Four Ways to Crush Half-Marathon Training, Injury-Free

photo showing the legs and feet of multiple marathon runners in action

Posted 5/19/2022

Running can be a real rush – a bit euphoric, even!

The health benefits of a good run – long-distance or short runs – do the heart and mind good. That rush – a “runner’s high” – can give you a boost in mood and sense of accomplishment

For race runners, nothing beats that “mission accomplished” feeling after putting in the work and crossing the finish line.

If you run for health or sport, race running might seem like a lofty goal or dream. You can see the finish line banner in your head but then…

POOF!

It’s gone.

But with the right planning and commitment, it’s totally doable!

Our work with runners of all athletic levels gives us a competitive edge in helping keep them safe and running. We can help you, too.

It starts with some basic but important need-to-knows.

In this article we break them down into a series of four S’s of safe marathon training:

  • Stress injury prevention
  • Standards of progress
  • Strength training
  • Shoe (yes, shoes!)

If you’ve been thinking about pushing to a next level and running your first half-marathon, read on!

Stress injuries that can stop you in your tracks

Injuries to feet, ankles and legs are common for runners.

If you run on a regular basis, it’s likely you’ll have an injury at some point.

The most common are repetitive stress injuries (RSIs). They’re also called repetitive overuse injuries or repetitive strain injuries.

80% of running injuries are overuse, repetitive stress injuries.

~ PubMed Central (PMC), Injuries in Runners; A Systematic Review on Risk Factors and Sex Differences

 

These happen with movement that’s repeated over and over.

Think about the act of running and your feet hitting the ground.

The constant slap-slapping of shoes on pavement or other hard surfaces. Muscles pulling on bone to propel you forward. All of this works together to make our bones and tendons stronger.

Now add to that any increases in your running distance as you train. This pushes your body past the point of comfort; each bit more adding more stress to tendons and bones. The intensity stimulates collagen growth – the protein that helps joints flex and absorb impact.

But add too much stress and the body can’t adapt quickly enough. The force of running and the extra miles is too much for the bones, tendons and joints and you can end up with micro-fractures or tears.

RSIs include other injuries too, some higher in the Ouch! factor than others. But any of them can all take a runner off course.

Not surprisingly, the knees, legs and feet take the top positions for injury to body parts from running.

Looking at the injuries themselves, RSIs include:

  • Sprains - overstretched ligament with pain, swelling or bruising
  • Stress fractures - hairline cracks in bone with bruising or tenderness
  • Shin splints - pain in front of inner part of lower leg near shin bone
  • Plantar fasciitis - pain under heel or bottom of foot
  • Achilles tendinitis - inflammation of the tendon connecting calf muscle to heel

These injuries can take weeks of rest to heal, bringing your training runs to a screeching halt.

So slow your training down a bit. Giving yourself a few more weeks to train before adding to your weekly mileage can be the difference to successfully reaching your goal.

Let’s talk about how to do that.

Stress injury prevention that keeps you in running shape

Let’s look at a study.

Okay, maybe a study doesn’t sound fun…

But stick with us here.

We use them because the research helps us be better care providers. Research finds new ways to treat and prevent injury. That means we can better support your training or treat your condition or injury.

So…

A study of risk factors of lower extremity running injuries (van Gent et al.) estimated that 60% of running injuries were attributed to preventable training mistakes. In half these cases, the mistake was excessive mileage.

Breaking that down a bit and it’s all about your training.

That may have you asking, How should I progress my mileage?

Standard of progress for safely increasing you running distance

There’s a rule for how to increase your running distance (we like rules!).

The 10% rule is the most cited standard to progress running distance.

It allows for increasing distance at a rate that gives your body time to adapt to the added stress.

Runners can do this two ways:

  • Increase weekly mileage
  • Increase total minutes by 10% week over week

Here’s how it looks.

Week 1: Distance - Run three 3-mile runs (a total of 9 miles). Week 2 run two 3-mile runs and one 4-mile run (a total of 10 miles).

