Make 13.1 your lucky number with our beginner and intermediate half marathon training programs.
Thirteen miles is a long way to run! The half marathon is a distance to be respected. It requires a good deal of guts, practice and determination to make it over that finish line. The good news is that you can do it! All it takes is a bit of time and dedication. Whether you want to run your first or fastest, we’ve got you covered with training plans tailored to your goals.
There are some safety parameters that should be in place before you start. If this is your first half marathon, follow the Beginner Program. Before starting this plan, you should be able to run up to five miles and have nine months of running experience under your belt. If you’re not quite there yet, don’t fret. Build your base by training first for a 5k. There’s no rush!
If you’ve run a half marathon before and are trying to improve your time, follow our Intermediate Program. Intermediates should have a solid mileage base of at least 24 miles per week with a long run of eight miles.
Build a Foundation
Consistent training is the key to success. If you skip steps along the way or routinely miss runs, you’ll increase your likelihood for injury. It’s crucial to build your aerobic endurance slowly in order to have an excellent race.
That said, it’s even more important to listen to your body. If something is a bit sore or stiff after a run, consider reducing the intensity of your next workout. If you were planning a five-mile run on hills, switch to three miles on a flat route or take the day off completely. Tuning in early and backing off quickly will help minimize your injury risk.
Know Your Pace
A key component to this program is race-pace training. Knowing your pace before you toe the starting line will help immensely during the race. You can estimate a realistic pace by multiplying your 5k race pace by 1.1 or 1.15. If this is your first half marathon, use the more conservative estimate. If you’ve run a 10k, multiply your pace by 1.06 or 1.08.
If you learn your race pace during your training, when the gun goes off on race morning you’ll be less inclined to go out too fast. Running at an overly quick pace early on will come back to haunt you in a big way in the later stages of the race.
Ramp it Up
Be aware of the elevation and terrain of your race. If the race is hilly, it’s crucial to mix hill training into your runs. Even if the course isn’t a roller coaster, it’s a good idea to plan two of your runs per week on gently rolling hills. Hills build leg strength and improve your form when fatigued.
Remember to focus on running uphill with good posture and strive to run at the same perceived effort as you would on flat ground. Carry your momentum over the top of the hill, and don’t “ride the brakes” on the downhill. That gravity is a gift to be savored! If you live in an area with few hills, try to seek out trails or short inclines—even parking garages and bridges can work in a pinch.
Need for Speed?
Speed will be built after your endurance base has been established. Unless otherwise specified, all runs for both beginners and intermediates should be performed at an easy aerobic effort. Make sure to go nice and slow during your long runs to increase your endurance and prevent injury.
The Beginner Program includes optional speed work, which emphasizes race-pace preparation. Intermediates will perform speed workouts, concentrating on fast, short intervals to build aerobic capacity and longer intervals to promote race-pace awareness.
Rest is part of training. It’s important to realize that you don’t get stronger during the hard workouts. Tough runs provide the stimulus for the adaptation you’re trying to achieve, while recovery days provide the body with the opportunity to accomplish that adaptation. Never substitute hard cross training for a day off. If you opt to cross train on your easy day, perform those workouts at an easy effort only.
Plan your race and race your plan
Scout out your race ahead of time. Go to the race’s website to find details like the course profile, aid stations, locations of porter potties, etc. The more you know, the lower your anxiety will be on event day. Establish realistic and achievable performance goals (e.g. “running even splits” and “taking water at each aid station”) as well as outcome goals (e.g. a certain finish time). Focus during the race on the performance aspect, “What do I need right now to help me succeed?” The outcome will follow. Enjoy the journey!
About the author:
Janet Hamilton, MA, CSCS, is an exercise physiologist and RRCA-certified running coach and author of the book Running Strong & Injury-Free. Learn more about Janet at runningstrong.com.
Photo credit: Erik Isakson