So, you’ve decided to take on the incredible challenge of a half marathon – the sweet spot of races. The half marathon distance is not so long that it wrecks your body and takes over your life like the full marathon, yet it’s lengthy enough to earn you some serious bragging rights. In this article, we’ll go over how to train for a half marathon from your very first pair of half marathon shoes to your first half marathon finish.
Completing 13.1 miles is no small feat. Of course, it’s not just about the finish line; it’s about the journey, the months of training, and the physical and mental endurance required to conquer this distance.
Throughout the training process, you’ll experience cardiovascular improvement, weight and stress management, and physiological adaptations to make you a more awesome version of yourself. Plus, each mile will get you more comfortable with being uncomfortable. You’ll cultivate grit and become more resilient on the road and in life.
So let’s dive into everything you need to know about training and racing the half marathon. Whether you’re first-time beginner runner or an experienced runner seeking a new personal record, this comprehensive guide has you covered.
In this article we’ll cover:
- Choosing the right half marathon training plan
- Types of runs you’ll need during half marathon training
- How to determine your half marathon pace and training run pace
- Strength training for runners
- Cross training for your half marathon
- Half marathon nutrition week-by-week
- Fueling pre-race, during, and after your half marathon
- Selecting proper gear, apparel, and footwear
Choosing the Right Half Marathon Training Schedule
The first step in half marathon prep is finding a training schedule that best suits you.
There are running philosophies galore, from Jeff Galloway’s run-walk magic to Jack Daniels’ emphasis on accelerating setbacks for adaptation. There are plans where you’ll run six days a week while others put you through the paces in just three with ample recovery days.
When choosing a plan for you there are three things to pay attention to: your running level will determine the type of plan you should look for.
How to determine your running level
Beginner plans focus on easy miles, while intermediate plans sprinkle in strides and low-mileage speed work. Advanced plans go big with higher mileage and more intense speed workouts.
Here’s a quick guide to think about what level you’re at:
Beginner: You’re a first-timer runner starting from scratch or bouncing back from a hiatus.
Novice: You’re running less than 15 miles a week right now. Your goal is to make it to the finish line without being exhausted at the finish line.
Intermediate: You’re currently running between 15 and 20 miles per week. You might have run a half or two before. You most likely have a goal half marathon time you’d like to hit.
Advanced: You’re a running aficionado, breezing through 20 mile + weeks like it’s nothing. You are likely going for a goal time.
We asked Kat Campbell is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, Run Coach Certified, and Doctor of Physical Therapy to weigh in with half marathon training tips. When it comes to choosing the length of a training plan, she says your running level is what should drive your decision: “If you are a new runner, a longer training block such as 14 week or 16 week half marathon training plan can be much more beneficial since most newer runners are coming off about 10 miles per week,” she says.
“Depending on the half marathon plan you chose, most plans start with a long distance run between 6 to 7 miles, and if you are coming off of running no more than 4 miles, you want to make sure you safely build up to that.”
If someone has a higher base mileage, they can do a shorter half marathon training program such as 8 weeks or 10 weeks. They will start the training block focusing on the specific half-marathon training workouts instead of building mileage.
Additionally, the plan has to follow a schedule that makes sense to you. You want to be fairly consistent in your training, so if you know you have too much going on and only can manage three run days per week, choose a plan with several rest days.
There are plans out there for every level and schedule – and the beauty of the half marathon is that you can fit it all in under an hour or so in just a few days.
Our Favorite Half Marathon Training Plans
It’s best to check out plans designed by running experts. Here are some examples:
If you are looking for a little bit of extra support in a dynamic format, check out Runna. This app has plans designed by Olympic athletes that not only fit into your timeline but will address your time goals and consider course features you’ll need to prep for. The app will figure out your paces for every training run and adapt to your schedule. You can DM coaches and experts in app to get advice. Plus, they offer in-person running events, videos of crosstraining, and exclusive gear offers. It’s reasonable at just $17.99 per month, plus all Half Marathon Guide readers received 2 weeks free with code HALFMARATHON.
Hal Higdon Training Plans
Hal Hidon’s plans are classics. If you are a meat-and-potatoes kind of runner who just wants a plan that’s easy to follow, go to Higdon’s plans, select your level, and purchase a plan. For beginners especially, these plans are safe and effective. The cost of Hal Higdon training plans start at $29.95.
The McMillan Training System
If you’re looking for very detailed and effective training, check out McMillan’s site. They have plans from anything from one mile to a 10K race to a full marathon. Here, there are five levels of half-marathon training plans that cost $49.99 each. The training philosophy is about preparing runners mentally and physically for specific race goals, ensuring peak performance at the right time.
