How to train to run a half marathon


It’s amazing how running (and cycling for that matter!) has now become one of the most popular individual sports. Even before the 2012 London Olympics, running was on the rise with new races and events popping up everywhere. This is no doubt partly due to the growing demand for our need to challenge ourselves by entering such events.

I have run races of various distances up to 26.2 miles, and having completed just the one half marathon, I have decided that it is my preferred distance. Long enough to ‘enjoy’ and be strategic about pacing but not so long that your muscles break down and scream at you to stop!

In my first half marathon I clocked 1 hour 14 minutes and finished 3rd – obviously this was after years of running and some targeted training. This was a coastal half marathon with short stretches of rocky beach, so I’m desperate to train and go for a pure road half marathon to see if I can get that time down!

Training for a half marathon
There is no one-size-fits-all for half marathon training but here is a general schedule which you could tailor to fit yourself:

Example 6 week half marathon training plan
The plan below assumes the runner has fitness to run 10k without stopping. Don’t understimate the importance of speed work for long distance training – it really can help come race day. I’ve suggested a regular 5k time trial to check on your progress.

Week 1: 30 mins steady / 30 mins intervals / 6 miles / 5k time trial
Week 2: 40 mins steady / 30 mins intervals / 8 miles
Week 3: 45 mins steady / 40 mins intervals / 10 miles
Week 4: 40 mins steady / 30 mins intervals / 50 mins steady / 12 miles / 5k time trial
Week 5: 40 mins steady / 30 mins intervals / 50 mins steady / 12 miles
Week 6: 40 mins steady / 30 mins intervals / 50 mins steady / 10 miles

The above example is a fairly aggressive training plan in terms of building distance over 6 weeks but the suggested runs can be put in any order. The total weekly mileage does not need to be excessive though – if you have the base fitness, you could train and complete a successful half marathon on 30 miles per week in my opinion.

‘Tapering’ is the practice of scaling down your training volume and preparing for the event. A 4-5 day taper is probably sufficient for most before running a half marathon – my post here covers tapering and the same principles can be applied for a half marathon.

As with any training regime, it must fit around your lifestyle. Since most of us are not running for a job, that lifestyle is probably quite hectic already. If you are struggling to find time, I would make the number one priority to be consistency in your running. I have learnt over the years that my running fitness never leaves me so long as I do some form of running week in / week out, it doesn’t have to be for hours at a time! Unless you plan to run/walk/run your half marathon, you will need to get upto 12 miles in your training though!

Fuelling for a half marathon

In order to run a quick time, I couldn’t afford to stop for fluid or take fuel on the fly – that was never planned but conditions were very cold and I felt good enough in the race not to use a feed station and this saved time. A brief twitter conversation with Liz Yelling (@girlwhatruns) confirmed for me that she neither would normally drink/eat during a half marathon. This is of course dependant on your total running time as I think performance would definitely start to decline after 80-90 minutes of running without fluid.

So my fuelling tips for a half marathon would be:

• Practice in training to find out exactly what you need in terms of food and drink (everyone is different!);

• Pre-race, take your preferred food (e.g. energy gel) and largest quantity (e.g. 200-400ml) of drink 1 hour before the race;

• During the race – you may get by with nothing (as I did), or small sips of water/energy drink (if you are running quite hard, food and drink could be more likely to induce a stitch or affect you pattern of running though)

• Post-race – a half marathon is far enough to break down your muscles, a snack with a ratio of 3:1 for carbs:protein should help recovery!

Just do it…

A half marathon is a great achievement for any runner, whether you’re looking to your run furthest distance or have a time goal in mind. So don’t hesitate in signing up to a half marathon and making the commitment. If you need any specific input, then just email me and I’ll let you have my thoughts!