June 26

How to Train for a Half Marathon

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How to Train for a Half Marathon

Learn the basics of running a half marathon and build your own 16-week training plan so you feel confident on race day.

You've made the exciting decision to compete in a half marathon, now it's time for you to map out your half marathon training plan. Whether you're a seasoned runner or new to the sport, proper training is essential to your preparation. Training for a half marathon takes work, but it's a rewarding process that sets you up for a successful race day.

How to Train for a Half Marathon: The Basics

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There's more to running a half marathon than showing up on race day. A half marathon training plan is essential to ensuring a healthy and successful race, whether you’re looking to set a new PR or simply wanting to cross the finish line. Here’s where to begin.

Work Backward from Your Race Start Date

Part of your training plan depends on how long you have to train, and the more time the better. A good training plan for someone new to half marathons should last about 16 weeks. Someone more experienced who steadily trains may not need as much time. 

The key component is giving yourself enough time to build the proper stamina and endurance needed for a half marathon. This typically includes 4-5 days of running, 1-2 days of cross training — swimming, cycling, light weights — and at least one rest day per week.

Get Used to Running Long Distances

Trying to run a half marathon with little experience or preparation can lead to a pretty unpleasant experience — fatigue, muscle soreness, and even injury. Instead, you’ll want to follow a training program that starts where you're comfortable and work your way up to a full 13.1 miles. This lets your body get used to bumping up the distance every week or so without rushing.

Get the Right Gear

Having the proper gear is vital to ensure your runs are safe and comfortable. 

  • Shoes: Your running shoes are among the most important pieces of gear you'll need as you train and race for your half marathon. You want a shoe that is supportive, has plenty of cushioning, and provides the right traction for the race's course. These will vary depending on if you’re running on paved roads or dirt trails.

  • Apparel: Your clothing needs may vary depending on your race's climate. In general, you want to wear light, breathable clothing that's comfortable yet supportive. Consider using compression socks or sleeves, and wearing anti-chafe shorts. Dressing in layers is also helpful — you can be out on the course for as long as 4 hours and the weather will likely change throughout. 

  • Hydration: When running long distances, it’s important to hydrate and fuel as you run. Vests and belts that hold water bottles and refueling snacks are useful during training runs. Remember to practice drinking while you run so you don’t lose time needing to stop during the race. 

  • Sunglasses/hat: Many runners wear sunglasses to keep the sun out of their eyes or a baseball cap to keep the sun off of their face, especially on particularly warm, bright days.

  • Watch: Smartwatches track your run’s distance and time, your heart rate, and many other features. Using a smartwatch during training and on race day can be helpful to get the most out of your experience, ensuring you hit your pace goals along the way. 

Train in Different Types of Weather

You can’t guarantee what the weather on race day will look like. It’s recommended to train in different types of weather so you'll be prepared regardless of sun, rain, or wind. This is also good practice for shedding layers. Mornings might start out crisp and warm up as you run, or a rain jacket might not be necessary anymore after a pop-up shower dissipates.

Don’t Skip Rest Days

Rest days are essential for your overall performance. Intentional rest gives your body time to recover and plays an important role in muscle growth and building strength. Rest days also help prevent injuries by keeping you from overtraining. Anytime you feel sore or unusually tired, take an extra day off.

Cross-Training

Running will be your primary workout while training for your half marathon. However, cross-training is helpful to build additional strength and endurance. Cross-training may also help prevent injuries (i.e. working complementary muscle groups) and burnout, as the training variety is often motivating. 

Cross-training involves incorporating workouts besides running into your training routine. Popular cross-training workouts for runners include strength training, HIIT, cycling, water workouts, and yoga.

  • Strength training, or resistance training, involves using weights or bodyweight to build muscular strength. For runners, most strength training should focus on the lower body and core to assist in running. Squats and lunges are great for leg strength and power and can make uphills during your race seem much easier.

  • Cycling on a road or stationary bike, or taking spin classes, is good for maintaining cardio and building endurance. Cycling is great for hitting your miles with minimal strain on your muscles and joints. 

  • Water workouts, such as swimming or water jogging, provide similar benefits to cycling. You can build your cardio and endurance without the impact on your joints.

