How to Get Ready for a Half Marathon

half marathon training

If you’re ready to go from 5K races to a half marathon (or never running to your first half marathon), you’ve come to the right place. 

For many of you, you’ll only need 12 weeks to get your body ready to run the 13.1 miles but you have to put in the preparation to identify the right training program, diet, and cross-training workouts. Below, you will find everything you need to know about how to train for a half marathon.

How Does Training Get You Ready for a Half Marathon?

When preparing for a half marathon, training plans are the key to your success. A training plan will map out, by day, how many miles you’ll be running week over week on your path to the half marathon. All training plans are designed to incorporate further weekly distances in order to slowly strengthen the tendons, ligaments, and muscles involved with long-distance running.

The benefit of any training plan is that it will help you establish a weekly running cadence and keep you consistent. The long runs (any distance over 8 miles) will also help with the mental preparation of committing to the 13 mile run.

The First Step: Preparing for the Half Marathon

How do you know if you’re ready to begin half marathon training? Here are a few training plans and tips to get you off to a great start. 

Pick Your Race

The first step in race training is choosing the race that will give you the best chance of achieving your goal. Your goal may be to participate in a race for a cause you believe in, or you may prefer to run where your friends run alongside you. 

There are many variations of half marathons. If you’re looking for a good time, some races are theme based. For culinary lovers, you can find a race that serves barbecue at the finish. For all the options on finding your next half marathon, we recommend reading our criteria here.

To find a specific race near you, use a race calendar.

Start Training

There is no typical time to start a half marathon training plan because people start at different levels of fitness. Traditionally, training plans span between eight and twenty weeks from race day.  While twenty weeks may sound like a long time to train, the more time you allow for building leg strength and cardiovascular endurance, the less likely it is you’ll sustain an injury. 

Know Your Limits

Knowing your limits is important when it comes to training for a half marathon. Participating in any endurance activity may mean you’re not the best at determining normal running pain from abnormal running pain. Follow your training plan and slowly increase your mileage per week. If it’s your first half marathon, don’t worry about incorporating speed or intensity into workouts. 

The Next Step: Your Training Routine

You’re physically and mentally prepared for the half marathon — now it’s time to establish your training routine. Here are some tips to get you started.

Understanding Diet

You’ve probably heard it said that you are what you eat, and that’s especially true when training for a half marathon. While you should consult a dietician, generally you will be advised to watch your intake of healthy fats, lean proteins, and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are important to consume the night prior to a run (you’ve heard of carbo-loading before) and protein is important following a run to rebuild damaged muscles.

Set Your Base Mileage

An important aspect of your training plan is understanding your base mileage. The distance you can run without getting overly fatigued — both mentally or physically — and not experience soreness afterward is considered base mileage. Base mileage can be expressed in a range, for instance, your base mileage could be 20 to 30 miles per week.

As you train for the half marathon, you will work to increase your base mileage by running three to five times per week while increasing the distance each week. If you want to run a half marathon, you should work toward a base mileage of at least 10 miles, or two miles per day if you’re running five days a week. If you can sustain that, you likely won’t have trouble completing the 13.1 miles in your race.

Get in Long Runs

Long runs are vital to your half-marathon training. Usually done on weekends — Saturday is the best day so you can recover on Sunday before having to go back to work and training on Monday. These longer runs help your body and mind prepare for long-distance running.

Most long runs should be run at a slow pace to build confidence and endurance. A best practice to avoid injury is to scale back distance by a mile or two every third week as a recovery week before resuming building the distance the next week. This will give your body a rest and help you avoid injuries. 

Practice Pace and Speed Work

Running is more than just putting one foot in front of the other as you propel yourself down the path. You need to do various types of running to get the most out of your training. One such variety of running is speed word. If you’re running your first half marathon, speed work isn’t a requirement. As you feel more confident in maintaining your base mileage over a few months or races, you’re encouraged to incorporate speed and intensity runs. 

Pacing is considered a sustained pace to train your body to do specific things. For half-marathon runners, there are two pacing practices worth incorporating:

  • Aerobic threshold: This pacing technique transforms your body from anaerobic metabolism, which burns fat, to aerobic metabolism, which burns carbohydrates. It helps you prepare for the mental, metabolic and physiological aspects of racing. On a difficulty scale, it feels like a 5 out of 10.
  • Lactate threshold: This pacing causes your body to produce more lactate than it can clear, and that allows you to run faster before you get fatigued. Do this pacing in intervals of 20 to 45 minutes..

Speed work is another important training tool. These runs increase your aerobic capacity and make your runs feel easier. There are two popular forms of speed runs:

  • Intervals are short, high-intensity runs with a slower pace run in between them. For example, you may run one mile, walk or jog for five minutes, run another mile, walk or jog for five minutes, etc.
  • Tempos are longer runs done at a more challenging pace. The runs are longer, between four and 10 miles, depending on your ability. These runs help teach your body and mind to sustain a more challenging run.

Add in Cross-Training

To allow your muscles, joints, and ligaments time to strengthen in between runs, many half marathon training plans will recommend cross-training. Cross-training is a way to help your body recover between runs while not having to skip training days. On the days you don’t run, you can perform cross-training by swimming, cycling, strength training, doing yoga or Pilates or using the elliptical.

Make Rest and Recovery Time a Priority

It might seem like training every day would help reach your goals faster, but quite the opposite. Adding recovery days to your training plan will actually improve your performance. Your body needs time to recover, especially after long runs.

It’s Time to Head To the Finish Line

If you’re ready to begin training for a half marathon, congratulations! Once you cross that finish line, you will have achieved something most people only dream about. 

FAQ

Can you go from couch to half marathon in 12 weeks?

If you have any running ability at all, it is possible to go from the couch to running a half marathon in 12 weeks.

Is it OK to walk during a half marathon?

While most people who enter a half marathon are runners, some people walk the entire 13.1 miles. Most people who walk can do it in about four hours.

What is a good half-marathon time for a beginner?

If you are a beginner, you should set a goal to cross the finish line between two hours and 20 minutes and three hours.

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