For those of you that do not run, running can be an intimidating thing to think about getting into. Imagine a friend coming to you and saying, “let’s train for and run a mini-marathon (13.1 miles)”. Maybe all you can think about is, “I don’t even know if I could run 1 mile let alone 13!” On the other hand, maybe your thoughts are “Where do I start and how do I get in shape in time?” In this blog I hope to ease some of your anxiety and give you sound advice as you attempt this amazing new journey.
The first thing you’ll want to do is gear up properly. I’ll make this simple and say wear what is comfortable for you as a top, bottom, and for socks. However, you need to be properly fitted for shoes because there are different foot types. The easiest thing to do is to go to a running store and have an expert there analyze, size, and suggest some different brands and models of shoes. You can also look online and do your own “wet step test” at home to see what kind of foot you have and then look up running shoes that fit your foot type. I have some shoe reviews in my “gear” section and I also talk about foot types a bit.
Once you have some proper shoes we can feel confident you will be comfortable on your feet as you log some miles and you will have a better chance of keeping injuries at bay. The next thing I would do is go find a nice scenic park, lake, or trail to walk. Your first few workouts might be walking and hiking. This is to just get your body moving and your legs slowly adjusted to working more than its been use to. Do not jump straight into a lot of running! It will only leave you really sore and probably discourage you because of the short amount of distance you actually covered. Now I will say that there are some people out there who may not be runners who do have a little more physically aerobic ability. They might be able to jog from the beginning and be just fine. I’ll let you be the judge of your ability but there is no shame in starting out with some nice brisk walks and hikes.
Don’t worry about mileage for the first week or two. Just get outside and enjoy the fresh air and the beauty of creation. Try to walk and hike at least 5 days of the week for the first couple of weeks. Say you go on a 5 mile walk and you feel really good with about half a mile to go, can you jog or run it in? Sure! Begin to gradually run more and walk less. Do the walking and slow running at the beginning and save the steadier and faster running for the end. Yes, you will be tired and sore if you are training. I am trying to ease you into this so that your soreness will not lead you to injury.
Ideally you would want to give yourself about 12 weeks to train for mini-marathon. That’s about 3 full months to get your lungs, heart, legs, and brain (mental toughness), ready for the race. The first couple of weeks is about taking it easy and gradually building into the runs. The next two weeks you can begin to alternate run days with walking/jogging recovery days in between. You’ll still want to try to aim for working out about 4 to 5 days a week. You will want to get at least 2 to 3 running days in and a couple of easy walking/jogging days. The other two days can be rest or cross training. Cross training can include playing other sports, biking, rowing, and swimming. If you can get into the gym a couple days of the week for some core training and weight lifting that will help with strengthening your muscles. Weight lifting or strength training also helps with preventing injuries.
After the first month you are ready to pick up the training a little. I would aim to get one “long” run in a week. This needs to be a run at least 8 to 9 miles long. You can do it nice and easy for the first couple of weeks and then try to do one a little bit faster and more steady later in the month. If you feel great you can always go an extra mile or two on your long run day. Pick another day to do a “tempo” run. I suggest you start with one to two miles of easy running and then go into 3 miles of tempo (which is a pace you can still talk to another person but with some difficulty because you are running fast enough that it is slightly uncomfortable). Finally, end your tempo with a couple of easy cool down miles. A tempo pace is something you should be able to hold and stay steady at for the entire duration of your goal distance. If you have to slow down then you are running to fast. If you feel like you have quite a bit left at the end then you ran too slow. Your “long run” and your “tempo run” are your harder workouts for the week. I would use the other two to three runs as recovery runs of about 4 to 7 miles.
In your last month you will want to continue to train hard for the first couple of weeks and then back off on the intensity of your runs and the mileage for the last couple of weeks to allow your body and legs to be fully charged and ready to go for race day.
The last couple of weeks is called “tapering” by many runners. I like to think of “tapering” as the critical days before a race where you want to prepare your mind and body for race day. You want your sore muscles to recover as much as possible, let any injuries be treated and healed, you want to maintain steady nutrition, and you want to stay positive mentally. You aren’t going to make great gains in fitness in two weeks and you won’t lose much either. Try to maintain your 4 to 5 running days but just take a couple miles off each run and pull back on some of the intensity so that you save up your strength for race day.
Here is a sample week of hard training about 4 weeks out from race day: Monday 5 mile run easy. Tuesday a 7 mile run easy but put in at least one surge at each mile. This means pick up the pace for a minute or two and then back down to an easier pace for the rest of the time. Wednesday is a rest day. Thursday is an easy 7 mile run. Friday is a 5 mile long run. Saturday is a 9 mile long run with the last couple of miles being your fastest mile splits. Sunday is a rest day. This is a 33 mile week. You should be running around this type of mileage give or take a few miles either direction depending on your fitness level and abilities. It also depends on how motivated you are in wanting to “race fast” or “just race to finish well”. The competitive types will want to run a little more miles and have more intensity or faster paces in their hard runs.
Some of the tricks to helping those miles go by faster is to run with a friend or group of friends, choose scenic places to draw your attention, and listen to some music or a podcast that you love. I also go on a lot of out and back runs. For example, say you are on a 10 mile long run; you could pick a course that goes 5 miles out and then you are forced to make the 5 mile trek back to your car or home. Sometimes running shorter loops around like a park might leave you the temptation to cut the run short because it’s really convenient to quit as you begin to feel tired because your car or home is close by.
Don’t I have to run at least 13 mile runs to race a 13.1 mile race? Nope. You’ll be fine with long runs ranging from 9 miles to 12 miles. If you want to run a 13 mile run on one or two of your long days then go for it. I’m sure it will be a mental boost but if you can run 10 miles you should be confident that 13 will easily happen on race day. Remember, on race day you will be surrounded by other runners, cheering fans, and your adrenaline will be pumping! Note, you need to be careful how fast you start the race because most runners go out too fast. Yes, it will feel easy but monitor your pace the first 3 to 4 miles and make sure you are on your goal pace and not faster.
Will I need gels and sports drinks for a mini-marathon? Yes and No. Most runners do not need “gels” or “sports drinks” to run 13.1 miles because they are fast enough to cover that distance without needing extra calories. However, recreational and newer runners may need to carry a couple of gels or drink some sports drink often during the race. We all have about 80 to 90 minutes of glycogen energy stored in our body to use before we hit a “wall” physically. I have trained my body to get up to about 20 miles in training runs before I really need to take any gels or sports drink. However, it is much shorter on race day if I am running hard because I’ll be burning through my glycogen stores faster. I would practice taking a gel on your long runs and have a couple of them in your pocket on race day. Take one about every half hour after the first hour to hour and 15 minutes of your race. Note, most gels need you to follow them with some water but there are a few gels out there that you can take without water and they are just fine on your gut and digestive system. I practice with gels from time to time because you’ll want to know what works to provide your body with energy and doesn’t mess up your gut by leaving you feel gassy and bloated.
Do I Need Racing Shoes? Nope. Your training shoes will be just fine on race day. If you are super competitive and want the fastest time possible then you can decide if it’s worth the money to buy a racing shoe. Racing shoes are lighter but they are also less cushioned because the weight savings mostly comes from the rubber or foam found at the bottom of the shoe. Some racing shoes have carbon plates which help propel you forward which may lead to faster times as well. Yes, all of the elite or semi-elite runners will be running in “fast racing shoes” but that doesn’t mean you have to. If you are on a budget I would rather you have two pairs of training shoes that you can alternate between than one training shoe and a pair of racing shoes.