By Rozalynn S. Frazier
Running a half-marathon is all the rage these days, especially among women. In fact, a recent Running USA Report revealed that 13.1 is the fastest-growing race distance. What's more, in 2014, the ladies made up 61 percent of the field.
So why are women rushing to the starting line?
"We are seeing an exciting time for women's running in general," Knox Robinson, coach at Nike+ Run Club NYC, publisher of the international running culture journal First Run, and co-founder of the Black Roses NYC running collective told Health. "It's a combination of everything from women having more disposal income as consumers, companies giving more attention to women's gear, and the ability, through social media, to see women of all shapes and sizes running, which is empowering."
Adds Jenny Hadfield, founder of CoachJenny.com: "The training is the new way to socialize and catch up with friends. Plus there are a host of women's specific races that provide a friendly, non-competitive environment for newbies."
Thinking of tackling 13.1 in the near future? Consider these tips from top running pros before you lace up.
Know it's possible
"From the beginning, I try to communicate in all ways -- visually, literally and coaching-wise -- how possible it is to reach this goal through intelligent training and preparation," says Robinson who also notes that the half is a manageable distance for everyone to train for and wrap their heads around. "But you have to believe in yourself" to really succeed.
Be selective about your shoes
Your feet are your foundation, so give them the respect they deserve by investing in a good (good doesn't always mean super pricey) pair of kicks that are comfy and truly fit your feet. Look to your neighborhood specialty running store for help, advises former Olympic runner John Henwood, founder of TheRun, a boutique treadmill studio in New York City. Here, they'll perform a gait analysis to help decode what style of shoe is best.
Build your base
A running base is the number of miles and weeks of running you have in the bank before you being training for a race, and it is essential to a successful training season. "It's like the foundation of a house," says Hadfield. "The stronger the base, the more easily the body can withstand the demands of a training program."
Find the right training plan
Before you settle on a regimen, ask yourself what your goals are, and then work back from there. "Long distance running is about being able to run faster, longer and better," says Robinson, "so your training must be oriented in the same way." Choosing a plan that suits your style and fitness level is also key. "When you start from where you are, you progress more readily and enjoy the journey," explains Hadfield.
Give yourself enough time to prepare
Not only does the body need time to adapt to the progression of the mileage, but sometimes life gets in the way, so it's wise to have a little extra cushion. Look for training schedules that fall between 14 and 16 weeks. "This gives you weeks to play with in case something happens along the way, time to live your life and have vacations and plenty of time to build up the longer runs safely," says Hadfield. "Plus, the shorter the season, the higher the risk of injuries as well as burn out."
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Remember: every run has a purpose
So don't skip any. The long runs on the weekends are the bread and butter and build your endurance and ability to run far. The shorter, faster workouts build speed and fitness. And the easy mid-week runs bridge the gap between these two. "Get into the habit of training by your breath, like in yoga and tuning into how it responds to the workout on the given day," says Hadfield. "Some days will feel easier, and some harder, but when you train your body, you'll always be in the optimal zone."
Whatever you do, don't neglect the long run
For some, long runs, for lack of a better word, just suck. Regardless, it's important to get in a handful of them for the length of time you expect to be out on the course. Just as important as getting comfortable with the amount of time you'll be on your feet, is training your mind for those miles, too. "The challenge for distance runners is that you have to give your mind something to do," says Robinson. "Our minds aren't used to occupying that amount of time, and after an hour or so it begins to wander." And a idle mind is a breeeding ground for negative thoughts that make the urge to walk or stop that much harder to resist.
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Hit the weight room regularly
You may think you just need to pound the pavement to prepare, but keeping your body strong through weight training is a big factor in your success. Stronger muscles improve not only your running skills, but help ward off injuries too. Build strength days into your training one to two times per week, along with another day of cross-training in some form of cardio, such as spinning," advises Henwood. And don't forget to work that core; a strong one can improve running biomechanics, making you more efficient at pounding that pavement.
Get on a roll
All that running (and strength-training!) can leave muscles super tight; loosening them up with daily self-massage can go a long way in terms of keeping you injury-free, says Henwood. In fact, research shows that it can boost tissue repair, increase mobility and decrease soreness. So grab a foam roller and get down to business; your muscles will thank you on your next run.
Mix it up
You may feel a sense of comfort sticking to the same route day in and day out, but it could lead to burn out and overall resentment of those miles. For the sake of your sanity, and to keep things fresh, Henwood suggests opting for a change of scenery or surface (track, trail, treadmill) every once in a while. Other ways to hit refresh: creating a new playlist or buddy-ing up if you are typically a solo strider.
"Running is an emotional experience; it's a whole body experience," notes Robinson "Take time to have fun, as you build toward your goals."
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