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I had a chance to answer questions from new runners taking on the half marathon distance for the first time.
We talked about how to determine if you’re ready for the marathon, preventing injuries, carbohydrate loading, running surfaces, shoes, pedometers, nutrition, motivation, tapering, training plans, and overcoming doubts and fears.
Here is a sample of some of the questions these new runners asked me.
I really, really want to run a half marathon, but how do I know if I’m ready? Can anyone run a half marathon?
Yes, I believe that anyone can run a half or full marathon if you have the proper preparation. Only you can answer if you’re ready, but I believe that it comes down to having the right mindset and building a solid running base. Your mindset should be one that will carry you through the challenges of training and the race. For example, if your goal in running a half marathon is to lose weight or because a friend is doing it, it might not be enough to keep you going when the going gets tough. Building the right running base is also important to keep you injury free. I recommend that a person be able to run 3-5 miles, 3 times a week and do this for 4-6 months before training for a half marathon.
What training advice (distance / frequency) do you have for a novice runner?
The first thing that I encourage a newer runner to do is build a solid running base. This involves being able to run 3-5 miles, 3 times a week for 4-6 months. Then they need to surround themselves with the right information. Finally they need to use a smart marathon training plan. A smart marathon training plan involves using a combination of running and focused cross training to go the distance injury free.
How long does it take to train / prepare for a marathon?
After you’ve built that initial running base most marathon training plans are 16-20 weeks long.
What is a good way to stay motivated when you are training for a marathon and actually running a marathon?
It’s important to go into marathon training with the right motivation and keep that focus clearly before you during training. There will be tough times during your training and marathon. However if you remember why you’re doing this in the first place it will help you refocus and push past any mental or physical barriers. I like to have a mantra or motivational saying to repeat along the way. At least 50% of running a marathon is mental and if you can keep your head in the right place then you can accomplish your goal.
How do you motivate yourself to run on the days that you don’t want to, do you even have days like that?
Yes, we all have days when the last thing we want to do is get out of bed, much less exercise. But I’ve learned through the years that I’ll feel better and my day will go more smoothly if I make myself do the hard thing. If you wait until the motivation is there you probably won’t accomplish much. I’m a person who thrives on a routine and I’ve developed a routine of running and cross training for myself. I know exactly what I’ll be doing the next day and lay out all my clothes and gear. Then if I wake up feeling tired I don’t even have to think about it- the decision has already been made.
What is your opinion of treadmill vs. outdoor / track?
A treadmill can be a good tool to use occasionally during your training (like during bad weather or while traveling). However, a treadmill doesn’t completely mimic the feeling of running on the roads and to be well prepared for your marathon you should do at least 50% of your training outdoors. It’s best to vary your running surface if you can. Concrete is very hard on the body, asphalt is a little better. Try to change up your running surface by using a track, gravel road, dirt path, and grass to lighten the impact on your body.
What would be the most important advice about marathon training you could give to a beginner?
Don’t rush the process. Take the time to build a solid running base and listen to your body. It’s more important that you be a healthy runner for life than run a marathon in the next few months.
What is your opinion of “carb-loading?”
Carb loading is one of those controversial topics in the running world. I agree with the Hammer Nutrition philosophy that the time to carb load is during your training and not in the days leading up to your race. You can train your body to store more glycogen by refueling properly after long runs and hard workouts. It may be beneficial to eat a larger percentage of complex carbs the day before a long run or race, but don’t significantly increase the amount you eat. One of the important things during training is to dial in your nutrition and figure out how your body performs best. What works best for fueling weight lifting may not work as well for long distance running. By the time the marathon comes around you should have your eating and fueling during long runs dialed in.
What brand of running shoes do you recommend?
There are many great running shoes out there and the best shoe for you depends on your foot type and gait. I recommend that a newer runner go to a specialty running store where they can evaluate your foot type and gait. Many people buy running shoes based on the looks or brand and end up very unhappy with their experience. I have a normal arch and am a midfoot striker and I wear the Asics Gel Nimbus.
How often should you replace your shoes?
Running shoes should be replaced every 400-500 miles. The outsoles of the shoes are often built for around 800 miles so the shoe may still look new. However, the insoles start breaking down around 400 miles and this can lead to problems. It’s important to keep a running log where you record how many miles are on your shoes. It’s even helpful to have two pairs of running shoes to alternate. This often extends the life of the shoe.
I recently purchased the Nathan Intensity hydration vest for my long runs. As many of you know I usually carry handheld water bottles (Nathan Quickdraw Elite) but for my longer runs I usually need more water than I can carry in my hands. After doing lots of research I settled on the Nathan Intensity pack because it is specifically designed for women distance runners. It carries 2L (70oz) of fluid and has generous compartments for carry fuels and other necessities. It fits snugly and doesn’t bounce. The men’s version is called the Nathan Endurance.