  • Yoga helps with mobility. Yoga also teaches breathwork, which is extremely beneficial when running. 

You should aim to cross-train 1-2 times a week, incorporating different styles throughout the week. As you train, you'll learn what works best for you and your body.

Tapering Before Race Day

A “taper week” is the week before your race when you start easing off your training to be fully rested for race day. Tapering often resembles your first week of training with shorter, slower-pace runs, allowing your body to recover and re-energize. Tapering can also help prevent fatigue on race day and reduce risk of injury.

16-Week Half Marathon Training Plan

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A 16-week training plan is ideal for new runners competing in their first half marathon. This allows enough time to slowly, safely, and enjoyably increase your mileage so you show up on race day ready for the full distance. 

No matter your experience level at the start of the plan, a general goal should be to complete 1-2 runs of ~10 miles by the end of the plan to have you well prepared to complete your first half marathon. 

Also, keep in mind that most people participating in a half marathon will do some walking throughout, so plan on doing that as part of your training as well. Use your phone or a smartwatch to determine how long it takes you to complete a mile (typically 12-18 minutes for a beginner). This will help you get an idea of your estimated finish time on race day.

Weeks 1-2

Although training plans can vary, most 16-week plans start with a few weeks of getting your body used to running. Your focus for these initial weeks will be consistent, easy runs. 

If the idea of running continuously for 15-20 minutes seems overwhelming, start with a goal of 5 minutes of continuous running, then 2-3 minutes of walking, then 5 more minutes of running. 

This run-walk plan can be followed throughout your 16 weeks, including on race day. Over time, you can increase the run portions to a distance or time you feel most capable of.

Weeks 3-15

In weeks 3-15, you’ll start incorporating different types of runs into your training, along with longer runs to get prepared for race day. You will still need to include rest days, cross-training, and some strength training. Active recovery days are a good time to incorporate low to moderate-intensity cross-training.

Week 16

The last week of your training program will be your taper week. This week is about taking things easy and letting your body recover. None of your workouts during this week should feel exhausting or strenuous.

Week

Mon

mon

wed

Thur

fri

sat

sun

1

1-2 mi easy run

Rest

1-2 mi easy run

1-2 mi easy run

1-2 mi easy run

30 min Cross Training

Rest

2

1.5-2.5 mi easy run

Rest

1.5-2.5 mi easy run

30 min Cross Training

1.5-2.5 mi easy run

30 min Cross Training

Rest

3

1.5-2.5 mi run

1-2 mi run or Cross Train

Rest

1.5-2.5 mi run

1-2 mi run or Cross Train

3 mi run

Rest

4

2.5 mi run

1-2 mi run or Cross Train

Rest

2.5 mi run

1-2 mi run or Cross Train

4 mi run

Rest

5

2.5 mi run

1-2 mi run or Cross Train

Rest

2.5 mi run

1-2 mi run or Cross Train

4 mi run

Rest

6

3 mi run

1.5-2.5 mi run or Cross Train

Rest

3 mi run

1.5-2.5 mi run or Cross Train

4 mi run

Rest

7

3 mi run

1.5-2.5 mi run or Cross Train

Rest

3 mi run

1.5-2.5 mi run or Cross Train

5 mi run

Rest

8

3 mi run

1.5-2.5 mi run or Cross Train

Rest

3 mi run

1.5-2.5 mi run or Cross Train

5 mi run

Rest

9

4 mi run

2-3 mi run or Cross Train

Rest

4 mi run

2-3 mi run or Cross Train

5 mi run

Rest

10

4 mi run

2-3 mi run or Cross Train

Rest

4 mi run

2-3 mi run or Cross Train

6 mi run

Rest

11

4 mi run

2-3 mi run or Cross Train

Rest

4 mi run

2-3 mi run or Cross Train

6 mi run

Rest

12

5 mi run

3-4 mi run or Cross Train

Rest

5 mi run

3-4 mi run or Cross Train

7 mi run

Rest

13

5 mi run

3-4 mi run or Cross Train

Rest

5 mi run

3-4 mi run or Cross Train

8 mi run

Rest

14

5 mi run

3-4 mi run or Cross Train

Rest

5 mi run

3-4 mi run or Cross Train

9 mi run

Rest

15

5 mi run

3-4 mi run or Cross Train

Rest

5 mi run

3-4 mi run or Cross Train

10 mi run

Rest

16

30-min run

30-min run

Rest

20-min run

Rest

Race Day!

