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Half marathon training program for beginners

Looking to run a half marathon, but not sure where to start?

A man and a woman wearing activewear stretch outside
A man and a woman wearing activewear stretch outside

Looking to run a half marathon as a beginner, but not sure where to start? We’ve got you sorted!

The thought of running a half marathon can be daunting – especially for beginners. Not only do you have to work on your endurance to tackle the 21-kilometre track, but you’ll also need to learn to fuel your body for maximum performance and develop the mental toughness to sustain you throughout the run.

We’ve partnered with fitness trainers and dietitians to help set you up for half marathon success.

Exercise and training to prepare for a half marathon

It’s never too soon to start working on your fitness for a half marathon, but in the 12 weeks prior to the race, it’s important to be more structured in your preparation. We spoke with Running Divas Founder and Advanced Run Coach, Erica King to prepare this downloadable 12 week half marathon training program.

A couple wearing activewear outdoors stretch with a Half Marathon Training Program text overlay and the nib logo in the bottom right corner

As well as following our half marathon training program, it’s important to set yourself up with the right equipment and keep track of your progress. Chris Reid, Head of Fitness at Orangetheory Fitness has these tips:

  • Be professionally fitted for running shoes

  • Maintain a training diary - Take note of your daily runs, timings and any parts you’re struggling with so you can focus on improving these over the coming weeks

  • Add high-intensity group training - As well as running, you need to make sure your cardiovascular fitness is at its best to build your strength for the big day

  • Alternate a hard day with an easy day - Rest and recovery are key parts of long-distance running

  • Listen to your body - If you are tired, rest. If you need a day off, take one. No matter what a training plan says, the real coach of your training will be your body, so tune in and take notes on what it’s telling you throughout your journey

Diet and nutrition to prepare for a half marathon

Proper nutrition should also form part of your half marathon training plan, says Alicia Edge, Advanced Sports Dietitian at Compeat Nutrition. This doesn’t need to be overly complex; following the Australian Dietary Guidelines and consuming a variety of whole grains and complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats will suffice.

As you‘ll be increasing your activity, you’ll naturally have a bigger appetite, Alicia says. These extra calories should be sourced from the ‘eat most’ categories of the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

Nutrition is essential to recovery, Alicia explains.

“If you’re training twice in a day, nutrient recovery after your session becomes even more important, and ideally starts within 30-60mins of finishing the session.”

She says it can be as easy as a smoothie or shake, and is all about the 4 Rs:

  • Rehydrate

  • Repair - Include some protein in the hours following your session to help with muscle recovery

  • Refuel - Include some carbohydrates to replace what you’ve used within the session

  • Revitalise - Colour plays a big part in recovery, so including veggies and fruit is a must

The final element of preparing for a half marathon is building mental fitness. Psychologist, Runner and Elite Performance Speaker Dr Joann Lukins, says it should form part of your training plan from day one.

“Start listening to and adjusting your self-talk. For example, you may not realise you are starting training sessions thinking ‘I have to go for a run now’, but catch this thought and reframe it into ‘I get to go for a run now’.”

Other tips? Get used to embracing discomfort wherever you can in everyday life – the better able you are to mentally push through discomfort, the more automatically it will kick in on the big day.

“Just like your physical training, mental training takes time to become efficient and effective. If you want strong mental muscles on the big day, practice daily in the lead up,” she says.

A man and woman in activewear walk past each other while giving a high five

Half marathon race day prep

“I advise runners to recognise the similarities between anxiety and excitement – symptoms like increased heart rate, nerves, upset stomach and racing thoughts are the same for both. The work you’ve put into reframing your thoughts comes into its own here – now you can switch your mindset to a more positive one; that these are good feelings of excitement, which in turn help us relax and feel motivated,” Joann says.

You’ll struggle at different moments of the race for different reasons, warns Joann. “Reminding yourself that you’ve made it to the event injury-free, with the resources and training to compete can help regain a positive mindset and keep you motivated and energised,” she says.

In terms of nutrition, the first rule is never eat anything new – Alicia says this can lead to gastrointestinal upsets, and have your in-race hydration and carbs ready to go.

“Your pre-race meal should be something that isn't too big and sits well on the stomach. Something as simple as toast, crumpets, porridge or Bircher muesli are great!” she says.

Alicia also recommends eating at least 90-120 minutes before start time, and having a snack 30-60 minutes before, perhaps a sports drink and/or banana.

During the race, Alicia says it’s important not to leave your hydration and nutrition until the end of the race. Options for hydration on the run include sports drinks, sports gels or gel chews.

What is tapering and why is it important?

Tapering allows your body to reduce in intensity and distance in the last two weeks of your training program so that you stand on the start line with fresh legs, a calm mind and feeling rested, says Erica.

She explains that tapering involves running at a reduced intensity and distance, alongside low intensity cross training.

“The goal is to keep the body moving but with minimal impact so it can recover and feel refreshed for race day.”

For all the information on which days to taper your exercise in the lead-up to the race, make sure you download our 12-Week Beginner Half Marathon Training Guide.

Need some healthy recipes to fuel your diet in the lead up to your half marathon? Check out our range of exclusive meal ideas on The Check Up.

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