Prepping for Your First Big Race: Half/Full Marathon Training Tips


Most women who love to run contemplate running a full or half marathon at some point in their lives. However, the idea of training can appear to be such a daunting task that many women shy away from the challenge. Don’t be scared! If you prep accordingly and follow a healthy program, you can most definitely be successful in your goal to run a half/full marathon.


Cathy Fieseler, a physician, member of the board of directors of the American Medical Athletic Association and a veteran marathoner says the key to success is to know your own goal before you begin training.

“Ask yourself why you are doing the race,” says Fieseler. “Figuring this out will guide your training plan.”

Sarah Trevor, a senior at the University of Illinois has successfully completed several races. Trevor has a lot of advice to offer to those training for their first big race. Her biggest tip: Don’t become fixated on your time and run at a comfortable pace.

“Run your first race without worrying about the time! It is such an accomplishment to finish 13.1 or 26.2 miles that time should not be your first priority,” says Trevor. “Don’t start off too fast; it’s more important to run your first race comfortably, and then you will have a time that you can improve upon in the future.”

Jaimee Shearn, also a senior at the University of Illinois, has successfully finished three marathons. Shearn also agreed that it is most important to focus on your own personal goals for the race.

“Know what works for YOU and don’t try to compete with other people or prove yourself to others,” says Shearn. “The only person you need to impress is yourself.”

That being said, you will most likely need to adopt some sort of training plan and your training plan needs to be just that: a concrete plan. It is not meant to broken or strayed from, with the exception of special circumstances.

“If you’re easily running three or four miles at a shot now, plan to train for about three months before a half marathon and about five months before a full marathon,” says Todd Galati, an American Council on Exercise spokesman interviewed by WebMD.

There are several online training programs that you can choose from. One program that has proven to be extremely popular is Hal Higdon’s training program.

“Find a training schedule and stick to it,” says Trevor. “I prefer Hal Higdon’s training programs. He has half marathon and marathon schedules that vary for all different levels of runners. Typically, training starts 12 weeks before a half marathon and 18 weeks before a full.”

Shearn agreed that Higdon’s programs are the best because they are adjustable which is very important. Shearn also recommended using your training calendar as a source of motivation.

“I usually hang my training calendar up on my wall because it feels SO good to cross off the runs once you have completed them” says Shearn.

Once you have your plan, stick with it. But remember that you will need to tailor it to your own life and commitments.

“I don’t think you need to run every single day,” says Fieseler. “Figure out what works for your life.”

As you start to get more comfortable with your pace, remember to continue to increase your miles at a consistent rate.

“Don’t add miles too quickly,” says Galati. “The established rule is no more than a 10 percent increase in miles per week.”

Lauren Lehocky, an experienced marathoner and a junior at the University of Illinois, agreed with Galati.

“Don’t start too fast; I started running half an hour, three times a week, and then on the weekends I’d try a long run,” says Lehocky.  “I added five minutes each week. It doesn’t seem like much, but you’ll be much more prepared to run long distances if you start slow. You’ll be running longer distances before you know it.”

Toward the end of your training, it may be best to try and complete the actual distance you are going to run, or as close to it as possible. This may help you to be better prepared come race day.

“Many training programs suggest several long runs at the end, sometimes stopping a bit short of the actual race distance. But you may want to do the full race distance as your last training run,” says Fieseler. “If you are a newbie, I think something very important is getting in enough distance [in training] that you are not going to be intimidated by what’s left.”

While you should not stray from your training plan frequently, it is important to acknowledge that there will be circumstances that may prevent you from getting a run in. Remember: your runs will not feel great everyday; learning to deal with this reality will only help you throughout training.

“Accept bad runs during training,” says Galati. “As the average to good runs become more frequent, the bad runs become easier to tolerate.”

There are going to be days when you would rather do anything but run. These are the days when you need to look to outside sources for motivation.

Joe Donovan is a Milwaukee runner who wrote the Essential Guide to Training for Your First Marathon.

“Watch a YouTube video of a running event,” says Donovan. “See the joy in the finishers’ faces.”

“Always try to stay positive,” says Trevor. “There will be times when you are tired of running and don’t want to keep up with training, but remember it is all worth it when you cross the finish line.”

It is also important to know everything you can about the course itself before the big day.

“Find out in advance about the race — whether the course is hilly or not and what sports drink they will serve along the route,” says Donovan. “During training, replicate the race experience.”

Throughout your training, the most important thing to remember is to take care of yourself.

“Stretch your legs after runs and ice your knees and shins,” says Lehocky.  “At first it might seem unnecessary, but it will help you avoid injury.”

“Drink water and stretch,” says Shearn. “Seriously, I know you hear this all the time, but it so important, because you may not feel thirsty—but you are!”

In addition, do not forget to eat; you’ll be burning a lot more calories and can afford to increase your intake.

“As a runner you’ll soon realize your body craves more wholesome foods to stay satisfied,” says Lehocky. “Don’t try to diet when you’re running–just listen to your body.”

Listening to your body also means recognizing when it’s time to go see a doctor if something seriously hurts.

“Don’t avoid pain,” says Shearn. “If something hurts then something is probably not right.”

Running does not have to be a death march every morning. Try and make your training fun and you will have a much better time.

“Run with a friend because it makes long runs much easier and helps me stay motivated,” says Trevor. “Try out new routes to keep runs interesting– Map My Run is great because it allows you to map your runs or it has routes that other people in your area have posted.”

Shearn agreed that a running buddy is a great way to keep your mind distracted when doing longer runs.

“It does not, and is almost better if it is not, your best friend, just because it gives you a chance to talk about things you normally wouldn’t,” says Shearn. “It’s so much easier to pass the miles by with a partner to talk to—don’t be afraid to talk. When you’re running long distances, keep in mind that it should be aerobic, which means you should be able to hold a steady conversation.”

The best running tool according to Shearn? A positive attitude.

“SMILE!” says Shearn.  “Honestly you have to have a good attitude about it. It might hurt and it might be boring, but thinking positively regardless will honestly help you run for the rest of your life.”

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One Comment on “Prepping for Your First Big Race: Half/Full Marathon Training Tips”

  1. April 17, 2012 at 5:02 am #

    Love the positive attitude. Whatever happens, it all come out good!

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