How to run a half marathon

23 March 2017 by
First published: 17 March 2017

How to run a half marathon, by a fitness writer who’s about to do the legwork on her first one.

This is not an article I thought I’d ever be writing. But last December, in what can only be described as a moment of madness, I said yes to a spot at the Reading Half Marathon, which takes place this month on the 19th. Not the most groundbreaking of decisions maybe, but here’s some context: I have never been a natural runner, nor have I ever really enjoyed running that much – if at all. Before the start of this year, I’d ‘run’ a handful of 5Ks – with a lot of walking and swearing involved – while my running style had garnered the impressive description of ‘very weird’ (an insult I am yet to get over). I’ve always been jealous of those ‘marathon for breakfast’ types, but have struggled to comprehend just how and why they do it.

All things considered, you might be wondering why I said yes. In truth, it was a combination of it being four months away, a slightly misguided ‘How hard can it be?’ attitude and the assurance that the Reading course is renowned for being super-flat (‘perfect for beginners’, I was told). Basically, it all seemed like a rather nice idea. Vowing to start training in January, I had a comfortable four weeks to not even think about the promise I’d made. Turns out, four weeks goes by pretty quickly and, come the second of January, it was time to face the music. Thirty-six minutes later, I was rounding the corner to my house – red-faced, sweaty in places I’d rather not mention, and struggling to breathe ever so slightly. But I felt good. Fast forward a couple of months, and here are a few things that I’ve learnt on the roller coaster that is training for your first half marathon.

1. Never is there a bigger love-hate relationship than running. Similar to that boy you dated when you were 17, it’s probably more often hate, but that’s OK. When it’s going well, you feel strong, empowered and a teensy bit smug – and that makes up for all the horrible uphill bits.

2. Running is boring. There, I said it. Certainly not all the time, but for the most part you’re merely chugging along pondering the meaning of life, and there really isn’t much else to do other than sing along to your running playlist, look at the trees, look at the sky and over-think situations.

3. Whether it’s completing your furthest distance or achieving your fastest time, running will make you so, so proud of yourself. And that’s a feeling hard to find – and hard to beat.

4. Music is everything. Sure, lots of half marathons don’t allow headphones during the actual race (there are bands and crowds to make up for that), but during training, a good playlist is going to get you far. Whether it’s to keep you going on your last mile, or to help you step out onto the pavement in the first place, music will get you over the line more times than you can count.

5. The Nike+ Run Club app is the best free app. Ever.

6. It turns out that I’m a very needy runner. I require constant motivation and encouragement, which is probably why I like number 5 so much. Thank you, in-ear updates.

7. If you’re road running, you will get beeped at. I didn’t realise slicked-back-with-sweat hair and a red face was my best look either, but apparently lorry drivers dig it so…

8. Myth: you’ll need loads of fancy kit to start running. No, you don’t need that £300 watch or those £120 leggings (although they are so  pretty). Got two functioning legs? You’re good to go.

9. 13.1 miles never gets less daunting.

10. London’s Victoria Park is a veritable magnet for runners. And they’re all a lot faster than you.

11. ‘How do you eat an elephant?’ My dad always used to ask us this as kids if we were ever feeling overwhelmed by a situation or task. The answer, for those of you who weren’t lucky enough to have such creative advice as a child, is one bite at a time. Admittedly a slightly strange analogy (no elephants were harmed in the writing of this article, promise), the idea of taking a large task one step at a time is one that can also be applied to running. Don’t step out thinking about the amount of miles you have to endure, or how long it’s going to take; just run. (I’m still getting to grips with this one.)

12. I’m becoming that person – the ‘runner’s high’ really does exist.

13. Don’t get distracted by what other people are doing. You’d have to live under a rock to not know someone who is training for a marathon or a half marathon, a triathlon or an IronMan at any given time. Everyone will have their own training plans, everyone will have their own goals and some people like to put it on Facebook more than others. Ignore them. You’re doing you and that’s totally fine.

14. Bar the first two weeks of January when I was sure running was my most favourite activity ever (this promptly wore off), it takes a lot of effort for me to get out and run. My advice? In the words of our friends over at Nike, just do it. The quicker I get dressed, plug in my headphones and get out of the door, the less time I have to peruse Netflix and talk myself out of it.

15. You’ll surprise yourself.