Easy. Right:

Here’s an example using minutes.

Week 1: Time - Start with run/walk interval training. Run 20 minutes out of a 30-minute workout. Week 2 increase to 22 out of the 30 minutes.

That said, we work with runners individually. We want to learn about their experience and where they are in their running program and training.

It’s a partnership we build with you to reach your ideal parameters for getting to your distance goals. That includes injury prevention.

While it may not be as simple as applying the 10% rule to all runners, it’s a good place to start for an experienced runner.

We’ve created this chart for training with your sports medicine specialist or physical therapist. Click to download a copy of the training chart.

10-Week Half Marathon Training Program:

  Sun Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Total Miles
Week 1 Rest 3 Strength 3 Strength Rest 3 9
Week 2 Rest 3 Strength 3 Strength Rest 4 10
Week 3 Rest 3 Strength 3 Strength Rest 5 11
Week 4 Rest 4 Strength 3 Strength Rest 6 13
Week 5 Rest 4 Strength 3 Strength Rest 7 14
Week 6 Rest 5 Strength 4 Strength Rest 6 15
Week 7 Rest 5 Strength 3 Strength Rest 8 16
Week 8 Rest 4 Strength 3 Strength Rest 10 17
Week 9 Rest 4 Strength 4 Strength Rest 11 19
Week 10 Rest 3 Strength 3 Strength Rest Race day (13.1) 19.1

 

This 10-week schedule roughly follows the 10% rule. It’s a good plan for the runner who can already run a 5k distance at the start of training.

Scheduling rest days in your training gives your bones, muscles and tendons time to recover.

How should I focus my strength training?

Runners only have one foot on the ground at any time. That means you are constantly having to balance on one leg.

This is important for how the ankles and hips work while running. These body parts need to make quick adjustments to maintain balance and have both legs share the shift in your weight evenly.

Your training plan will benefit from working with your therapist’s single-leg balance and strengthening exercises in your workouts.

Examples include: 

  • Single-leg heel raises
  • Single-leg squats
  • Lunges
  • Single-leg bridges
  • Single-leg Romanian deadlifts

illustration showing a Romanian deadlift in both standing and squatting positions

If the shoe fits

You’ve heard the phrase. But for the runner, the wrong size and fit can start all sorts of problems.

The running community has lots to say about footwear, and which type is best for preventing injury.

Some advocate for shoes with cushion and support. Others for barefoot running.

There’s research on both.

One study had Marines in basic training wear different shoes based on the arches of their feet. Each arch type – low, medium, high – got a different type of shoe.

The results, when compared to a control group who wore only one type of shoe, regardless of their arch type, showed no difference in injury between the groups. Now, if you like research, like we do, check out the full article on the Marine Corps shoe study.

The concept of barefoot running is based on the theory that, well…barefoot is best. The jury is still out on this one.

There’s also the argument that wearing shoes changes the way we run. Barefoot enthusiasts say that the human foot evolved to handle the forces of running without the need for the support of shoes.

But running on hard surfaces, like concrete or asphalt, barefoot may cause a higher amount of stress fractures.

With either choice, the best option is to choose what’s right for your run – what feels best to you and what keeps you safe.

If choosing a shoe, go a half size bigger than your walking or dress shoe. This will give room for your midfoot and toes to spread out as you push off. There’s also room if your feet swell a bit on longer runs.

Running shoes should be replaced every 300-500 miles or every six months to a year based on how much they are used.

Fun Tip!

Write the date on the inside tongue of your new shoes to track how long you’ve used them.

You might consider a gait analysis when you’re looking to buy running shoes. This can identify any movement patterns or bad running habits that could result in injury. You can schedule an analysis from one of our outpatient physical therapy centers or a local running store.

There you have it!

Four steps to build a training plan that helps you avoid injury, build up your strength and distance, choose your shoes and get out there and run toward race day.

Article research courtesy of Jasmine Fisk, P.T., DPT