being in training, my knee issues are gone, even though I'm running farther than ever before.
Don't increase weekly mileage by more than 10%. The schedule I follow has one cross training day (I hike in the hills), two short runs and one long run. The short runs stay 3-4 miles during most of the 12 weeks of training. The long run increases by only one mile each week. I used to feel guilty on non-running days, like I was doing nothing. Now I say "I'm rebuilding to be stronger next week". This explains the last mile phenomenon that I talked about in post Number 9. The last mile is always hard, but the difficulty level is not increasing as the mileage increases. Because each week I push myself just a little extra through that last mile, and then I have a rest (rebuilding) day the day after. So when I come back to the next long run I am just a little bit stronger, and ready, for that next 'last mile'. As you get stronger in the training you're going to want to push it and run an extra mile, research says don't do it.
Don't run more than two consecutive days. Give it a rest. Rebuild.
Hydration! I'll address this one more fully in another post.
and finally, Nutrition. This also deserves a post all unto itself. Several posts actually!
The point here is that I am far enough into the training to see that it actually works! In the beginning I felt disbelief. The program said You can do it! I said Really? We'll see. But I put myself in the hands of those who know, and low and behold, I think they might actually be right!