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Wellness Wednesday: How to Train for Your First Half-Marathon

Katie, a reader from Ludlow, recently spent some time exploring two of the most recent The River City News' “Wellness Wednesday” column articles: "How to Avoid Packing on Extra Pounds This Winter", and "Top 10 Fitness Trends to Try in 2016." After pondering for some time, Katie gave in to her gut instinct and emailed me with a question. 

“Hi Joshua, I just finished reading your articles on the River City News and was hesitant in writing you. I was curious if you could help me with one of my New Year’s resolutions. I would like to run my first half-marathon but I am not sure where to begin? Do you have any advice or experience with this? I did take your advice from one of your articles and went ahead and signed up for the Flying Pig half marathon in 2016. No turning back now! Love the articles. Thank you, Katie”

I do indeed have such experience, especially with this particular course after running the Flying Pig full-marathon annually since 2010. I have also spent countless hours reading varying books on training methodologies and studying the biomechanics of runners in hopes of preventing common runner injuries. For those who are unfamiliar with the half-marathon, it is an admirable distance of 13.1 miles or 21.0975-kilometers. I first expressed interest in whether or not Katie had completed any shorter distances, such as a 5-kilometer (3.1 miles) or 10-kilometer race (6.2 miles). It is not recommended for an individual to jump into a larger race without first experiencing smaller distances beforehand. Katie said she completes 5K’s pretty regularly and has run a couple of 10-kilometer races.

With that being said, let's get started on how one should go about training for their first half-marathon.

Fortunately for Katie and the residents of the Northern Kentucky area, the city of Ludlow has some great roads to run on. One in particular, Route 8, leads into the popular areas of Northern Kentucky and even over to the Greater Cincinnati area. This route is 7.26 miles, starts and ends near the Folk School Coffee Parlor, and loops over to the Paul Brown Stadium. Fore more details on this route, feel free to visit

Tips For First Half-Marathon

Have Fun: First and foremost, I highly recommend that for any first race, you just go out and enjoy it. Once you've completed your first race, you then have a time which you can be competitive against in the future. For now, just have fun with it. Once the fun disappears and you feel like you are working, download some new jams, grab a running buddy, alter where you run, or go out and buy yourself some new running gear.

Training: Most programs are 12-16 weeks in duration. This will mostly depend on your fitness level and goals. Be sure to spend the first four to five weeks building a base instead of just jumping into high-volume training weeks. In other words, just get out there and run in the beginning so that your body adapts to the stress of running. Shoot for 2-3 days of easy running and one longer run per week. Your easy and long runs should be conducted at a conversational pace as a general guideline. If you want to take your training one step further, incorporate some tempo training. You can do so by running faster from one intersection to the next, jog lightly for a few minutes, and perform 5-6 times. Don’t forget to incorporate some hills into your training as well. You’ll need it for the Flying Pig course.  

Mileage: As a beginner who runs 5Ks and 10Ks, aim for approximately 20 miles per week in the beginning with 2-3 days of rest. Other beginners with less experience should aim for approximately 10 miles per week and increase from there. Overtime, increase your volume of mileage to 25-30 miles per week. This higher volume of training will ensure that your body is ready for the half-marathon distance. In regard to long runs, aim for one or two 9-10 milers prior to the race.

Build A Strong Body: Incorporate strength training into the beginning of your training program. I require my running clients to do so because it is important for one to be fit to run versus running to be fit. Running in its own can cause a variety of injuries due to muscular imbalances (i.e., weak hips/glutes, legs, and foot muscles). If we can combine strength training with running, we will not only prevent injuries, but we will also be much stronger in regard to pacing and overcoming those Cincinnati hills.

Find A Running Buddy/Group: As you increase your mileage, running becomes a little more daunting. By finding a buddy or group to run with, you incorporate a sense of accountability. You will also prevent boredom during those longer runs by having someone to converse with. In addition, you can better your overall pace by finding someone of similar or faster pace to partake in the journey with you. Plus, as you start running more, these individuals will understand your struggles versus someone who does not run or has no desire to exercise. Both Tri-State Running Store in Crestview and The Running Spot in Newport host group runs. 

Listen To Your Body: Remember that your body’s health is more important than running through an injury or running the race with an injury. One way to stay injury-free is by using the 10% rule. Whatever distance you are running currently, increase the following week by 10%. The following week, do the same, and so on and so forth. When you feel any particular areas that are abnormally painful, take a rest day and seek a physician’s help.

Running Shoes: Grab the right pair of shoes to run in by having someone fit you. When I first started running, I recall having plantar fasciitis. Come to find out, it was because I was buying the wrong pair of shoes. Visit Tri-State Running Store or The Running Spot to find the right pair of shoes for you.

Recovery Is Key: This is where your body truly improves. Incorporating rest days and obtaining plenty of rest is just as important as your training. When we skip recovery days, the body becomes further stressed which can lead to injury. Massages are also extremely important. For all of my running clients, I have them invest in a foam roller in order to correct muscle imbalances by essentially self-massaging their muscles. You can also visit a local massage therapist for a professional massage.

Create A Plan: When going on runs and planning a route be sure to tell your friends and family your locations. This is especially important on those long run days. This will help ensure safety during the run in case anything were to happen. By having a planned route, you now have an idea of how far you are running and what to expect. Since you are so close to the course, run along the route so that you are better prepared for the Flying Pig half-marathon.

Gear: As you run more, you’ll find that there are certain accessories you may or may not find necessary. For most of my runs, I find the following useful:
Tracking device, GPS watch or Smartphone App to track my pace, distance, elevation, etc. Popular apps include Runkeeper, MapMyRun, Garmin, Nike+ Running, among others.

Belt: A fuel belt is a great way to store gel packs (an optimal way to stay nourished during your longer runs) and water bottles so that you do not have to carry either while you run. A personal item belt (i.e., SpiBelt) is a great way to carry your money, cell phone, or even car/house keys. There are many brands available at your local running and general merchandise store.

Compression Apparel: Recent studies have shown that such compression gear can help improve performance by increasing circulation in order to reduce inflammation. Many also wear compression gear to keep warm during the cold months. Compression gear can be purchased as shorts, leggings, arm and calf sleeves, and tops. These can also be found at your local running or general merchandise store.

Give these tips a try and good luck! Always feel free to ask any further fitness, nutrition, and wellness questions by commenting below or emailing me at [email protected].

- Joshua Reed is a Certified Personal Trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and is the owner of Reed’s Wellness and Fitness Training. He currently operates a small space in Ludlow, Kentucky and travels to see clients in the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area. He offers both personal, online, and small group training from his location, the client’s home, and/or outdoors. He is a 2012 graduate of Eastern Kentucky University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Adult Fitness and Wellness Management. Joshua currently attends the University of Kentucky, where he is earning a Master’s degree in Biomechanics with a concentration in running mechanics and injury prevention. You can reach Joshua via e-mail at [email protected] or on Facebook.