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Have Fun Going 13.1: Tips for Training for the Mini-Marathon

Heather Hedrick Fink, author of Absolute Beginner's Guide to Half-Marathon Training, provides 10 quick tips to help you get the best use out of the weeks leading up to your half-marathon event.
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January is typically the time of year for individuals to set new goals, including participating in endurance events such as half-marathons. Many runners and walkers from around the country select the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon in Indianapolis, Indiana (to be held on May 8, 2010). If you've chosen a spring half-marathon, whether the Mini-Marathon or another exciting half-marathon event, it's time to begin your training! The following 10 tips will help you to meet your goals and keep you fired up.

Lace up your shoes and let the training begin!

  • Tip 1: Check with your physician before you begin your training.
  • Consult with your physician before beginning any sort of exercise program, especially an endurance training protocol. This is a precautionary measure to ensure that you have a clean bill of health before challenging your body with physical activity.

  • Tip 2: Set your goals for training, as well as for race day.
  • One of the main reasons that individuals drop out of an exercise program is lack of motivation. People are motivated in different ways, but setting goals is universally recognized as a key to success in sticking with an exercise plan. Goals create a vision of future accomplishments and provide the "dangling carrot" to keep you moving in the right direction. Achieving your weekly training goals will contribute to an enjoyable, successful race day.

  • Tip 3: Choose your training protocol wisely.
  • Many walking/running books and websites provide structured training protocols. It's critical to be conservative when choosing your half-marathon training program. Pushing yourself too hard can lead to injury and prevent you from achieving your goals. Look for training programs that match your current weekly mileage and long walk/run mileage in the first 2–4 weeks. Your weekly and long walk/run mileage should progress slowly, meaning no more than a 5–10% increase per week. Protocols should also have built-in recovery weeks, in which your total weekly mileage and long walk/run mileage decrease significantly to allow your body to rebuild and recover.

  • Tip 4: Implement injury-prevention techniques from day 1!
  • Running and walking should be a fun, relaxing form of exercise—it shouldn't be painful and miserable. Most common walking/running injuries can be avoided by purchasing proper shoes, cross-training, stretching, and strength training (for more details, see the next four tips). If you experience pain that continues for an extended period of time (two weeks or more), see your physician and then return to walking/running gradually.

  • Tip 5: Purchase quality shoes.
  • Consult a knowledgeable salesperson at a reputable athletic store for advice on which shoe is best for you. Shoes must match your specific size, shape, and body mechanics. Monitor your shoes for wear-and-tear, indicating the need for a new pair. As a general rule, new walking/running shoes should be purchased every 300–500 miles.

  • Tip 6: Include cross-training every week.
  • Cross-training is any activity that doesn't include running or walking, such as swimming, tennis, or weightlifting. These important workouts will help to reduce impact stress, allow for recovery, add variety to your weekly exercise routine, and improve your fitness by challenging your heart and muscles.

  • Tip 7: Stretch regularly, especially after workouts.
  • A regular stretching program to maintain or improve flexibility can offer many additional benefits: promoting circulation, increasing athletic performance, preventing injuries, and decreasing muscle soreness—and it feels good! Stretching exercises are best completed after a walk or run, when the muscles are warm and pliable. Exercises should be performed for all the major muscle groups, at least 2–3 times per week. Stretch until you reach a point of mild tension, and then hold the stretch for 10–30 seconds. Breathe deeply, and try to exhale completely as you stretch.

  • Tip 8: Perform strength-training exercises weekly.
  • Walkers and runners often view "pumping iron" as important only for bodybuilders and football players. The reality is that strength training (also called resistance training) is important for everyone! Strength training enhances muscular endurance, strengthens muscles and joints, decreases the risk of injury, and keeps the body functional and disease-free. Runners and walkers should perform 8–10 different strength-training exercises 2–3 times per week. The program should include at least one set of 8–15 repetitions for each exercise.

  • Tip 9: Focus equally on balanced nutrition and appropriate training.
  • If you don't fuel your body properly, your training—as well as your health—will suffer. On a daily basis, aim for three food groups per meal, which will supply a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Stay well hydrated so that your body is prepared for each workout. Practice for race day by experimenting with various nutrition regimens before, during, and after your workout. Each long walk or run is an opportunity to practice your hydration and fueling plan for race day. Don't wait until race day to determine your needs! Trial-and-error should occur during your 14 weeks of training, leading to a tried-and-true plan for the half-marathon.

  • Tip 10: Have fun!
  • Runners and walkers often feel as if their training has become a part-time job—for some, even a second full-time job! Remember that exercise is meant to be part of your recreation time, so it's supposed to be fun! Enjoy the journey—the long walks/runs, determining your race-day nutrition plan, selecting the best clothes for race day, and battling the elements (weather). Everyone will have ups and downs during their training, but overall, try to choose to make it a fantastic experience!

Train smart, be safe, and have fun! See you at the Mini-Marathon start line on May 8, 2010!

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