Finish first half marathon (21.1 KM) with only 5 weeks to train

tony teh scklm 2016 half marathon

5-Week Half Marathon Training Plan for First-Timers / Beginners to Finish

Last Sunday at the Standard Chartered KL Marathon was my first time ever participating in a half marathon (21.1 KM) and I managed to finish it in 2 hours and 26 minutes (net time) with only 5 weeks to train. It was also the first time in my life that I ever ran such distance. So yes, it’s not impossible even if you suddenly realised you have lesser than time you thought you do to train for it.

The reason why I had only 5 weeks to train was pretty damn stupid, I have to admit — I remembered the race day’s date incorrectly — can’t blame anyone but myself. Knowing that time was very limited at that point, I browsed for the quickest methods and shortest training programmes available for free online but most of them require 8 to 16 weeks of training time or almost daily training with short long runs and little rest. I didn’t want to compromise too much of my time, work and weight-training but it would’ve been unlikely to finish the run by the cut-off time (3.5 hours) if I didn’t train properly. Hence I needed a more unique training plan.

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So I reached out to seasoned runner, fellow blogger and good friend Evelyn for advice which pointed me at the right direction that gave me an idea on how I needed to plan my training well enough that I’d be able to complete the half marathon in time. That was the priority but I was also aiming to run or jog the entire way without walking or stopping. After 3 weeks into my training programme, I was confident enough that I’d have no problem finishing the run in less than 150 minutes. The remaining 2 weeks were tapering period to rest up well for race day.

As there will be beginners like myself who need a last-minute training plan due to whatever reason, I decided to share mine here and hope that it may be of some use as a reference. However, I do not recommend this training programme to just everyone as it could be dangerous due to unforeseeable reasons. It might have only worked for me because I planned it according to own physical condition and limitations — I’m not over or under weight, I used to play sports a lot, I’ve ran a 12K before several years ago, I’ve completed an obstacle race a few months ago, and I’ve been working out actively for the past 6 months (before the 5 weeks).

If you’re around 30 years old or below with similar fitness condition/experience as mine, maybe, just maybe, this programme might work out for you. But please use with caution and only use it if you had no better option left available elsewhere. If you have 8 weeks or more to train, I’d strongly advise you to start training now with other more relevant programmes.

Without further ado, this was my 5-week half marathon training programme and my own schedule. I hope it’d be helpful to some of you;

5 week half marathon training plan programme

Important notes and some tips:

UNABLE TO RUN 10 KM ON FIRST DAY: It can be very difficult if you’ve never ran such distance before or haven’t been running for years but you just have to do it. You can jog slowly or even walk in between but no matter what, just try your best not stop until you’ve completed 10 KM. Fundamentally, this is to shock your body muscles and to mentally prepare for the training weeks to come. Setting a high benchmark is absolutely essential to lay down a decent minimal foundation for yourself. A strong previous week would give you more confidence and eagerness to do a bit more this week.

IGNORE THE GYM DAYS in my schedule if you do not usually do weight-training for strength or bodybuilding. Replace them with cross-training, strength conditioning or other types of running workouts and schedule your runs further apart from each other. I was advised by many to abandon my weight-training for these 5 weeks, which if I did, it would’ve definitely made things easier, better conditioned my body and stamina, and I might have even improved my running time. But I was not willing to lose any lifting strength or muscle that I’ve gained, so instead of stopping, I modified my workouts accordingly. However, for leg days, low-volume heavy squats and deadlifts were the only exercises I did. This was to ensure that my legs could recover within 2 days. Squats were completely skipped on race week.

WEATHER: If you’re from Malaysia too, you’d know that our weather can be very unpredictable. The heat could badly affect my performance while the rain could make things inconvenient. But I’ve never allowed the weather to prevent me from strictly following my programme. It almost heavily rained every time during my long runs but it didn’t stop me from going on or achieving my targets. When it’s time sensitive with only 5 weeks out, we have to be very disciplined and determined. It’s all part of the challenge. It actually feels awesome to run in the rain some times but you’d have to try preventing yourself from falling sick after.

MUSIC TO COMBAT BOREDOM: Running or jogging can be dauntingly dull and that’s why music is essential every time I run. I have playlists of high tempo tunes and heavy rock music to keep me motivated and provide a rhythm. I love it when the right lyrics coincidentally comes when encouragement was most needed.

NUTRITION: Eating sufficiently and correctly is important. Days to hours before my long runs, I fueled myself up with a lot of carb, protein, potassium and of course, water. I consumed a lot of isotonic sports drinks to hopefully avoid muscle cramps. I’m pleased that I’ve never experienced cramps during runs, ever. And I also drank protein shakes after all workouts and runs to assist muscle recovery.

STRETCH before and after runs. I tend to forget to do so but apparently it helps reduce soreness, injuries and improves flexibility.

RUNNING FORM: Go find some reliable videos on YouTube to learn about forms of runnings, especially for downhill and uphill. My poor downhill form caused some pain in my knees and ankles while my horrible uphill form exhausted me more than it should. It’s highly advisable to fix forms at the beginning of your training plan rather than later so that you could still get used to your new form while training with it. Changing forms in your final weeks may significantly affect your endurance.

SET GOALS, TIME YOURSELF: The distance goals are already suggested in the programme. The time goal is up to you. If you want that finisher medal, I’d advise you to train to finish your half marathon at least 30 minutes before the cut-off time. Two main reasons — one, you’re not training the whole 21.1 KM before race day so the final few kilometres during the race itself might be more difficult than expected — and two, your GPS device or mobile running app might be flattering you with inaccurate stats of your runs (I found out about mine during the race but fortunately it didn’t affect me much). If you can’t run the entire way, learn to jog or walk faster in between to recover while keeping yourself on the move towards the finish line. Timing yourself allows you to know your average pace and with that, you’d know how to push yourself to either improve or maintain the pace when running different distances.

PACING and BREATHING: Knowing your pace and keeping your heart rate stable are key in running. Don’t go speeding in your very first KM when you know you’d end up running out of breath or burning out your legs before reaching your goal. Some people needs to warm up while some don’t. For long runs, I’d usually take it very easy for the first 3 to 5 kilometres before I could comfortably run at my race pace. As for medium and short runs, I’d give myself a faster time goals as part of the training. After a while, I learnt to slow down my heart rate by controlling my pace and breathing. I only allowed myself to inhale and exhale heavily through my mouth in the final kilometres of any run.

SORENESS is something you need to expect when your muscles are shocked, especially if you never ran such distances before. It can be as bad as not being able to walk or straighten your legs without pain on the next day. After long runs, make sure you eat enough protein and rest well. Taper the final two weeks as planned otherwise you may not perform optimally on race day.

MENTAL STRENGTH: Expect your mind and body to tell you to quit or take a break whenever things get difficult and suffering. It happens a lot even to me but I’d just say “fuck you” to myself and just kept on going. I’m not condoning this but some times you just have to endure the pain and fight through it. I ran even when my quads, knees and ankles were hurting. However, my targets were realistically set for myself, the pain wasn’t too bearable and I believed it was safe to push myself to the limit. Besides, it wouldn’t be fun if the challenge was too easy.

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