Training for Your First Long-Distance Race

Now that I have three half-marathons under my belt (each with a distinctly different training cycle from the last, but I’ll discuss that later), I thought it might be helpful to other novice runners to share what I’ve learned about training thus far. This post is for my fellow beginner runners who once couldn’t run a mile without stopping, and are now finding that as their aerobic and muscular capacities increase, so does their love for the sport 🙂

As I mentioned before, I started running consistently with an immediate goal of getting into 5-K shape. I had no time goals – I just wanted to finish without feeling weak or winded! I had the exact same mindset when I trained for my first half-marathon, so I used Hal Higdon’s beginner plans for my first few races. Hal has plans for nearly every distance, from the intermediate distances to even racing back-to-back marathons, but these are the two I used and even refer back to from time to time. These plans are fairly flexible, and I think Hal does a great job of ramping up your mileage slowly, so as to avoid injury and unnecessary fatigue.

Hal Higdon’s 8-week  5k Training Plan


Hal Higdon’s 12-week Half-Marathon Training Plan


Of course, a solid plan is only a starting point. Here are some tips to keep in mind while training:

  1. Focus on actual time spent running instead of miles logged.
  2. Give your body time to adapt. This may mean starting off with two to three 30-minute runs a week for about 4 weeks, and then increasing the duration of your run or the frequency of your runs (not simultaneously!) over the next four weeks.
  3. Understand that sickness, injury, travel plans, and busy schedules will interrupt your training at some point. As soon as you’re able to fit in the next run, get it done! A delay does not mean your training cycle is ruined and you’ve completely fallen off of the wagon. Barring a doctor’s orders to discontinue activity, you can start again.
  4. Each training cycle will present its own unique challenges (ahem, opportunities for growth). I firmly believe that you’re a different runner every season, for better or worse. Consistency, structure, and a positive mental attitude will go a long way.
  5. Your diet and recovery practices will heavily influence how difficult training feels. Try to get at least seven hours of sleep each night,  drink lots of water, and focus on eating whole foods, such as fruit, vegetables, and lean protein. Foods that are high-fiber and contain slow-digesting carbohydrates like oatmeal and apples, and healthy fats, such as almonds and avocados, are some of my favorites for long-lasting satiety and energy.

Happy Training!



3 thoughts on “Training for Your First Long-Distance Race

    • thepapillonrunner says:

      Yes! I love the idea of having A, B, and C goals for a race, even after you’ve raced a few times! Sometimes, you have an off day, or the course is not as supported as you thought it would be, or the weather is unseasonable. Those smaller goals will help you take inventory of what went well, given the conditions. Thanks for sharing this tip!


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