How to prepare for your first half marathon

Gym clothes on a table

As Scar from the Lion king once sang “My teeth and ambitions are bared, be prepared!” and who doesn’t want to take advice from an evil cartoon lion? Simba certainly did and it didn’t do him any harm…

Anyway, I digress, today’s blog post is all about preparing for your first half marathon!

The Leeds half marathon is less than two weeks away; it’s my first ever half marathon and the longest distance my legs have ever travelled in one consecutive running session, so I need this blog post just as much as any other half marathon virgin does!

I’m going to split it into four sections; training, kit, nutrition and recovery so you can skip my ramblings if you’ve bossed your half marathon training but don’t have a clue about your kit or what you should eat and vice versa. Although I’m not saying I have all the answers either!

How do you train for a half marathon?

girls racing in 10k
I look so angry!

Good question, so after running my first 10km race in January at the Winter Run Series, I caught the running bug and signed up for the half a few days after.

And then I stopped running…

Now before you decide to judge me and tar me with a lethargically clumpy sofa-shaped brush, let me inform you that I’ve still been exercising and training frequently, it’s just I haven’t been putting in the running miles I should have been. You see the bulk of my workouts consist of strength training and HIIT cardio, which means steady state cardio usually falls to the bottom of my list or on a day when I have more time. THANKS BODY COACH AND PEOPLE THAT LOVE FAT BURNING HIIT WORKOUTS.

However, I’m not giving up hope that i’ll finish in a good time because I know that great running training isn’t just about clocking up the miles and running every session. There are numerous ways that you need to prepare your body for such a strenuous session, including strength training especially building up your posterior chain, plyometric exercises, developing your core and improving your balance and posture. There’s a really indepth article about how to become a better runner with tips from loads of experts here.

My training plan

It comes as no surprise (considering my blog name) that I’m still loving strength training so I’ve been sticking to lifting weights consistently. Plus I’ve been perfecting my technique for moves like deadlifts and squats at my Bear SCP bootcamp every week as some of the sessions are focused solely around strength. I’ve struggled with deadlifts for so long now but I can finally do them with confidence, hallelujah!

While we’re on the subject of bootcamp, I’m also definitely getting my fix of plyometric exercises and core strengthening every week as you can see from my blog posts. Lots of explosive jumping and stepping goes on.

I’ve also been following an online personal training plan with my trainer Darren via the Amaven system. The programme aims to identify any strengths and weaknesses and develop the core components of fitness which will help me become a better runner overall. I started by taking a quick fitness assessment which gave me a score on strength, stability, posture and mobility, and then the software created a fitness programme based on my results that would resolve any issues.

Amaven fitness recordAs you can see from the image of my Fitness Record, in the fitness MOT I struggled with my posture, stability and mobility, so many of the exercises in my plan have been tailored to rectify this.

amaven exercise schedule

Finally, I have actually been running as well (thank god!) I’ve been adding a 5km run into almost every gym workout I do (4 times a week) plus I have dusted the cobwebs off my yellow tee and rejoined the SweatShop team on their weekly outdoor runs. I’ve also been trying to do at least a 10km run every Sunday. My friend natalie, who I’m running with in Leeds, has been sending me snapchats of her casual 10 mile runs so I know I need to up my distance this weekend too!


half marathon training kit

This is the fun bit! Who doesn’t like wearing nice gym clothes?

For way too long I have stuck by the philosophy that I didn’t need fancy gym clothes with their anti sweat technology, quick dry fabrics and shiny leggings that make me look like a glamourous shiny seal. But you know what, it actually does make a difference to your performance, and I’m not just talking confidence baby!

  1. Less sweat (I get pretty sweaty and the primark stuff just soaks it up like a sponge)
  2. Easier to wash, dry and care for (Sarah from that Squat Bot wrote a really good post about how to take care of gym gear that has saved my garms. Spoiler alert, fabric conditioner is not your friend!)
  3. You feel more confident. Let’s face it, working out in an oversized ‘Boddingtons’ t shirt doesn’t make you feel like Jessica Ennis-Hill (I actually used to wear that) when I have my fancy lycra on I feel a lot more professional.
  4. Less bounce, a primark sports bra ain’t gonna cut it, ladies know what I’m talking about!
  5. Wearing the right trainers/insoles can work wonders for your run!

I’ve had some problems with my shins while running recently so I thought I’d give some insoles by Vionic Orthotics a try. I chose the active range, as they are specifically created for runners and I opted for a size 5 (UK size 6.5). The insoles are designed to give your feet greater support and create a more comfortable run. I have to admit I did find them quite big, I had to cut the top of them to fit them into my trainers so I would suggest getting a smaller size than you are. Although once they were in my shoes they were really comfortable and definitely supported my feet more than my usual running socks.

Viotonic insoles

Unfortunately, my painful shins persisted and after having my gait analysed by SweatShop (which is a great service by the way) it’s more likely that I have shin splints caused by suddenly increasing your mileage when your legs aren’t used to it, rather than anything to do with my form. Apparently the cure for shin splints is rest, which is not going to happen, so I will be taking a lot of ibuprofen throughout the race.

Half marathon nutrition

protein porridge

Carb-loading is probably my favourite word combination in the whole english language, it truly is a wonderful time. Sometimes I think that Andy Williams was really singing about his pre-race nutrition plan instead of Christmas afterall.

Without boring you all with my full diet I’ve tried to keep it quite simple, I eat protein porridge every morning and usually chicken/fish with loads of salad for lunch plus rice, and for dinner I’ll have something similar with pasta or potato instead. I’m really trying to curb my sweet tooth but if I can’t suppress the cravings then my trusty oats come out again in a smaller portion with loads of berries and cinnamon. I’m definitely going to have proats before the race and maybe even a bagel with peanut butter; if the Major Series mud obstacle course taught me anything it’s that after 3 hours of exercise I get ridiculously hangry!

I also got the chance to visit Vapiano and try their #EatPastaRunfaster dishes. You can read my review here. 


Obviously I haven’t completed the race yet but I have started trying to look after my body to do as much damage control as possible.

foam roller on gym matt

Foam rolling has become a big part of my life, I never really used to understand why people do it, but now I try and spend about 5 minutes using it on my legs before and after my workouts and I am definitely feeling less sore, despite increasing my intensity. According to Breaking Muscle, self-myofascial release, or foam rolling, works because “releasing trigger points helps to reestablish proper movement patterns and pain free movement, and ultimately, to enhance performance.” Essentially you are applying pressure to tenderise your own muscles to help them hold their elasticity, flexibility and prevent any pain.

I’ve also been warming up with movements and stretches before and drinking a lot more water after my workouts and throughout the day to ensure my muscles remain hydrated. Also I just want to mention how nice it is having a hot shower after a workout and putting on some really comfy trackies, I recently bought a pair of Pink Soda joggers that are actually the comfiest thing I have ever owned (shown in the top picture).

I’m gonna write a checklist for half marathon essentials next week (NOTE: here is my half marathon checklist) when it’s closer to the time, but if anyone is running a half/has run it and wants to leave me some tips they would be appreciated! Comment me or hit me up on twitter @HannahGetsHench