Runner’s World offers a digital subscription for $60 per year with access to half-marathon training plans from a variety of coaches for every type of runner. What’s even better is that you can join a community of runners to chat about your progress, compare training notes, and even gain access to testing cool running swag.
Half Marathon Guide
If you’re looking for a wide variety of training plans that range from two months to five months of prep, then you’ll love our free training plans. Every plan is easy to understand and execute and comes with supporting articles of advice. Here’s a list of every half marathon training plan by weeks out from race day:
- 8-Week Half Marathon Training Plan
- 9-Week Half Marathon Training Plan
- 10-Week Half Marathon Training Schedule
- 12-Week Half Marathon Training for Beginner Runners
- 14-Week Half Marathon Training Schedule
- 16-Week Half Marathon Training for Intermediate Busy Runners
- 18-Week Half Marathon Training Schedule
- 20-Week Half Marathon Training Schedule
- 12-Week Couch to Half Marathon
- 10-Week Half Marathon to Marathon
Types of runs on your training plan
Your plan will have several different types of runs as part of your training listed on the calendar, especially if you’re an intermediate or advanced runner incorporating weekly speed runs to build anaerobic strength.
When you’re on the hunt for a PR, Campbell says making sure you’re doing the right types of running workouts in your running stack is most important.
“Tempo-based workouts as well as half marathon race pace workouts are going to be crucial for your training,” she says. “You also want to choose your next race wisely, and if it has hills, make sure you are prepared for that by working them religiously in your training.”
If the words on your plan are like a foreign language to you, we’ve got a glossary to help:
- Warm-ups: Short exercises to prepare the body for a run, increasing heart rate and circulation.
- Progression runs: Gradually increasing pace throughout the run.
- Tempo runs: Sustained runs at a challenging, but sustainable, pace to build stamina. Campbell explains that these are particularly important because the tempo workout improves the threshold at which lactate is being cleared by the muscles, which is important for half marathon race training since the half marathon is such a long race. These are best performed as track workouts for distance runners.
- Race pace: The pace you will run on race day. “There’s no better way to make sure you are prepared for a half marathon than continuously practicing your half marathon pace,” Campbell says. “Make sure you don’t go out every run at half marathon pace, but you want to incorporate this every week or every other week depending on your level of expertise.” Check out a half marathon pace chart to determine your finish time based on your training paces.
- Fartleks: Unstructured speed play, alternating between fast and slow segments during a run.
- Sprints: Short, maximal-effort runs focusing on speed and power.
- Long runs: Extended-duration runs designed to build aerobic endurance and mental toughness.
- Recovery runs: Easy-paced runs to facilitate recovery and aid in muscle repair.
- Hill repeats: Intervals of running uphill to enhance strength and power.
- Intervals: Short, high-intensity bursts of speed followed by rest or easy-paced segments.
- Strides: Short, quick accelerations within a run to improve running form and speed.
- Base runs: Maintaining a consistent, moderate pace to build a foundation of aerobic fitness.
- Easy runs: Relaxed-paced runs focused on maintaining cardiovascular fitness without strain.
- Cool-downs: Gentle exercises post-run to gradually decrease heart rate and promote recovery.
Determining Your Running Pace
Most of your miles, no matter your fitness level, should be easy running.
A great way to know if you’re going easy enough is to use the “talk test” to see if you’re running at a conversational pace. That means, if you can hold a conversation without gasping for air, you are running at a good, easy pace.
Knowing your paces and what they should feel like will help you avoid the “gray zone,” where runs are faster than they should be for aerobic endurance benefits but not fast enough for power and speed gains.
Intermediate and advanced runners who incorporate speed work can use pace charts or calculators based on recent race times or time-trial results to determine the appropriate pace for each repetition.
Some plans and apps listed above, like Runna, will do this heavy lifting for you. Campbell says to make sure these harder effort runs aren’t too fast. And don’t go too far, too fast, too soon. Doing so is a recipe for an injury.
Strength Training for Runners
Strength training during half marathon training plays a crucial role in preventing overuse injuries, enhancing power and explosiveness in strides, and improving muscular stamina.
“As a PT who specializes in working with runners, it is imperative you add in strength training at minimum two times per week,” says Campbell.
“Not only will this help with performance if you’re trying to PR, but more importantly, help in improving your ability to tolerate the loads running demands, and as a result, hopefully, minimize your chance of injury.”