Rest

How to Pick the Right Half Marathon Training Plan

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Before jumping into your training, determine the right training program for yourself — something that fits your current fitness level and the time you have to commit, and prepares you for your specific race goals. 

Check out our half marathon training programs, with specific training plans for the elevation and terrain you’ll experience if you sign up for one of our half marathons

Many half marathon training programs are classified as beginner, intermediate, or expert levels. One primary difference between the programs is the length. Beginner programs last 14 to 16 weeks, whereas more advanced programs may only last 10 to 12. You may be okay with a shorter training program if you run regularly and have race experience, but if this is your first half marathon, it’s likely best to go with a longer program. 

Another essential aspect is ensuring you're training for the specific course at hand. Read ahead on what the race will look like — most race sites will give you a synopsis of what to prep for. If it has a lot of climbs, you’ll want a program with hill workouts. If you’ll be running on dirt trails, get off the pavement while you train.  Preparation is key.

Frequently Asked Questions 

How many days a week do you need to train for a half marathon?
Most training programs require you to run at least five days a week with at least one rest day. 
How many months do you need to train for a half marathon?
Half marathon training plans can range from 10-16 weeks (2-4 months). If you’re new to half marathons, it’s advised to have a 3-4 month training plan to help you prepare for your race.
How many miles per week should you run to train for a half marathon?
Your mileage per week is going to depend on your training plan and should increase over time. For a beginner, the plan may be about 10 miles in the first week, but by the end, can be as high as 30-40 miles in a week.
What if I’m struggling with my half marathon training?
If you're struggling with your training, you should consider modifying the plan, even just for one day. Take an extra rest day, slow your pace, or incorporate different cross-training workouts. Connecting with other runners to have a supportive community around you as you train is also helpful.
How do I avoid injury while training for a half marathon?
One of the most common mistakes new runners make is trying to do too much too soon. Stick to a well-designed training plan, even if it seems easy at first. Don’t add more mileage or days of training too quickly, and make sure to get regular rest. If something hurts, don’t do it. If you feel especially tired, take a rest day. Understand the difference between pushing yourself to be a better runner and pushing yourself to the point of injury. 
What should I wear for a half marathon?
You want to wear similar gear to what you trained in — race day is not the time to break in new shoes or test new shorts. Wear something breathable, supportive, and comfortable. Find layers that make sense: if it’ll be windy, use a light windbreaker; if it’s warm, make sure your top wicks sweat; if it’ll be cold, have gloves and a hat. The weather is very likely to change during race time, so be prepared to shed layers if necessary. It’s also recommended to train in different types of weather since you can’t guarantee what it’ll look like on race day.
How much should I drink during a half marathon?
Getting enough fluids during your race is essential to prevent dehydration, improve performance, and minimize fatigue. Drink 16 oz a couple hours before race time, then 4 oz-8 oz of water every 15 minutes you run. Most races will have water stops spaced throughout the race, and if you take water at each, that should be sufficient. It may be worth investing in a handheld water bottle or a hydration vest for easy hydrating during the race.
How should I prepare for race day?
Rest, hydration, and fueling are your main focus the day before your race. You should taper your workouts in the week leading up to your race to give your body time to recover. Part of your recovery should also include getting quality sleep every night, especially the nights leading up to the race. Getting up early, having something light to eat, and taking in fluids is a great way to arrive at the start line ready to go!

Jessica Braun Gervais

Author

Jessica Braun Gervais is a Chicago-based freelance writer specializing in health, wellness, and fitness. Her passion comes from her life as an elite athlete as a Muay Thai kickboxer. Outside of writing, Jessica Braun is a group fitness instructor and personal trainer who enjoys reading, discovering new coffee shops, and cuddling with her dogs, Brady and Hanny.


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