How I trained for the Illinois Half Marathon

A few hours ago today, I finished my second half marathon. About a year ago, I finished my first half marathon. On both accounts, I feel great (minus some minor leg pain) after completing the race. It takes quite a bit of effort to finish running 13.1 miles. Yes, it is not the full marathon (26.2 miles) but it is not a simple exercise that you can do without any training.

The purpose of this post is to share some of the training that I did. Writing this post also helps me keep a written record of what I did and what worked for me so I can look back in the future and compare.

My training is a bit unusual for two reasons. First, I am a fairly skinny person. I am about 1.7 meters tall but only weigh about 55 kilograms. Second, before completing my first half marathon in 2012, I was not a serious runner. I didn’t run regularly, if at all.

My ectomorphic body type coupled with my lack of previous running experience make training for the race a bit challenging. My legs are really skinny – chicken-leg size skinny, if that helps give you a mental picture. That means that when I started running, there simply wasn’t enough muscle to propel myself to run faster. On the other hand, because I weigh so little, it is also easier on my knees for long distances.

The first time I ran the race, it was by sheer determination alone. I had started training with another friend. She followed a more typical route: running the 5k, 10k and then the half marathon on subsequent races. I learned quite a bit from her as I started running. The first two pieces of advice come from her and her friends. And they are essential for finishing the race for the first time.

Get proper shoes

For long distance running, you need proper shoes. Period. You should not go to any retail store and just simply pick out a pair just based on a whim. Instead, you should go to a athlete store that will measure your gait.

Fortunately, there is such a store in the Champaign-Urbana area: Body N' Sole. They have some simple equipment to video capture your leg movements as you run on the threadmill. Using this, they determine that I was an overpronator. This means that my feet tend to roll as I run.

For short distances, having your feet roll is not a big deal. But for longer distances, having your feet roll will very easily lead to shin splints and other complications. For overpronators like myself, it’s important to get a pair of shoes with more support.

In addition, unlike your typical retail store, the people working there are also trained to identify other issues with your feet. They were able to tell me that I had narrow feet and that I required narrower shoes. And they were able to recommend a brand that produced narrower shoes.

In short, the first step is to get proper shoes. Recently, I shared this piece of advice with another of my friends who was just starting to run. It was miraculous. Prior to having his gait examined, he was buying the wrong shoes. He was wearing a size too big because he had some toe pain, which he had mistakenly attributed to the size of his shoe. Turns out it was he also needed more support at the heel and also a different way to tie his laces.

Set up a training routine

The first time you run a mile, it will feel really hard.

That’s fine. You just need to keep at it. Soon, you will be able to do 1.5 miles, 2 miles, etc. But you won’t be able to increase your distance if you don’t run consistently.

My training schedule started off with running twice a week. I’ll start with 5K and slowly increase the distance each week. I wasn’t aiming for time. I was simply aiming for distance. When I started out, I was slow. It took me about 12 minutes to complete a mile.

My training routine lasted about four months. I stared in January, and the race was at the end of April. Before the race, I could only run up to 11 miles (not the full 13.1 miles).

The first time I ran a half marathon, all I was aiming for was to finish it. I didn’t care how long I took as long as I finished it. I even had to walk halfway as well because I was too tired to run continously. Being able to finish it in 2:11:03 was a surprise and a bonus.

The first two pieces of advice above were all I did the first time I ran the race. Of course, when I was training for the second time, I realized that just sheer willpower wasn’t going to help me improve my time. And I was beginning to notice that as I started running more frequently and longer, I was also getting injured more.

That’s when I started doing other things. The following sections are a little less developed because I just started doing them this year. Thus, I am merely following what I found on the Internet and don’t have the time to incorporate my own experiences yet.

Set up a cool down routine

Once you start running regularly, it’s important to start thinking of routines to help you recover. A simple thing to try is to just not urn everyday. Rest a day between runs.

Another thing I started incorporating were some cool down routines. I primarily did two: Butterfly Pose and tracing the alphabet with my toes.

The Butterfly Pose is a yoga pose to relieve tightness in the lower back and hips.

Tracing the alphabet with my toes helps reduce the chances of shin splints, which is an injury that is very common with overpronators (like myself).

Do strength training

To improve my speed, I needed to do strength training. Remember how I said, I had skinny legs? Well, I needed to both increase my strength to be able to run faster. Because of how light I weigh, it is not sufficient to just run more frequently or longer distances to build strength and muscle.

To improve my strength, I did two things:

  1. Squats, lunges and calf raises following the advice from [Scooby's Workshop](
  2. Standing hip abductor and single-leg squats from [Runner's World](

Vary your runs

As I began to run more frequently and for longer distances, things began to feel a little boring.

Fortunately, there are many ways to vary your run. I follow this article and do a combination of fartlek and tempo runs. Fartlek runs are particularly fun for me since they break the monotocity of long distance runs.

So those are what I did while training for the half marathon. I hope that some of you might find it useful as you train for your first half marathon. I’ll be happy to read about any comments you have.

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