When it comes to strength training during a half marathon training cycle, focus on maintaining total-body strength. Hamstrings, glutes, calves, core, and upper back should all be targeted.
The essential movements of strength training for runners: squats, lunges, and clamshells.
Don’t focus on lifting heavy when you’re in the heart of training. Instead, look to build more muscle mass and strength in between seasons.
Cross Training for Runners
Cross-training is your sidekick, preventing mental burnout and overuse issues. It’s different from strength training because it’s still a cardio workout, just without the running.
So think: swimming, power yoga, using the elliptical machine, cycling, cross-country skiing, skating, and walking.
When you cross-train instead of pounding the pavement day after day, you are reaping the benefits of cardiovascular training while strengthening muscles that running might not use. Plus, it’s fun! Keep in mind though, you’ll want to find a low-impact activity to protect your body, which is why swimming, yoga, or cycling are great options.
Your cross-training days are meant to give your joints and muscles a break or change, so be careful if you’re trying to incorporate HIIT into your training cycle. That type of cross-training is best saved for times when you’re in between training cycles.
These are also powerful practices for returning to running as an injured runner.
Half Marathon Nutrition
During your training period, half marathon nutrition is a crucial piece of the training puzzle.
“Generally you want to eat healthy, whole grains, and a lot of carbs and protein to supplement those muscles,” says Campbell.
The key to keeping your energy stores up is to maintain balance and variety. In terms of what to eat, studies show that runners should eat the same way that’s advised for everyone else, and that is 50-60 percent healthy carbohydrates, 15-20 percent protein, and 15-20 percent healthy fats.
Each of these categories serves a different purpose. Think of carbohydrates as your star power source. When carbs are digested, they are broken down into smaller sugar molecules called glucose, which is then stored as usable fuel in the liver and muscles. Carbohydrates delay fatigue and aid in muscle repair helping protein do its job. For any athlete, there’s a period before the half marathon where “carb loading” is an essential nutrition strategy.
Protein is made up of amino acids, which are essential to building and repairing muscles. While each person’s protein intake will vary slightly – and studies continue to evolve – this is a good starting place for knowing how much protein to consume:
If you are active 4-5 days per week and average about 30 to 50 minutes per training session, you should aim for about .5 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
If calculations are not your jam, download a free meal tracker app that will calculate your macros. That way, you can ensure you’re reaching your carb, protein, fats, and calorie counts every day during training. Getting enough fuel will make your training and race so much better.
Contrary to what mainstream media has pushed on us all our lives. there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to water consumption. Just know that your pee should be light yellow like lemonade not dark orange like apple juice.
If you find it difficult to maintain hydration, you might want to incorporate the best electrolytes for runners.
Pre-Race Nutrition and Hydration
On the morning of your long run and race, have a balanced breakfast that includes easily digestible carbohydrates, a moderate amount of protein, and some healthy fats. Experiment with different breakfast options during your training runs to identify what works best for you.
Ensure you get a small meal complete with carbs, protein, and fat about three to four hours before your workout for the day. One or two hours before, snack on something small, maybe crackers or an apple.
Here’s where newbie half marathoners need to tune in. You’re going to need to eat and drink while on the run, starting during your long training runs, to keep your energy up.
Most runners go by the golden rule to the question – do I need to fuel during a half marathon?
If the run is longer than 60 minutes, you need to eat something.
There’s a plethora of easy on-the-go gels, dried fruits, jelly beans, and candies that runners use. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it works for you.
Some runners (especially if they missed their pre-run snack) will want to eat sooner than the 60-minute mark, and that’s fine. You could chew a sugary snack (or gulp running slime) 45 minutes into your run.
Traditionalists swear by the 15-grams-of-carbs-every-15-minutes mantra, totaling 60 grams per hour. The best way to find out how to time your fuel intake is to test it out while you’re on your long training runs. And whether you’re hydrating with sports drinks or plain water, take a sip every time you fuel up.
What to drink or eat after a half marathon? Drink water or an electrolyte drink immediately after your run. Consume something within 40 minutes of your workout to replenish your glycogen stores. Opt for easily digestible carbs to kickstart the repair process.
Toss in a bit of protein for the ultimate recovery boost. Your recovery refuel doesn’t have to be extravagant – it could be a simple low-sugar protein drink or a baked potato topped with Greek yogurt. If all else fails, snag a sports drink like Gatorade and a protein bar.
A bit of sugar won’t hurt, and it beats going without fuel altogether.
What should I wear for the half marathon?
