How to run your first half marathon
India’s running calendar is increasingly becoming full of events. Every weekend there are races from 5km (also called 5K) to a half marathon (21.1km) being organized in different parts of the country. Among the big events, the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM), usually held in November, remains a favourite among runners. The pleasant weather at that time and lack of uphills make the event preferable for personal bests.
Delhi-based financial consultant Neha Menon plans to take part in the 10th edition of ADHM, having completed her first 10km run in July at the Enerzal Day Breaker Half Marathon in Gurugram, near Delhi. Menon says after finishing this race, she became overambitious. “I tried to beat my time in the next practice run by going faster than I had trained for. In the end, I got exhausted within 7km and had to resort to walking for a while,” she adds.
Menon isn’t the only one. Many first-time runners push themselves too hard, too soon and end up getting slow, or worse, injured. If you plan to run the ADHM, slated for 19 November, running without a plan is not advisable. You are already halfway there, having completed a 10km run (the race requires you to submit the timing certificate for one). What you now need to do is take the training one notch up. This will be a combination of your runs, strength training and nutrition.
“The first thing you need to do is to rack up the weekly mileage. If you have been running about 10km per week, increase it progressively by bumping up your long run by 10-15% every alternate week,” says Daniel Vaz, a seasoned runner, and a coach for Nike Run Club, Mumbai.
According to Vaz, with eight weeks to go for the big race, you can follow a schedule of three-four runs per week, including long runs on Sundays. The other two-three runs mid-week can be focused on interval training, tempo training and an easy-paced run.
“Try doing 12km this Sunday, followed by 8km on the next Sunday and a 15km run the week after. This will let your body rest before you increase your mileage. Continue this pattern till the week before your race, when the tapering starts,” adds Vaz.
For someone training for a half marathon, speed runs twice a week will go a long way. A tempo run on Tuesdays, can be something like a 30-minute run where the pace, often called a comfortably hard pace, will vary according to the runner’s capacity. The recommended pace can be worked out online, or can be around 20-30 seconds faster than your targeted race day pace. These runs can be done in an unbroken 30 minute format, or in multiple laps of 1.5km each. The Thursday run, at interval pace, can follow sprints for a certain distance, then rest, followed by a sprint again. For example, a sprint of 400m, followed by a rest of the same time duration, and then another sprint for 400m would be an interval training run. The optional third run can be an easy-paced run for 45-60 minutes, where you should still be in shape to have a normal, short conversation.
One key question that all new runners worry about, and rightfully so, is the risk of getting injured while running. “If you train well and practise the correct form, then you can run injury-free,” says Heath Matthews, consultant sports physiotherapist with Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, Mumbai.
Matthews recommends a strength-training session two-three times a week. This can be done with your body-weight or even at the gym with equipment, though the former has the disadvantage of focusing only on pushing movements. However, investing in a TRX band lets you do pulling movements at home.
“There are three exercises I feel every runner must do. Plantar flexion stretches can be done with the help of a resistance band and help strengthen your calves, soleus muscles, Achilles and the underside of your foot. Knee extensions to strengthen the muscles in front of your knees and shin can be done simply by sitting on a chair and stretching one leg straight in front and parallel to the floor, and keeping the foot flexed. And finally, hip extension exercises are important to give you the forward thrust while running,” adds Matthews.
Proper running form is also something a runner must look at to avoid injuries. “While running, make sure you land on the front of your foot and not on your heel. Heel landing can also happen when you are over-striding, which increases chances of injury. Posture is also important—lean a little forward but do not hunch. One mistake people do is they swing their elbows outside (in a sideways motion), while it should be moving forward and backward,” says Matthews
Nutrition is vital for a good performance. Any training needs to be accompanied by a balanced diet for it to show effective results.
“A lot of people eat just about anything during the training, because they think they will burn it off. What you should be focusing on instead is having foods which have a low glycemic index (GI), such as oats, pasta and sweet potatoes. Low GI foods act as a slow-but-steady energy source for your runs and you can have them 2-3 hours before your long run,” says Kripa Jalan, a Mumbai-based sports nutrition specialist.
According to Jalan, runners should get used to the food they plan to eat or drink on the race day during their training itself. “So if it is just water that you are training with, have water on the race day. If you are used to having Gatorade, drink that on the race day. It would be foolish to try something new on or just before the day of your big run,” she adds.
Many runners also start avoiding fats completely. That is not advisable however, because good fats can keep you full longer and take about 2 hours more to burn compared to carbohydrates. This means, once the initial carbohydrates have been burnt off in your run, your body will switch to fats as the energy source.
Following these simple rules of nutrition can help runners not just on the race day, but during the training period as well. After all, more than a fast run, your first half marathon should help you finish stronger and injury free.
Increase your tempo
If you have already started training, and have done at least one 10km run recently, you can follow these tips on a weekly basis before your first 21.1km run:
■ For your long runs from now till the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM), follow this pattern: 12km, 8km, 15km, 10km, 18km, 12km, 21km, 10km and finally 21km (on race day).
■ On Tuesdays, do a 30-minute run at your tempo pace. For now, break it into two sets of 15 minutes each. Once you are used to that pace, do an unbroken 30-minute run.
■ Make sure your Thursday interval run time and rest time between intervals are the same. If you are running for 2 minutes, then rest for 2 minutes as well before starting the next lap.
■ Foam rolling, which helps you relieve pain and smoothen out knots in the muscle by applying direct pressure on the area, can be done after your training runs.
■ Before and after runs, do a lunging hip flexor stretch, which stretches the anterior hip muscles. Keep one knee on the ground, one leg ahead of you, feet flat. Now, slowly push your hip so that you get a stretch on the thigh of the leg resting on the ground.
■ After your run, replenish your carbohydrates by eating a banana, egg whites with some protein powder, or dates.
■ A week before the race day, go heavier on carbohydrates, while moderating fat and protein intake. Also increase your water intake by at least 1 litre two-three days before the race. For example, if on an average you drink 3 litres of water (subject to your sweat capacity, training intensity, etc.) closer to the race day, make it 4 litres.
—Inputs from Daniel Vaz, Heath Matthews and Kripa Jalan
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