How To Train For A Half Marathon: Everything You Need To Run 13.1 Miles

Here are our expert half marathon tips and free half marathon training plans

How to train for a half marathon is a huge topic—getting yourself ready to run those 13.1 miles (or 21.1 kilometers) requires discipline, enthusiasm, and a lot of work—but it’s also an extremely rewarding experience.

We’re going to dive deep into every aspect of what you need to know about for your half marathon training and preparation—whether it’s getting started, training runs, cross-training, nutrition, gear, or race prep—we’ve got you covered.

We’ve also opened up our library of free, downloadable half marathon training plans for you to access. There are training plans for each ability level and goal.

how to train for a half marathon

Our Half Marathon Training Plans

Choosing a half marathon training plan that aligns with your abilities, goals, and time frame is key to race day success.

Our team of running coaches has developed a library of tried-and-tested free half marathon plans (over 100,000 runners helped and counting). They’re free to download, and also come in Google Sheet and Excel format, so you can edit them to suit your schedule.

Here are our most popular half marathon training plans:

(Browse all the plans here).

All of the plans are 12-16 weeks long.

How To Train For A Half Marathon

Half Marathon Training For Beginners

If you’re a beginner runner, completing a half marathon is almost certainly within your abilities – the trick is to give yourself enough time to build your body up comfortably to take on the 13.1 mile (or 21.1K) distance.

You want to build up to a comfortable weekly mileage of around 25 miles (40 kilometers) a week. This usually takes three to four months, depending on where your fitness level is when you start.

If you’re a complete beginner, then it’s usually a good idea to set your sights on completing a 5K first (that’s why our Couch To Half Marathon plan kicks off with a Couch to 5k segment).

You should aim for three or four runs per week: some regular mid-week runs of around 30 minutes, and a long run on the weekend, which progressively increases in distance to a peak of 10 or 11 miles (16-17.5 kilometers).

Beginner runners shouldn’t worry about doing speedwork sessions like track intervals or hill work; just focus on getting the miles in at a comfortable pace, and getting through your long runs.

How Long Does It Take To Train For a Half Marathon?

As a minimum, experienced runners need at least six weeks to get half marathon ready.

However, 8-12 weeks is a much more reasonable time to get fit for a half marathon.

And if you’re a less experienced runner, you’ll want to set aside 16-20 weeks to train for your first half marathon.

What’s Your Half Marathon Goal?

Defining what your goals are for your half marathon will influence which training plan you choose and your half marathon training

Do you just want to finish the race? Consider using the run/walk method which helps you cover long distances without so much exertion or injury risk.

Do you want to run the whole 13.1 miles? If so, stick to your training plan and follow the long run schedule. Try not to take walking breaks during your weekly long runs.

Do you have a time-based goal? Then pick a training plan that reflects your goal, like our sub two-hour training plan. Faster time-based training plans will include speed work to ensure you’re hitting the target pace.

Half Marathon Training Sessions Explained

Mid-Week Training Runs

Training runs are your regular, middle-distance runs which make up the majority of your half marathon training schedule.

You’ll typically do two to three training runs per week, and their distance gradually increases as your training schedule progresses.

The purpose of these runs is to contribute to your overall weekly mileage, and get your body accustomed and adapted to running. Don’t forget a quick warm up before each run.

Walk/Run Sessions

Walk/run sessions—also referred to as Jeffing—is an awesome technique for rookie runners that allows you to go longer by alternating running with walking breaks, meaning you tire slower and reduce some of the effects of continuous running on your body. It’s popular for full marathons but equally effective in halfs.

Our Couch to Half Marathon Training Program includes walk/run workouts in the first few weeks; we gradually change the ratio of walking to running until the walking is all but phased out, but if you wish you can continue to follow the training plan while adopting a walk/run strategy.

Long Runs

Long runs are a staple of half marathon training – they gradually increase in distance to around 10 or 11 miles (16-17.5 kilometeres).

Long runs improve your musculoskeletal strength, your cardiovascular system, and your body’s ability to keep fuelling itself for prolonged periods of exercise.

You should do your long runs at a slow, comfortable, conversational pace—don’t focus on speed at all. Think of them as your easy runs.

Do one long run per week—most runners do them at the weekends, as it’s the most convenient time.

Speed Work

Speed work is the realm of intermediate and advanced half marathon runners with time-based goals.

Doing speed work such as tempo runs and fartleks improves your running economy and your base running speed.

But it also stresses your body and can tire you out faster—when you add speed work to an already-busy training schedule, you increase the probability of injury, burnout, and exhaustion.

For that reason, I don’t recommend speed work for rookie runners – only experienced runners looking to improve their performance.

Cross Training

Cross-training is an important part of your half marathon preparation—and one that many runners completely overlook. One or two cross-training days can completely change your half marathon training and race day performance.

More training tips: we recommend strength training as the most effective form of cross training, though resistance work, pilates, yoga, and swimming as great cross-training activities.

Rest

Downtime is an essential part of your half marathon training journey; it allows your body to recuperate and consolidate the gains you’ve made in training.

Look to take around two rest days per week—but don’t be afraid to take an extra day off any time you’re feeling frazzled.

What Should I Eat During Half Marathon Training?

Once you begin training for your half marathon, it pays to spend some time focussing on your nutrition.

Your body needs fuel to power your runs, and nutrients to help you recover quickly.

Here are my top tips for half marathon training nutrition:

  1. Stick to simple, whole-foods based meals wherever possible. Avoid heavily-processed foods which take longer for the body to break down.
  2. Your body will primarily use carbohydrates as its source of fuel when running, so ensure you’re eating a diet rich in carbs. Pastas, breads, veg, and legumes are all great places to start.
  3. Prior to going for a run, opt for a high-carb snack 45 minutes beforehand. A banana is the perfect pre-run fuel boost.
  4. During your run, you shouldn’t need to worry about consuming snacks unless you’re running for more than an hour—which will be a few of your long runs. On these long runs, munch on something at the 45-minute mark, and every 30 minutes or so thereafter. Sports gels are a great form of fast energy, as is trail mix and other snack bars.
  5. After you finish running, your body is primed for recovery foods. Eat a snack or meal within an hour or finishing, and aim for something that is high in both carbohydrates and protein, as both are essential parts of the recovery process.
  6. Don’t feel too bad about having the occasional binge or cheat day—but be aware that they can screw with your energy levels, and make running harder or less pleasant! The healthier and more balanced the diet is, the better.
  7. Plan out your race-day nutrition and hydration and test is all beforehand. This means knowing what you’ll have for a pre-race breakfast, what you’ll eat at the start line, what snack you’ll take during your half marathon—test, test, test!

Do I Need To Do A Half Marathon Taper?

The half marathon taper is the final 10-14 days before your half marathon, where you gradually begin to wind down your training, so you’re well-rested and in optimal condition come race day.

Did you know that your hardest training week will be 2 weeks before your actual half marathon race?

The taper gives your body time to heal, recuperate, and consolidate the gains it’s made in training.

All that run training has left micro-tears in your muscles, your body has been under a lot of stress.

Your body uses the taper to repair itself.

Tempted to skip the taper and squeeze in some last-minute training?

Don’t be.

There’s little you can do in those last few days and weeks to actually become a better runner—it’s already too late.

Instead, focus on recovery, repair, and gradually reducing your training volume—to get to that finish line successfully.

Don’t stress if this sounds like a lot of work to follow—all our training plans have the taper mapped out in detail already!

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    Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

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