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How to Train for Your First Half-Marathon

A training program and great running shoes are key

BHM Edit Staff | 3/25/2014, 6 a.m.
Manoucheka Attime at the conclusion of her first half-marathon Manoucheka Attime

At about mile 11 during the D.C. Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon earlier this month, Manoucheka Attime was hit by a wave of exhaustion. She remembers thinking, “I can’t let 11 miles go to waste.”

So the running novice pushed through and finished her first half-marathon, something that once seemed unfathomable. Attime signed up for the race last November because she was looking for a way to be healthy.

She considered yoga or boot camp, but wasn’t sure she’d stick with either activity. Like many Americans, she had never been consistently physically active. Doing a triathlon someday is on her bucket list, however, so when she decided on running the half-marathon, she didn’t let the fact that she’d never even run a 5k deter her. She trained, she ran and now the running bug has her.

Attime has these tips for other newbies:

Sign up for a training program. “I was in a program called Couch to 5k, which is for people who are sedentary,” she says. It taught her how to build up stamina by teaching the walk/run ratio—walk for a while, run for 90 seconds, then go back to walking. This is exactly what beginning runners should do, according to the experts, who suggest running for 5 to 10 seconds of every minute, and then walking the rest of the minute. Eventually the ratio will shift and you’ll run for longer periods.

Start training early. “You probably need more time than you think you do,” Attime says. Her four-month training schedule was shortened even more by a car accident in January. It sidelined her for three weeks.

Have the right gear. “Get good training gear. Get the right attire. Get great sneakers,” she says. "It makes all the difference."

Train in the environment in which you’re going to run. Attime’s accident—and D.C.’s horrible winter weather—forced her into the gym and onto her least favorite apparatus: the treadmill. “I hate it. Hate it,” she says. And when she returned to running outdoors, it was painful and completely different from running on the treadmill.

Have a training buddy. Partners keep you accountable. In Attime’s case, two friends made sure she stayed the course. She lost critical training time after her accident and thought she’d have to pull out of the race, but “they were, like, ‘Nope, we’re doing it. If you reach a point where you can’t run, you can walk it. But we’re doing it,’” she says.

On race day, run with friends or join a running group. "I didn't train with Black Girls RUN!, but they were at the half-marathon. Seeing them was really inspirational," Attime says. "Especially with the stereotype that we don't run because of our hair."

Do your post-run cool down. While training, Attime did yoga stretching after running. She did the same thing the day of the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon, and she credits that with how quickly she recovered. Four days after race day, she felt fine, like she hadn’t run a half-marathon at all. In fact, she’s itching for the next challenge: “I’m waiting for registration to open for the Army 10 miler,” she says. “I need to keep the momentum going!”