Many runners with a weight-loss goal sign up for a race hoping to kill two birds with one stone: Train for a half marathon and shed a few pounds along the way! This sounds great in theory, but it’s tougher in practice than you might think.
While training for a 13.1-mile race can certainly help you reduce stress and gain confidence, it’s actually not the most effective way to lose weight. In fact, the two goals often work at cross purposes: A goal to complete a long-distance race means training your body to be as efficient as possible. You want to burn the least amount of energy you can to feel great at the finish. On the other hand, a weight-loss goal requires you to prevent your body from becoming efficient at exercise. You want to continuously change it up, so you can burn the most amount of energy possible and keep your metabolic furnace burning.
It’s not uncommon to see someone train for a half marathon, running hundreds of miles, while ending up actually maintaining or gaining weight. That’s because their body has become so adept at running, it burns fewer and fewer calories per mile.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to have it all! You just need to tailor your training. If you want to reach a healthy weight, it’s important to prioritize that goal. This plan may not guarantee a new personal best, but it will help you lose pounds and get you across a half-marathon finish line feeling strong. Sound good? Let’s do this!
We can’t talk about weight loss without bringing up nutrition. Losing pounds requires maintaining a calorie deficit, which can be tough while you’re packing on the miles. Running far makes your body hungry! A simple solution is to keep track of your intake and shoot for a 500-calorie deficit per day. You can use a tool like Myfitnesspal.com to simplify this process.
- Eat every three hours. This will keep your muscles fueled and energized while keeping your blood sugar stable.
- Drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day. Staying hydrated is extremely important for your weight-loss efforts.
- During runs lasting longer than one hour, you will need to carry fluid and fuel with you to keep your blood sugar up. Use one gel or serving of chews (100 calories) per hour.
- Have a snack or meal within 30 minutes of finishing your workout. This is your “window of opportunity” to start your recovery. Overall, you want to surround your workouts with nutrition by eating a larger percentage of your calories before, during and after your workouts.
Start Your Engine
Because your first priority is weight loss, this plan includes a lot of strength training and interval running. Unlike steady-state running, this is the kind of exercise your body doesn’t adapt to easily. You will execute one long run per week to build up your mileage without incorporating too much volume. For the long run, remember to build up your mileage slowly (at most 10 percent per week) to keep your body healthy and injury-free.
Two days per week, you will focus on strength. Use a full-body program to boost your metabolism. Make the workout short and intense—under an hour is key and keep your rest periods brief. Remember, to get your body to change, you have to perform exercise that it is not used to. Push yourself to lift heavier weights and do more every time.
Sample Strength Workout
Grab some dumbbells. Repeat the circuit 2 to 4 times, completing every exercise before resting for 1 to 3 minutes in between sets. After 4 weeks make sure to increase the weight and/or reps to keep your body changing.
Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell with both hands in front of your body at chest height. Squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor, then return to the starting position and repeat. Keep your knees tracking over your toes and your heels on the ground the entire time. Complete 8 to 10 reps.
Grab two dumbbells. Bend forward until your torso is parallel to the floor, with your back straight and arms hanging down. Pull your shoulder blades back, bending your elbows to row the dumbbells up to your sides. Pause, then return to the starting position. Complete 8 to 10 reps.
Dumbbell Reverse Lunge
Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Keeping your core tight, shift your weight to one foot and step backward with the opposite foot, dropping the back knee into a lunge position. Drive back up through the front heel and return to the start position. Complete 8 to 10 reps on each side.
Dumbbell Push Press
Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your shoulders. Bend your legs as if to jump and use that power to drive the weights up overhead, landing in a locked-out position with straight arms and core engaged. Lower the weights carefully. Complete 8 to 10 reps.
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Holding two dumbbells, shift your weight to balance on one leg. Bend at the hips as the weight lowers along the front of your legs, feeling a stretch in your hamstrings and hips. Only go as low as you can maintain a neutral spine. Return to the start position. Complete 8 to 10 reps.
The purpose of this workout is to push yourself at an intensity you cannot maintain for longer than a minute or two. This can be done by doing sprints on fl at ground or running hill repeats. If you use a heart-rate monitor, you should reach 85 percent of max or more during the interval. Allow your heart rate to fully recover before performing your next interval. If you don’t have a heart-rate monitor, judge your intensity by how hard you are breathing.
Sample Interval Workout
Warm up for 5 to 10 minutes. Sprint as hard as you can for 30 seconds. Recover by walking or jogging for 30 seconds. Repeat 5 to 10 rounds. Cool down for 5 to 10 minutes.
The Half Marathon Training Plan
Not sure if you can train for a half and reach a healthy weight at the same time? I’m living proof it’s more than possible! Growing up, I was always an overweight child. In my mind, my body wasn’t what a “runner” looked like, so I never tried. I adopted unhealthy habits as a teenager, which led me to a dark place in my 20s.
In 2012, I attended the Rock ‘n’ Roll Vegas Marathon expo for my job. I was shocked: There were all different kinds of people getting ready to race. I realized that a runner’s body type doesn’t exist. I could be one of these runners! Almost immediately, I registered for a half marathon. I started walk/running—building my distance slowly, while incorporating weight lifting, spin classes and yoga.
As I grew stronger, I felt I was pushing through barriers. The moment I crossed that finish line was such a moving experience. Over the course of 18 months and two half marathons, I lost 100 pounds and gained incredible confidence. For the first time in my life, I was able to call myself an athlete. I recognized that I’m here on this earth not to fit in and sit back—but to stand out and change people’s lives for the better. There’s no better feeling in the world.