The Fit Person’s Guide to Running Your First Half Marathon (With Training Plan!)

Each May, 15,000 people head to the Coney Island Boardwalk. But instead of toting swimsuits and coolers, they’ll be racing towards the Brooklyn Half-Marathon Finish Line. This year, I’ll be among them, as will many of Well+Good’s readers. (It sold out in a day!) And while many runners will be experienced racers and others will come from the couch-to-concrete camp, I'll be part of a growing race demographic that's less catered to—the fit person who regularly works out but is new to long-distance running.

So, we tapped City Coach founder Jonathan Cane, a top running coach who's trained a long list of elite athletes, to help us create a fit person’s guide to a first race.

Cane designed this 10-week training plan (download it now!) with my background in mind (lots of workouts, not much running). And he included two days for cross-training, so you don’t have to give up your boutique fitness classes (You can get more targeted training with him in this JackRabbit program, which includes race entry if you missed the registration window!).

Got your plan in hand and ready to get started? Here are Cane’s expert tips on getting the most out of your training:

1. Don’t be arrogant about your fitness level. “Fit people often think, ‘Oh, I can handle it!’ They think they can just go out and do it, but your body isn't used to hitting the pavement 180 times a minute,” Cane says. From a cardiovascular perspective, you’re probably ahead of the average person, but from an orthopedic point of view, it’s still important to be conservative and methodical in building up your mileage.

2. Train based on perceived exertion, not mile time. Especially at the beginning of training, Cane says it’s better to run at a pace that feels moderately hard for you rather than trying to stick to a specific mile time. It’ll help you gauge where you’re at, and you can add more precision later on.

3. Don’t give it all you’ve got. Ignore the push-it-to-your-max mantras you’re used to hearing from Barry’s and Flywheel instructors. For this goal, plan to conserve a bit of energy for the end. “I want you finishing the Saturday runs feeling like if I jumped out of the bushes and demanded an extra mile that you'd be able to do it,” Cane explains. Why? It’s important to use your efforts judiciously. A lot of runners, against Cane's advice, will do a 13.1-mile run the week before a Half "to make sure they can do it." Then they don't have the energy for the actual race and often don't perform as well. "You don’t want your best run to be during your training. We want you to peak at the right time,” says Cane.

4. Easy days are not optional. The stress all of the mileage puts on your body is real, so don’t try to push it on the days of your training that are supposed to be for recovery. If you do, it may throw off the next day's run, and the next, and the next..."Let your hard days be hard and easy days be easy with a capital E," Cane says. "On Sundays, I want you to be running so slow that you'd be embarrassed if someone saw you."

5. Listen to your body. Avoiding injury is super important, and fit people have an advantage, here. You know the difference between hurts-so-good quaking quads and that time you pinched a nerve in yoga, so use that body knowledge to stay safe while you train, listening for clues that you may need to take a break or tap out. —Lisa Elaine Held

Are you doing the Brooklyn Half? Download our guide! And tell us about your training plan in the Comments, below. And stay tuned for training updates in the coming weeks!

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