Half marathon training: Tip 1

A breakdown of stats from my first 13.1 miler (The Vitality Big Half, London)

Just ran your your first 10k? Congratulations! You might be ready for your next challenge…

If you can run comfortably for an hour then you should find a half marathon a great test of your stamina. Enduring over 21k of running can feel intimidating but over the next few weeks I’m going to post a series of tips that helped my first ever half enormously.

Not raced before? No problem! The final four tips are aimed at those who have never even entered into an official timed run.

Before I quit alcohol, I couldn’t run 5k. I had “ran” in a 10k race, but this involved pausing every mile to chug down water. I’d never actually ran beyond 3km without stopping (could normal people do this?!). Fast forward 11 months into sobriety and I ran my first half marathon without even stopping at a water station.

And no, I didn’t follow a training plan. 

Open up any running magazine and their training plans tend to look like this:

A bit overwhelming, no?

Even now, I take a simple approach to my training. I do make time for both speed sessions and recovery runs, but I generally run by feel. Call me naive but I don’t use Strava (running app), a Garmin (running watch) or obsess over food. With that in mind, here is the first of my nine simple tips for preparing for your first half marathon.

Tip 1: Look at your alcohol intake

If you truly don’t want to forego the booze then that’s completely your choice. I’ve been running for years, but it wasn’t until I got sober that my base level of fitness improved in ways I couldn’t imagine.

Here in the UK, alcohol is advertised to consumers from all angles. It’s not just bottomless cheap Prosecco with your 11am avo-on-toast, we’re encouraged that alcohol goes hand-in-hand with exercise. Do yourself a favour and don’t sign up to the ubiquitous “wine and beer” themed races.

My frustration at marketing could fuel a whole new post altogether.  But for now, let’s just boycott Sweaty Betty’s toxic “wellness” apparel.

Slogans alternate between Gym to Gin and No Pain, No Champagne each season. *rolls eyes*

Influential retailers and “health” events should not be normalising the use of alcohol. 

Aside from being dehydrating and full of empty calories, alcohol can rob you of any motivation to fuel yourself efficiently. After a heavy pub session from the night before, I’d automatically grab a can of coke and Maccie’s Breakfast Wrap on my way to work.

Now that I’m not constantly thirsty, I grab a bowl of homemade* granola and top it with lashings of fruit instead. 

Finding the energy to go for a morning run when your body is dehydrated is hard. As a diuretic, alcohol doesn’t just make you visit the loo more- it also pushes the body to sweat more.

Let’s not forget that booze damages your sleep too. Alcohol has a profound impact on the REM (rapid eye movement) cycle of sleep, which is essential for its restorative qualities on the body. Put simply, even if that glass of wine helps you nod off, it’s going to make you even drowsier the following morning. Lack of REM will also affect cognitive function and ability to concentrate. (Source: Roehrs and Roth. Click here)

The longer I abstained from booze, the more my ability to focus increased. I found myself less likely to bail out of a run due to feeling knackered.

I’m still sleeping for 6/7 hours a day but I wake up feeling actually refreshed, rather than depleted of energy. That, combined with the nutritious breakfast makes that 7am run all the more enticing, even on a bad day.

Breakfast: a key ingredient for early morning motivation
Dining at Fletcher Wellness Hotel, Leiden.

*I’m quite smug about this but it’s super easy. I adapted this one from Cookie and Kate

Tip 2: Coming soon

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