9th January 2017. For runners, the desire to find a new challenge is a big part of what keeps us heading out the door every day, even when the weather isn't the best. Whether you've just started out or you've been running for a while, it might be time to figure out your next goal. Dreaming big is a major factor when it comes to motivating yourself to keep on pushing through your training. So, what would be a good goal to work towards? You might not be ready physically or mentally for the punishment that a full marathon entails. Why not consider the next step down ? the half marathon? Remember that a full marathon is about 26 miles, give or take a few yards. A half marathon, therefore, is 13 miles. If you're already running a few miles every day regularly, then this is a lofty but attainable goal. Before you register and participate in your first half marathon, though, you'll need to know how to train for it; you can't just show up on race day and hope to succeed. Instead, you'll want to institute a marathon-specific training programme to get you through the prep period. Here, we'll walk you through some of the basic training steps you'll want to take before your marathon date. When the time comes, we hope you'll be ready to power through the field and finish strong. Be warned, though ? once you've had a taste of the marathon runner's high, you may want to keep coming back over and over again!

Be committed to your current training plan

It's going to be a struggle to reach the finish line if your established training regimen isn't strenuous enough when you start working towards half marathon lengths. You should be running three to five days a week. Over the entire course of the week, it's ideal if your total distance adds up to about 15 miles, or the length of the race. If you can't do that without feeling like you're pushing yourself too hard, spend some more time working on your endurance. Hit the gym to practice boosting your aerobic capacity, or consider endurance exercises to help build up your ability. Why is this so important? Simply put, you're going to be making some changes to the way you approach training. Therefore, it's crucial that you're already in decent shape with a solid running ability. If you're just climbing off the couch for the first time, you'll need to spend some months building up your abilities. Otherwise, you'll find you're ready to call it quits not long after the starting gun goes off at your first half marathon! Recommit to your current running schedule and ensure your comfort with it. Now it's time to change things up a bit.

Add a "long run" of increasing distance to your routine

Do you usually run just a couple miles each day? For marathon training, it's time to dedicate one day of your weekly running to going harder and farther than you have before. Adding in "long runs" that come after your other typical weekly excursions is the best way to develop a marathoner's endurance. By gradually working up to longer distances, you can sense your body's limits. It's easier, therefore, to know what areas you need improvement in and where you're succeeding. That's not to say you should just start trying to run the full distance right away. Instead, add a mile or a mile and a half every two weeks to your long run. That's right ? you're going to be training for months. It's not easy, but that's what makes success so rewarding. In other words, though, don't sign up for a half marathon next month; you won't be ready unless you're already a truly veteran runner. By adding increments to your runs like this, you help your body develop the stamina and ability it needs to keep going when previously you'd exhaust your energy reserves. Eventually, you should be able to manage running (and walking, when necessary) the total half marathon distance. It's important to maintain this level of training and activity up to a point. Once your race is on the horizon, it's time to begin what runners know as the "taper."

Don't neglect the importance of rest

Think about it: if you're training hard all the time, you feel pretty exhausted, right? That feeling won't just go away on race day unless you've tweaked your routine to compensate. You want to be sure you're in the best condition possible on race day. That means, about two weeks before your race, you should taper off the intensity of your training. It doesn't mean you need to stop training entirely; it just means that you slowly reduce the intensity of each day you spend running. The goal is to make sure you have plenty of energy reserves to access when you're racing. Reduce your running load to just half an hour or an hour a day, winding down to only taking brisk walks in the final week. A few days before the race, run a few miles each day just to keep in the rhythm. Finally, don't do anything the day before the race: just try and take it easy. When you show up at the starting line, you should be jazzed up and ready to go! Of course, it also helps if you fuel your body correctly throughout these efforts. Let's take a moment to briefly discuss diet.

Food and water: the importance of diet & hydration

No one completes a half marathon by filling up on junk calories and fast food. However, your body is going to be burning a tonne of energy throughout your training efforts. If your diet isn't right, you're going to feel wiped out at the end of every week. Some careful consideration about what you feed yourself can help to mitigate this problem. Unlike when you're building muscle and bulking up in the gym, fats and proteins should play a lesser role in your diet during this time. Instead, you'll want to fill your diet with complex carbs like leafy green vegetables, starches, beans, and more. Don't worry ? you can still have plenty of tasty meals. You may also want to consider how to keep going during the race. Running that far is tough on your body, and nothing is worse than getting halfway and feeling your energy depleting rapidly. While there are plenty of products on the market, runner's gels pack quite an energy punch. They're also much easier to consume while you're running; chewing can be distracting and awkward. With the right nutritional strategy ? and plenty of water, too ? you'll be prepped and ready on race day. So, what's next?

The time has come: what to do on race day

First, (dress appropriately). Even if it's cool out, imagine the weather is almost 10C higher. Your body will generate a lot of heat during the race, and you don't want to overdress. Second, hydrate and eat a small meal ? but nothing you haven't already been eating before. GI distress is every runner's worst nightmare, so stick to what you know your stomach can handle. Use the toilet, and then begin your warm-ups. A short jog or some walking can help get your muscles limber and ready. Finally, don your race number and take your place at the starting line. Don't let nerves get in the way; instead, just focus on doing your best. Even if you don't finish the race this time, there's always the next attempt on the horizon. Soon, though, you'll be in the midst of your runner's high because the race is finally beginning.

Work hard, persevere, and cross the finish line!

While it might seem like a lot to take in all at once, the reality is that with dedication, you can absolutely complete your first half marathon. Remember that it will take a lot of hard work and willpower, though; our bodies certainly like to protest when we run such long distances! However, we hope that these tips and tricks will help you as you prepare for your first half marathon in 2017. You may even want to see if a friend will join you ? the motivating factor of having a companion along for the run can't be underestimated. Good luck on the race course!