Training To Run a Half-Marathon

Photo: Aleksandra

Whatever your goal—from just finishing to crushing a set time—these tips will help set you up for success.

Don’t let that little four-letter word, “half,” fool you. The half-marathon, despite being, well, half a marathon, can be plenty hard. For those bumping up from 10K or 10-mile races, completing the distance can be daunting in its own right. But for those looking to race, and race hard, 13.1 miles can serve up a hearty, steady stream of challenging miles.

Whether you’re looking to simply cross the finish line, or want to race hard and break a specific time, this guide will help you accomplish your half-marathon running goals.

If You're Looking To Finish

To bump up in distance from a 10K, engaging in a 12-week training plan is a good idea. A 10-week build-up is possible for runners who may have a lot of cumulative miles under their belts or are notably fit from complementary activities.

You’ll want to add mileage to your long days, building up to 11 or so miles in your final long runs before race day. You’ll also want to increase your overall weekly mileage so that you’re running at least 20 miles per week.

Training Tips

Add mileage to your long run. Do this by gradually adding distance to your once-weekly long run. A good rule of thumb is to only increase the distance by 10 percent. For instance, if your long run is currently 6 miles, your next long run should be 6.6 miles. It’s OK if you round up and run 7. Just know that increasing mileage too quickly puts you at a greater risk for injury. 

Add mileage to your week. Use the general 10-percent rule for weekly mileage as well. If you’re currently running 10 miles per week, run 11 the next week. If you run more, be sure to listen to your body and back off if anything flares up.

If You're Looking to Race Hard

If you’re interested in racing instead of just finishing, you’ll need to crank up your training in both distance and effort. First, you’ll want to set a goal, or three.

Training Tips

Set an “A” goal. Estimate what race time you want to make your “A” goal: the goal you can achieve if everything, from training to weather conditions on race day, goes your way. Many race-time predictors exist online to help you calculate a time you’re capable of based on previous races of various distances. You may want to aim for a slightly faster time than what the predictor gives you, but be ready to work. 

Set a “B” and “C” goal, too. Since not everything can always align perfectly, it’s good to have a B goal that will be easier to attain than the A goal. The B goal should be something you can likely achieve with decent training. And since things can go wrong on race day, it’s also a good idea to set a C goal—a time you can achieve even on your worst days. The point of having B and C goals is to allow you to feel like you’ve accomplished a goal, even if the day doesn’t unfold perfectly.

Add mileage to your long run. Runners training to race a half-marathon will want their long runs leading up to the race to exceed 13 miles. Those aiming to break 2 hours, 30 minutes or slower may only need to run 13 miles once, a couple of weeks out from race day. Those aiming to run closer to 1:30 will benefit from their long run reaching 15 miles a couple of  weeks before the race. For either runner, gradually adding on to the long run will help prevent injuries.

Add mileage to your week. Racers aiming to run around 2:30 will benefit from running into the high 30s (miles per week) in the peak of their build-up training. Runners looking to run in the 1:20 to 1:45 range will benefit from higher mileage, somewhere in the 45 to 55 miles-per-week range during the peak of their build-up. Gradually increase weekly mileage to stay healthy.

Add speedwork/track work/hills. Runners aiming to hit, and hold, a certain pace during a race need to practice both pacing themselves and pushing harder than race pace to build their cardiovascular systems. Adding a session of speedwork at the track, tempo runs, or hill workouts will effectively tax the system. 

Vary your paces. Allowing your body time to recover from the hard workouts and the long runs by running easy (easier than you might think, like, 55-75% of your 5K race pace) on your “maintenance runs”—the two or three other runs a week, which will vary in mileage, aside from your three main workouts—gives greater gains than pushing one pace all the time. During your long run, or during certain workouts, it’s also a good idea to run your A-goal race pace for a few miles to learn what that pace feels like and train your body how to hold that pace.

More Training Strategies for Everyone

Racing a half-marathon successfully requires more than following a training program. Here are a few additional strategies that can help set you up for success.

Add strength training and mobility. Both strength training and mobility (stretching and rolling) make you stronger and can help prevent injuries.

Train your gut. The half-marathon distance requires fueling and hydrating. Your weekly long run is a good time to experiment with ingesting fuel and hydration. Pay attention to how certain fuels and amounts of fluids make you feel, both during your run and after.

Do a dress rehearsal. Train in the shoes, apparel, and accessories you plan on wearing on race day. If something irritates you during training, swap it out for a better option.

Stay healthy. Even runners following carefully laid-out training plans suffer from injuries. It’s best to listen to your body and back off if you feel pain beyond muscle soreness. It’s better to show up at race day healthy and slightly undertrained than slightly injured after following a training plan to the letter. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.