Finding Your Pace

by Karl Gruber
So you did it, eh? After all the times you kept saying, “I’ll run a full or half marathon someday,” you actually signed up for that spring race! Good for you. But did you remember that you actually have to start training? That training starts now! Let’s take a look at exactly what you need to do to get ready successfully run 26.2 or 13.1 miles.

Now that you made the decision to run a full or half marathon, you must make the commitment and put in the required effort to make it happen – it being you successfully coming across the finish line of your goal race! Now, let’s take a peek at just what this commitment of yours involves.

In order to successfully complete a long distance race like a 26.2 mile full marathon or a 13.1 mile half marathon, you must go through the weeks and months long, progressive, structured and intelligently-planned build-up. This build-up is called a training plan, and it generally consists of a 12 week program for half marathoners and 16 weeks of training for a full marathon. 

These are generally the most common time frames for half and full marathon training, although numerous programs of (usually) longer time frames abound. Anything shorter than 12 weeks for the half and 16 weeks for the full generally will not be enough to build up your body’s fitness level and mental confidence to achieve the race results you’re hoping for.

If you are unsure of what training program to follow, I suggest that you look to one of the most popular training programs used in America from former Runner’s World magazine writer and running proponent, Hal Higdon. As one of the founders of the most respected running organizations in America – the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) – Higdon’s programs are also among the most respected distance racing training programs available. No matter what distance you wish to train for, Higdon’s training plans will successfully get you to that finish line. Higdon literally has a full marathon or half marathon training program for every level of runner and every situation.

For the running group I coach and train in my hometown, I created a 16 week long program for both my full and half marathoners. Since the core of the half marathon training is really the last 12 weeks of this longer program, the first four weeks are utilized as a month-long build-up to get them up to speed before the serious training begins during week five. This makes it fun for all the runners, even though some are training for 26.2 miles and some for the 13.1 miles. Everyone in the group gets to run together from the get go, and it allows everyone to get to know the other runners starting week one.

No matter how good of a training program you may have, you still have to stay focused on the goal at hand to run and complete 13.1 or 26.2 miles. It just won’t happen – at least not in a joyful and happy way – if you don’t commit to get out on the road to get your daily training miles in to determine your training and race pace.

One of the hardest thing for new half and full marathon runners to do is hold themselves back when it comes time to go on a training run. This can be especially hard for men when our machismo and testosterone kick in. “Well, that dude’s running 6:30 per mile. I can keep up with him!” Much heavy breathing and a huge side stitch later, you see that guy coming in 10 minutes after the faster guy finished. Believe me, trying to do this will quickly make you realize how silly and unrealistic you were being and reveal your true running fitness level.

After a few weeks of training, you should have an idea of what you think you are capable of speed-wise, and then set a time goal you would like to finish your race. For example, if you wish to finish your marathon in four hours, then you need to consistently run nine-minute miles for 26.2 miles. 

Whether you finish your marathon in three hours or six hours, or your half marathon in 1:45 or three hours is not important – even if you are super competitive. Don’t worry about what your pace per mile is, especially at the start of your training. The important thing is simply to get your training miles in, and slowly but surely, build your running fitness level to where it needs to be when on race day. That way you can show off that new finisher’s medal after successfully running and completing 26.2 miles or 13.1 miles!

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