Ask Mario: Can I Run A Half Marathon In 5 Weeks?
Mario Fraioli advises a reader who wishes to attempt running a half marathon on only five weeks of training.
I hate to run, but love to work out in general and think I am in pretty decent shape. I typically only run twice a week and do either a 1.5-mile run in around 11 minutes or a 3-mile run in 24 minutes. I have never run anything longer than an 8K in my entire life. I have been challenged to sign up for a half marathon not too long from now (5 weeks) and wanted to know if I had enough time (realistically) to train and get in shape for it??? Crazy that I’m considering it, as I HATE to run. But lots of my friends have done it and I am slowly becoming the only one to not have the experience, and at 35 I am not getting any younger. Would appreciate your advice if you have time to offer it.
Thanks for getting in touch. Five weeks doesn’t give you a whole lot of time to prepare at this point. However, given the information you’ve provided me, I don’t think it’s completely crazy to consider running the race under such notice, although for a first-time half marathoner such as yourself, I’d best recommend getting at least another 5 to 7 weeks of training under your belt before undertaking such an endeavor.
Why? In short, attempting to more or less quadruple your running distance over such a short period of time is an open invitation to overuse injuries which could immobilize you for weeks after the race or prevent you from making it to the starting line in the first place. Running, particularly tackling longer distances such as half marathons and marathons is a HUGE stress to the body. For most people, it takes more than just a few weeks for the body to acclimate to the demands being placed upon it. A gradual adaptation to stress, rather than a short spike in volume, is the safest way to build up your mileage.
That said, I think you have two options:
Option 1. Find another half marathon, ideally later this year or in the early part of next year, which would give you 10 to 12 weeks to properly prepare your body to cover 13.1 miles — and, perhaps, more time to develop a LOVE for running! Even though you’re in pretty good shape, your longest run of late has only been 3 miles. Even if you’re able to maintain your regular running pace of 8 minutes per mile (which, of course, becomes increasingly more difficult to maintain the more miles you add to your run) that still yields a finishing time of 1:44:48, which is almost an hour and 25 minutes longer than you’re used to being on your feet. Also, since you’ll be running a lot longer than you’re used to, hydration and fueling need to be factored into the equation. Learning your body’s specific energy needs, as well as how to eat and drink on the run, takes time and practice.
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Option 2. If you’re hell-bent on running the race—and more importantly, finishing it—I’d recommend using a walk-run strategy. The reason is two-fold. No. 1, it’s the safest way to increase the amount of time you spend on your feet. If you’re running 3 miles now and go out and try to run 6 miles tomorrow, you’ll either suffer through every remaining step of the run or be reduced to a walk, anyway. By inserting a short walk break into your routine say every mile or 10th minute, you’ll give your body a chance to catch up and keep going. Secondly, for someone in your precarious position, the walk-run strategy will allow you the opportunity to refuel on the run. Use your minute walk break to sip down some water or take a gel packet before your resume running.
As for the next five weeks, you need to increase your overall training volume to the point where you feel confident you’ll be able to finish the race. The safest way to increase your mileage is by adding one to two miles a week of walk-running to your longest run of the week, or even splitting your longest run of the week into two shorter sessions, ie, 4-5 miles in the morning, then 4-5 miles a few hours later in the day. The short break in between runs will allow your legs to recover just enough that you’ll be able to maintain good form in the later miles of the day, thus lessening the likelihood of impending injury if you were to try tackling 8 to 10 miles all at once. Whichever strategy you choose to follow, be sure to take the day or two off from running afterward to give your legs the chance to come back around. Stretching, easy non-impact aerobic cross training (swimming, biking, elliptical) and ice baths will help speed the recovery process.
Hope this helps steer you in the right direction. Best of luck with whichever path you choose to take!
Ask Mario appears monthly in Competitor magazine and weekly on Competitor.com. Have a question for Mario? Submit it here.