I could never run a half marathon

The Bath Half Marathon is over for another year. Well done to everyone who took part. I know many people think it would simply not be possible for them to run that distance, but I would argue that most people are capable of completing the course with the right training. If you were in awe of all those who tackled the 13.1-mile course this year, and would love to be one of the thousands of runners who take part next year, read on for a few tips on how to train to make that dream a reality.

1.    Take time to prepare

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Give yourself adequate time to train, especially if you are relatively new to running. I’d say you’d want to give yourself between three and six months to prepare. The newer you are to running, the longer you’d be better off allowing yourself. This is largely for psychological rather that physiological reasons. I’d argue that with a good training schedule anyone could train to run a half marathon in just a few months, but psychologically it can be beneficial to give yourself longer than that to prepare. Start with short runs, and gradually increase the distance in at least one of your weekly runs. Often runners do their longer run at the weekend when they have more time, but you’ll know when is best for you. You could start with a 3-mile (5k) run at the start of October, and gradually increase that "long run” by a mile a week until you can comfortably run 10 or 11 miles. There’s no physiological reason why you need to have run the full distance before race day, but it can help psychologically to know that you have done the distance before-hand and that therefore you’re physically capable of doing it.

2.    Create a schedule… and stick to it

It’s a good idea to plan your training runs. There are numerous training plans available online, or you can get a personal trainer to create one for you (plug not intended, honestly!). Once you have your plan designed put each run into your diary or calendar and stick to them as you would any other appointment. If you know you’ll struggle to do that you could utilise the strategy of having an accountability partner (see number 3). My number one tip regarding a schedule is to make sure it’s realistic. If you set the bar too high the danger is that if/when you start to miss the sessions, you will deem the whole thing “too hard” and throw the plan under the bus. It’s far better to set yourself fewer training sessions you know you will be able to complete, than lots that will be a stretch to complete. As long as you do at least one “long run” per week, gradually increasing the distance over a few months (see above) you will be able to complete the course. Any other runs you’re able to do in a week are just a bonus and will further help build your aerobic fitness.

3.    Find an accountability partner

If you think for one reason or another that you’ll struggle to keep to your training schedule, it can be a good idea to find yourself an accountability partner. This can be a friend, colleague, family member or a personal trainer (accountability is a big part of my job). Give whoever you choose a copy of your training schedule and ask them to keep tabs on whether you’ve completed your runs or not. If you like running with friends and have a friend who would also like to run the race, that’s great as you can train together and hold each other accountable. Even if you prefer to run alone you can still keep tabs on each other’s training. Just be wary that you choose someone you’d be happy to have prompting you. I would hate for you to feel annoyed by that person!

4. Use interval training

Throughout your training it would be good to introduce some interval training into your schedule. This helps build aerobic fitness and over time helps improve your running pace. There are lots of examples of interval training plans on the internet, but again you could ask a personal trainer to write a plan for you. Essentially interval training needs to feature short periods during which you’re working at max or near to max capacity. You can increase the intensity by increasing your pace for short bursts, or by introducing hill sprints. You could start by doing five 20-second bursts of 90 – 100% effort, with a minute of running at your normal aerobic pace in between, and then look to build this up by making the bursts of high effort longer, and/or by increasing the number of them. Over time this will help you build your aerobic fitness.

5. Make your runs more enjoyable

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If you don’t find running in itself enjoyable find other ways of making it more appealing. This could be by running with a friend or group if you like running with other people. Alternatively you could listen to something you enjoy whilst running. I can’t run without listening to something and when training for long runs I’ve listened to countless books and podcasts, and even used the time to learn Japanese (not that I can remember much now!).  At the moment I just love listening to music, as its one of the few times of the week I can focus on the music I enjoy without numerous distractions. There are also some great Mindfulness apps like Headspace that offer episodes which focus on making running a mindful activity, helping you get mental as well as physical benefits from your training sessions.

6. Reward yourself

Utilising a reward system can be a good way to incentivise your runs. I’d recommend not using food or drink to do this, but finding small realistic ways to reward each run you do, and perhaps a different way to reward other achievements such as doing all your training sessions in a week, or achieving a new distance PB (personal best). Examples of rewards could be a long soak in the bath, watching an episode of a favourite TV programme, reading for pleasure, buying yourself a bunch of flowers/magazine/book. If it helps you could also plan a bigger reward for completing the race such as buying yourself some new trainers, booking a massage or going for a spa session. This can be a way to treat yourself for all the hard work you’ve done, and can be something nice to focus on during your training. Rewarding every run can help build your motivation until running becomes a habit that you enjoy in and of itself.

I hope these tips help you. Please let me know if they do, and if you have any others to share. Keep me posted on your progress. Enjoy!

Laura Hilton