Guide to training for a fun run or half marathon

Woman running

Blanche Clark

Posted March 21, 2023

Want to start running or take part in a fun run? You can reach 5km in just 8 weeks with training and support. Follow this expert advice to stay motivated and avoid injury.

Fun runs are a great way to get fit and raise money for charity. There are dozens of different runs to compete in around Victoria, with a range of different distances that cater for all levels of fitness.

The RACV Solar Great Ocean Road Running Festival on 20-21 May 2023, for example, has nine distances, including 6km, 14km, 23km (half marathon), 44km (full marathon) and 60km (ultra-marathon), as well as 6.5km and 12km trail runs, and 5km and 10km walks.

RACV Club personal trainer Renee Quayle, who supervises the Run Club at the City Club Fitness Centre, says the best place to start your running journey is to consult a run coach or a fitness professional.

“This will ensure you’re addressing your running goals, and training according to your ability,” she says. “Most runners will face muscle soreness, stiffness, or injury from starting out too hard, too fast, too soon. That’s very common.”

Two men running

Running with a buddy or joining a run club is a great way to stay motivated. Image: Getty

Why take up running?

Research shows about one in five Australians try running or jogging at some stage in their life. Running strengthens muscles, improves cardiovascular fitness, and helps build your bones because it’s a weight-bearing exercise.

Compared to other types of exercise, running can be relatively inexpensive – once you’ve invested in a good pair of running shoes – and you can run at any time that suits you.

“Sometimes people join City Club’s Run Club because they want to achieve a goal within a particular time frame,” Quayle says. “They may have signed up for an event to support a charity. This is often the case with the Mother’s Day Classic – people are often supporting friends or family, or they themselves have been affected by breast cancer.”

Great Ocean Road

The RACV Solar Great Ocean Road Running Festival offers runners fabulous views. Image: Getty

How does the couch-to-5km program work?

Quayle says going from “couch to 5km” in eight weeks is possible with proper training. As for a half marathon, that takes about 15 to 16 weeks, assuming your training isn’t interrupted by injury, illness, or lack of time.

“If you're doing a proper, structured session, you can get to 5km or even 23km,” Quayle says. “But you will need to do three to four sessions a week of running. And that’s not just going for a run. There are interval sessions, speed sessions and tempo sessions, which all help you go the distance.”

If you follow a couch-to-5km program, like the one Renee uses for City Club's Run Club, your first session will be eight rounds of sixty seconds of running and 90 seconds of walking. You will repeat that regimen for another two sessions. As the weeks progress, the walking intervals get shorter and running intervals get longer.

Woman stretching at gym

Renee Quayle demonstrates a calf stretch at the RACV City Club Fitness Centre. Image: Blanche Clark

How does a running group or run club help?

Having a run buddy or finding a group of people who enjoy running together can help you stay motivated, while a run club like City Club’s Run Club offers more structure, and caters for people of varying running abilities. 

“It is a coached session following a structured program based on the goals of each individual,” Quayle says. “The sessions, which are adapted for different levels of fitness and ability, include run-specific exercises and guidance on proper techniques to prevent injury.”

Parkrun, a community 5km run that takes place every Saturday morning at more than 2000 locations in 22 countries, is another great way to keep running.

“No matter where you are on your running journey, you will find a community of like-minded people who just want to run and run well,” Quayle says.

Woman on treadmill

Treadmills increase your fitness but the best way to prepare for a fun run is to train outdoors. Image: Getty

What’s the best terrain to train on?

If you're training for a fun run, the best way to prepare is to train on the same terrain as the event will be held on. It might be cross country or on a road with lots of hills.

“Treadmills are great for increasing your fitness level, but they will not simulate other surfaces,” Quayle says. “If you’re going to be doing a trail run, you need to be out on the trails, because there are going to be tree roots, muddy areas, slippery bits, as well as dangling trees and leaves, to deal with.”

Running outside is also more engaging, and with the right shoes and training you can minimise the impact on joints, such as your knees, ankles, and hips.

What factors contribute to people giving up running?

Setbacks happen during training, and some of the most common reasons are lack of time, injury, and illness.

“You may be affected by public holidays, school holidays or family life,” Quayle says. “You may get sick or suffer an injury – and that injury may not even be related to running. The important thing is being able to get back on track, and that’s where a running coach or fitness professional can support you.”

Healthly bowl of fruit and vegetables

It's easier to run and exercise when you eat well and avoid processed foods. Image: Getty

Top five tips for beginner runners


Wear good footwear

Quayle recommends buying running shoes at a speciality store that uses video gait analysis to ensure you get the best fit and support.

“If you do have problems with your feet, a podiatrist can advise you about the best shoes for your running ability.”

Comfortable clothes are important, too. “Train in the gear you will wear on race day,” Quayle says. “You don’t want to get halfway through the run and feel uncomfortable because of chaffing or lack of support.”

Warm up and cool down

Warm-up exercises prepare the muscles, tendons, and joints for more strenuous activity. Swinging your legs, circling the ankles and hips, and doing squats and lunges before a run will wake up your body and get the blood flowing. Bounding is another popular running drill that improves power and efficiency.

“You might also do a kilometre of light jogging before you start your race, and another kilometre at the end to help you cool down,” Quayle says.

Include stretching and release work

Two of the most beneficial tools for recovery and injury prevention are a foam roller and a firm ball. Because it’s a repetitive movement, running can cause the muscles and fascia to tighten. Applying pressure can help ease these trigger points.  

“Doing some trigger-point exercises at the end of a run will help release those muscles and the fascia, and prevent injury,” Quayle says.

Stay hydrated

It’s important to increase your hydration two or three days before a fun run. Be aware that coffee and alcohol cause dehydration, so you’ll need to drink more water to compensate. As a baseline, it’s recommended that women drink about 2 litres of fluid a day, and men about 2.6 litres.

“How much you increase your fluid intake depends on the length of your run, as well as the weather conditions on the day, and how much you sweat, but you’re looking at around an extra litre a day for a couple of days before the fun run,” Quayle says.Electrolyte supplements are useful, and even a pinch of sea salt in a glass of water can help.

“You may have special occasions from time to time that make it hard to go for a run the next day, so be kind to yourself. The more you get into running, the more you’ll want to improve your nutrition and hydration because those factors make training easier and better.”

Be mindful about what you eat

Eating well is going to fuel your body better. As a general guide, Quayle recommends avoiding processed food as much as possible.

Also, don’t change your diet just before a fun run. “You don’t want to go away for an event, hit the pub and having a chicken parma the night before or on the day of your run; your stomach won’t handle it. Have a consistent diet, and stick to it before the big day.”

A final word on becoming a runner

Quayle says running is not for everyone. “It can be hard work mentally. If you approach it thinking that you hate running, it is going to be hard. But if you open yourself up to doing the training, you’ll get there. You will find your community and your people,” she says.

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