How to Win Your First Half Marathon

By Ethan Maurice | September 3, 2015

Okay, so you're probably not going to win your first half marathon. However, this program almost put me among the top 200 runners who started separately, in some elite pack before the other 8,000 of us.

Seriously, I'd never even entered an organized race before, I just followed this schedule religiously, then went out and ran. I came in 254th place out of 8,300 runners in the San Diego America's Finest City Half Marathon. Stick to this training program and I'd bet you'll have similar results.

Before we get down to it, a couple things:

1. I am no certified trainer, coach, or doctor. I run quite often and am simply looking to share what I've done and learned along the way.

2. You should be in decent running shape to start this program! Can you survive a three mile jog? If not, it's best to start with a less intense training program.

Without further ado, here's the program:

This is a 16 week program, contrary to the popular 12 week program, which is important if want to race like an elite runner. I started training ahead of time, with a more “intermediate” program, but a couple weeks in decided to take it up a notch to an “advanced” training program. The above program is a combination of the two. Consider this plan a way to leap from athlete to avid half marathoner or half-hearted running enthusiast to modern day Forrest Gump.

Now, let's breakdown this chart.

CT: Stands for Cross Training. The idea is that you do something active other than running. Most experts suggest ellipticals, rowing machines, or bicycling, but I say do whatever you want. Sometimes I did an upper body workout at the gym, sometimes I played basketball or racquetball. It's just important to get out and move around on a Cross Training day.

tempo: Short for Tempo Run. There's science behind it, but essentially your body is just adapting to moving faster. Whatever the designated time is, take five minutes off at the beginning and end. For an example, let's take a 40 minute tempo run. You'll warm up at an easy pace for 5 minutes, run comfortably hard for 30 minutes, then cool down at an easy pace for the last 5 minutes. Simple.

4 x 400m: Also known as Interval Workouts, they're written as Sets x Meters. After warming up, run 400 meters hard and recover by walking 200 meters. On most tracks that means, run a lap, walk half a lap, and in this case, repeat for a total of 4 runs. For 800 meter intervals, run two laps around the track, then walk a full lap to recover. These will also help increase your pace.

hill repeats: Find a hill, mountain, or inclined road that you can run up for 100 meters or so. Make sure it's not too steep, we don't want to be running up a 45° slope or anything. Run hard up and walk back down the designated number of times.

Rest: Friday is always rest day – REST!!! Rest is absolutely essential for muscle recovery and giving your joints a break. On the “Rest or CT” days, listen to your body and do what feels right.

Saturday Long Runs: Saturday is the big mileage day. It's the day you push your body's distance limitations. Take it easy on your long runs, keep your upper body loose, and save any speed for the back half of the run if you've got anything left in the tank.

EZ: Easy runs. Treat them as a recovery workout. Lightly jog three miles to loosen up tight/sore legs. You shouldn't be breathing hard at all, just a relaxed, easy three miles.

Tips for Success:

Stick to the plan. If you want results, you have to put the work in. Everyone can find a million excuses not to run, so make it as easy as possible on yourself. Print the program out and tack it on the wall. Get up and run first thing in the morning. Make a bet with someone that you'll stick to your schedule. Make it inconvenient to not run and it'll become a habit.

Change it up! Variety is the spice of life, don't run the same route everyday. My training took place on rubberized tracks, dirt trails, grass, concrete, and asphalt. I ran through desert, suburbia, in washes, across bridges, along lakes, and up the sides of mountains. Running is fun, explore!

Don't stretch before you run. There's a widely accepted myth that we're supposed to stretch before running. I've always just started my runs extra slow and worked into my pace. Static stretching before your workout makes you weaker and might actually increases your chances of injury. Don't do it!

Shoes. Find shoes that work for you. I started out training with two pairs of regular running shoes and on Sundays, during the “3mi EZ” runs, I'd wear Vibram FiveFingers. Five or six weeks into my training I switched completely to the Vibram's, out of necessity for my knees. If you want to know more about my love affair with the world's ugliest shoes, click here.

Listen to your body. Push yourself, but not beyond the ability of your body. If your knees hurt or you feel the sharp pain of a pulled muscle, stop running. Go home and R.I.C.E. Better to lose a single run than a couple weeks of training.

Sound like something you'd want to do? Don't put it off. Find a race, sign up, and start training. Here's a good list of great races.




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