Marathon Mom: Can I Run A Half Marathon On Very Limited Training Time?

Dear Marathon Mom,
I have three kids, ages 4, 3, and 6 months, and I made a New Years Resolution to run my first half marathon in 2014. I’ve been a runner for about 8 years, running a lot more regularly some years than others. Currently, I’m only able to get out and run two times a week, when my husband has his days off from work and can watch the kids. His days off vary from week-to-week, but usually aren’t two days in a row. Is it possible to train for a half marathon on only two days of running per week?

Hopeful Half Marathoner

Dear Hopeful Half Marathoner,
I have good news and bad news. Yes, you can successfully complete a half marathon only running twice a week. But. You will need to make those two runs really count, as well as get pretty darn creative in fitting in additional forms of strength training and endurance.

The best way to get better at running is, of course, to run. With only two days of actual run time, I recommend making one of those runs your long run, and the other a medium distance run. For the long run, start at 4-5 miles (I’m basing that on the fact that you said you’ve run for 8 years, so I’m assuming you can cover that distance comfortably.), and add no more than a mile per week. Be certain to keep these long runs slow. Although it may be tempting to ‘make it count’ by running yourself into the ground and feeling exhausted afterward, that is not the point of a long run, and it will only risk injury.

Long runs train your body how to function when exercising over an increasingly longer time. You are getting your feet used to pounding the ground for more than an hour at a time, your body used to transferring over from burning readily available calories to using your body’s stores, as well as training your mind how to deal with the ups and downs of long distance running. There is no equivalent of a long run for distance training.

It’s great that your husband’s days off are not usually together (well, great for your training. He’s probably not too thrilled about it.), as you won’t have to use the second day as the recovery from your long run then. I recommend using that second day to run a middle distance run ranging between 4 and 7 miles.

The other five days of the week should not be seen as time off from running. Those are the days where every little thing you can do while watching the kids and managing the household will help. In addition to working out before the kids are awake in the morning (if that is even an option), you can squeeze short bouts of strength training in throughout the day. For instance, during your baby’s naps, you can workout with the older two kids by making it into a game. How many jumping jacks can they do in a row? How far across the lawn can they lunge walk? Who can hold a plank the longest? While you come up with fun challenges for them, be sure you’re participating as well.

You can involve the baby in some workouts as well by holding him while you do lunges and squats, doing tummy time alongside him (only you’re either doing push-ups or holding a plank), or placing him on your stomach – leaning back against your bent legs (essentially, using you like a chair), while you do sit ups, reverse sit-ups, or crunches.

You’ll probably feel a bit silly doing these kinds of workouts at first, but it works. I’ve done it all myself and can vouch for that. Often times as a parent, we have to accept that all we can do is our best. If you really want to complete a half marathon, and you take advantage of your two runs a week and potential strength training moments throughout each day, I see no reason why you won’t succeed.

Best of luck!
Audra Rundle