Selecting suitable attire for a half marathon comes down to weather and personal comfort.
“Find what is comfortable for you and make sure to practice it in all types of runs – short easy runs, speed workouts, and long runs,” says Campbell.
Here are the absolute essentials of race-day half marathon gear:
Running Shoes: Finding the right pair of running shoes for you is possibly the most important gear decision you’ll make. When looking for shoes, you want to consider your foot shape, any orthopedic issues, and comfort. Most people will want to purchase shoes a half size up from their regular shoe size to account for toe space and foot swelling throughout their miles. Your local running shoe store is staffed with experts and will help you choose a few styles to try on and test.
Related: The Best Half Marathon Shoes of 2024
Running socks: Do not overlook the importance of a good sock. Invest in sweat-wicking, comfy socks. Opt for synthetic materials like polyester or nylon to keep your feet dry and prevent blisters. If you need a bit more padding, look for cushioning for impact absorption. Some socks have arch support for people dealing with low or achy arches or plantar fasciitis. The best running socks are seamless and breathable. Again, your local running store will be able to show you which sock is best for you.
GPS Watch: You don’t need a running watch, but it makes training, pacing, and racing a lot easier. Your Apple Watch will have everything you need, but if you don’t own one or want something dedicated to running, check out Garmin or Polar watches. These are the gold standard in GPS and heatrate. There are plenty of other solid options on the market. The best will be accurate and have a long battery life.
Running shorts: You might have to test a few pairs to see what shorts are most comfortable. Take them out on a long run to make sure they don’t ride up, chafe, or annoy you. Pockets are your friends; make sure they can carry all your essentials. Most races – even in late fall – will be warm enough that you’ll be thankful you wore shorts by the end. But some people prefer leggings. That’s great as long as you make sure you test them out during our long runs.
Sports bras: Finding a comfortable, breathable option comes down to your body type and shape. Our best advice is to try a couple on, buy a few different options, and test them on different types of training runs.
Running Belt: Running belts are optional, especially if you feel confident carrying your fuel and other accessories in your pockets for the race. But if you need more storage, a belt is a lightweight way to carry everything you need. When you’re testing it during your training, pack it with everything you plan to carry on race day – that way you can figure out the best way to reduce bounce or lighten your load.
If you’re ready to buy gear and looking for a place to start, my favorites are:
- HOKA or Brooks running shoes
- Balega running socks
- Rabbit EZ tee shirt
- Men’s Janji AFO Middle Short
- Women’s Janji Transit Tech Short
The half marathon training program is tough and intense, but it should also be really fun and ultimately satisfying. As long as you choose a plan wisely, treat your body well, stay consistent, and give yourself grace when you’re inevitably tired and beat up, you should make it to the finish line strong.
Beginners, remember not to focus too hard on your finish time. When you sign up for your next 13.1 miler, then you can think about running your best half marathon ever.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long do you train for a half marathon?
The length of time you train for a half marathon will depend on the individual runner. “Ultimately, everything should be individualized based on a runner’s experience level, time and schedule, and mental load to be able to handle training, but usually half marathon plans on average range around 10 weeks,” says Campbell.
How do beginners train for half marathons?
If you’re starting from zero miles, the best way to get into half marathon shape is to begin with the run-walk method. Check out a couch-to-half-marathon training plan to get you there in just a few months.
How fast should a beginner run a half marathon?
Campbell reminds beginning half marathoners that they should be proud to just finish the race. Almost every running coach will agree that this is the way to look at your race performance if you’re a recreational runner.
Right now in the U.S., finishing in two hours is slightly better than average. So if you need a marker besides seeing the finish, a sub-two-hour time is pretty awesome. But beginners should remember Campbell’s advice: “Any time is going to be a PR, and you don’t want to minimize that accomplishment.”
Can I do a half marathon without training?
You can, but do you want to? And should you? “Absolutely not,” says Campbell. “First and foremost, it’s not safe for your body. In addition, the whole point of being proud to run a half marathon isn’t just because of doing one race, but it’s the culmination of being proud of all the hours you put in and all the times you stuck to the plan when you didn’t want to. It’s not a flex to run a half marathon without training, and nor is it smart.”
How much should I run a week?
Every half-marathon training plan will gradually increase your volume over time. Your mileage per week will go from about 10 miles to about 20 to 25 miles per week.
What is the best training plan for a half marathon?
The best training plan for a half marathon is one that works with your schedule and that you can adhere to and get to the finish line. Campbell recommends using a personal running coach or running coach app to help you commit to the process.
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