How Do You Know When You’re Ready To Run Your First Half Marathon?

by Karl Gruber

The 26.2 mile marathon has stood the test of time since Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens in ancient Greece to announce his army’s victory over the Persians. Now, at least in America, the half-marathon has become the “new” marathon. Quite literally, hundreds of thousands of runners have taken up the challenge of running 13.1 miles, so they too can proclaim “victory” at the finish line just like Pheidippides did. 

Almost all scheduled marathons now also have a half-marathon race attached to it, and with good reason. Do your research, and you will see that the number of participants in the half-marathon portion usually outnumber those running the full marathon – sometimes almost double in number. There is a very good reason for this, as the half-marathon distance of 13.1 miles is much more doable for the majority of runners. 

Even if you are a total newbie runner, it should be very obvious that in training to run a half-marathon, you won’t have to run as many miles to get race ready. It takes less time than running a full marathon, and your body doesn’t take quite the pounding that it would in running 26.2 miles. The wonderful thing about training for and running a half-marathon is that you still get an awesome physical workout – one that can help keep you in peak shape. 

Personally, I have run almost as many half-marathons as full marathons, and every time I race 13.1 miles, I still think it is a long way. However, you still have a lot more left in your tank. While I believe running 26.2 miles is one of the ultimate challenges in life, I want you to know that I am here to help you get across that half-marathon finish line, too.

So just how do you know when you are ready to run your first half-marathon? My first reaction is to say, “Don’t do too much too soon!” Let me use the example of my good friend, Chris. 

Chris recently told me that he had starting running, and I asked him how that came about. He shared that he had been consistently walking 30 minutes a day for a few months, and one day as he was out for his daily walk, he realized that his fitness level had vastly improved. Chris started throwing in five minutes of jogging in between sets of walking. As he fitness level continued to increase, he gradually increased his minutes of running while decreasing his minutes of walking. Finally, Chris got to the point where he could run the entire 30 minutes with no walking. Now he is considering running his very first 5K race! 

I am so proud of Chris in that, without any coaching, he intuited on his own that his increase in running had to be a natural progression. The progression allowed his body to adapt slowly to the added exertion and effort of continuous running until he became comfortable with it. 

As a runner and a coach for almost 40 years, one of the biggest mistakes I see with people pursuing their dream of running their first half or full marathon is doing too much, too soon. The most likely suspects to do this are the ones who perhaps were one-time athletes back in their youth, and 10 to 20 years later, they’re overweight but still have that athlete’s mindset. They might think, “Heck, I’m still in fair shape. It’s only 13.1 miles and I’ve already run seven miles once or twice. I can do this!” 

With this mindset, they then may follow a traditional 12-week half-marathon training program, but it still is not enough time or training to truly get them where they need to be to have a good experience running a half-marathon. The result is that they successfully get to the finish line, but they become a “one-and-done” runner. They did it, but they pushed the envelope of their maximum physical exertion. They had a bad experience, and either got injured or were constantly sore and beat up, which might lead them to never run that type of distance again.

There is a proper way to prepare to help you decide if you are ready to not only run your first 13.1 mile race, but also continue with running for the rest of your life. Using myself as an example, I ran consistently for four to six days each week for two years before I ever even decided to run my very first full marathon! Once I had established a rock-solid personal running fitness and aerobic base, then I decided to take on the longer distance races. Not only did I succeed, but I had an amazing experience and kept coming back year after year to run more half and full marathons.  

My suggestion to you, before you decide to run that first half-marathon, is to follow my friend Chris’ example – slowly but surely build up your minutes and mileage over a longer period of time. This will allow your body to adapt and grow stronger with more endurance so that you can have a great race experience. Believe me, your body will do far more for you than you can ever even imagine if you treat it correctly, and that includes running your first half-marathon. 

Don’t become a “one-and-done-er”, and I’ll see you at the finish line!

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