The half marathon – 13 miles (21km) – is a formidable challenge to take on in its own right (with the all-important marathon word in its title), as well as a great stepping stone to the full 26-mile (42km) distance. You should have at least three months of regular running (three to five days a week) behind you before you begin training for a half marathon – and ideally, you will also have a few shorter races under your belt. Some runs in this eight-week programme are based on time, as for the 5km and 10km programmes, but others are based on distance. With 13 miles to cover, it’s important that you are putting enough miles in the bank during training. It’s also important that you begin to get a sense of your minutes per mile pace, so you have an idea of how long the race might take.
How to follow the programme successfully
• Start each session with a warm-up and finish with a warm-down.
• Follow hard training sessions with easy runs or rest days. You don’t have to follow the exact days suggested here, but it is important to follow the hard-easy format.
• Follow the advice about how hard you should be working for each session – do not simply run as hard as you can every time.
• Make sure you carry fluid with you on the longer runs (those that last an hour or more). An isotonic sports drink is a better option than water on these longer sessions.
• If you are finding the programme too challenging, repeat a week rather than moving on. If you’re finding it very manageable, add in another steady-paced run of the same length of time as Monday’s run on a day of your choice.
• Try to include a cross-training session once a week (the suggested day is Tuesday), to give your joints a break from running
• Pay attention to the easier fortnight leading up to your race. This taper period gives your body a chance to recover, so that you perform well on the day.
Easy: this should feel very comfortable and enjoyable.
Steady: still comfortable, but a little harder.
Tempo: on the brink of your comfort zone – you aren’t able to converse easily.
Fast: working hard and staying focused (the shorter the bout of running, the harder you can push).
Find a race
• The Great North Run (the world’s biggest half marathon) takes place in Newcastle each October (greatrun.org).
• London’s Run to the Beat half marathon with music is set for September 2009 (runtothebeat.co.uk).
• The Adidas Silverstone half marathon takes place in March (adidashalfmarathon.co.uk).
And exhale … aerobic versus anaerobic exercise
It might surprise you to know that not all running counts as aerobic exercise. Strictly speaking, aerobic means “with oxygen” and refers to exercise that is of an intensity that allows sufficient oxygen and nutrients to be transported via the blood to the working muscles.
But in an all-out, 100m sprint, the intensity is so great that the body simply can’t supply the necessary oxygen and fuel fast enough, so it has to rely on other forms of energy production which are anaerobic (without oxygen). Harry Aikines-Aryeetey doesn’t even take a breath during the 60m sprint.
The two energy systems aren’t completely separate. For a start, there is always some oxygen already in the muscles and bloodstream, which makes a partial contribution to even the most intense anaerobic effort. Conversely, you could slip into anaerobic energy production on an endurance run if you messed up your pace judgement, encountered an uphill section or increased your pace towards the finish.
Aerobic and anaerobic exercise are best seen on a continuum, with 100% aerobic exercise at one end (say, running a marathon) and 100% anaerobic exercise (that all-out sprint) at the other. In between these two extremes, both energy systems contribute to fuelling the activity, but in different proportions.
The greater the intensity, the more the activity will be fuelled by anaerobic energy pathways; the easier the activity, the more it will be facilitated by the aerobic system.
Table: An eight-week programme
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