The length of time it will take to train for a half marathon varies widely between runners. Some runners may take just a couple of months to fine tune their runs for the distance. Others may take up to a year to build up enough experience to complete 13.1 miles.
Runners should consider how long they have been running, their longest run to date, and their typical weekly mileage. Remember that everyone is different so there is no magical amount of time or training plan that works for everyone.
Consider overall experience
A runner with less than a year of running under their belt will typically need to choose a more conservative plan with a longer length of time. On the other hand, a runner who has racked up a bunch of 5K’s and 10K’s over the years and is looking to jump to the next distance may need less time to prepare.
Consider the long run
Completing the 13.1 distance will naturally be much easier for someone who has run 10 miles before. If your longest long run is 3 miles, it will a bit longer to complete a training plan that will comfortably get you to the finish.
Consider your weekly mileage
If your current mileage is less than 10 miles a week, you will need to prepare more time than someone who is running 25 miles a week. Especially if you have not been consistent in regular runner, allow more time to build a stronger base.
Beginning runners with less than a year of running, a long run of 3 miles or less, and/or weekly mileage of 10 miles or less should give themselves 6 months to comfortably finish a half-marathon. Many cutoff times are generous and plenty of people train in less time, but 6 months will allow time to build a stronger base and help avoid injury.
Intermediate runners with 1-2 years of running, a long run of at least a 10K, and/or weekly mileage of at least 15-20 miles should give themselves 4 months to train for a half-marathon. This amount of time will allow for runners to have few weeks to ease into the plan and build their long run mileage in a generous amount of time.
Advanced runners with more than 2 years of running, a long run of 10 miles, and/or weekly mileage of at least 25-30 miles should give themselves 3 months to race a half marathon. These runners will be executing key workouts to make themselves faster and able to hit a time goal.
With a time frame in mind, how do runners choose which training plan will work best for them?
Again, everyone is different and there is no one size fits all when it comes to training plans. All runners should be able to complete the first week of their plan fairly easily — beginning runners may need to build up their base for the first couple of months to be prepared to start a training plan. When choosing a training plan, ask yourself a few questions.
How many days a week can you devote to training?
The goal is to execute the training plan in its entirety. If you are unable to train 6 days a week, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Consider plans that you know you are capable of achieving without too much maneuvering in your life.
How many miles per week can you handle?
If you are running 10 miles a week now, don’t choose a plan that maxes out at 50 miles a week. The goal is to get to the finish line healthy, strong, and not burnt out. Especially if you are training for your first half marathon, it is important to make sure you don’t overdo it.
How much structure do you want?
There are training plans with just mileage goals to plug into each calendar day. Beginners may prefer to stick with these more basic plans and something that allows a bit of flexibility.
However, intermediate and advanced plans have workouts such as speed work, long runs, and recovery runs. Plans that include a time goal for the half marathon almost all have goal paces for each workout.
Consider the following 3 runners looking to train for a half marathon.
Runner A has completed a couch to 5K in the past year. He runs about 3 times a week right now, but isn’t always consistent. Sometimes he has to work late and his family has a very busy schedule.
- Runner A should consider a plan such as F.I.R.S.T. Half Marathon Plan in which he can slowly build up his long run and still do key workouts. He can work on consistency in running for 1-3 months and then tackle the training plan over 16-24 weeks. The plan only requires 4 days of running which will make it possible for Runner A to take care of his other commitments.
Runner B has been running for a couple of years and has gone through a few training plans to race 5K’s. She wakes up early to run most weekday mornings and is pretty consistent in running 15 miles a week.
- Runner B should consider a plan such as Hal Higdon’s intermediate plan. She can do week 1 of the plan for approximately a month to ensure she has a solid base and then execute the 12 week program in its entirety. This plan requires 5 days of running commitment and tops out at 34 miles per week.
Runner C has been running for 5 years and has completed a bunch of 5Ks and 10Ks. She recently completed a 10 mile race and is ready to tackle the next challenge by racing a half marathon. Despite having a busy schedule, she thrives on setting goals with a challenging training program.
- Runner C should consider a plan like Hanson’s Half Marathon Plan. This 6 day a week commitment is for runners who are not apt to skip a workout. For those runners with a solid base of running, this plan will also allow runners to not just finish, but achieve a time goal.
After determining the length of time it will take to be prepared and choosing a training plan, what else can runners expect while actually training?
Though it might seem obvious that sore muscles are expected, runners should be keen on listening to their body. A bit of tightness and twinges here and there are normal. Acute pain or pain that changes range of motion/gait should be signs to seek professional advice.
Part of the reason in choosing a plan that is achievable is to stave off injury which happens all too often when runners try to do too long, too hard, and too soon.
Expect to feel nervous. Sometimes because you are having a rough patch and running seems incredibly difficult. Sometimes because the mileage seems too much.
Sometimes because you find yourself a few weeks from the starting line and it seems impossible that you will actually be running 13.1 miles. Know that this is incredibly normal and expected — even for experienced runners
Some days the workouts and the monotony of running really takes its toll. Especially if you are running at the same time on the same route, it can start to feel really old. Stay ahead of the boredom by planning new routes, meeting up with friends, or running at a different time of day.
Most runners experience this mid-cycle when the excitement of starting the program has worn off and it seems so long before you will be standing on the starting line.
Hopefully people will tire of you talking about training for your half marathon. If you are excited, you will be happy to tell the world about it. Even when you have a miserable training run or your hamstrings are tight from the extra miles, it is something that you will be proud of.
See you at the finish line!