After your first, fifth, or 50th 5k, you might set your sights even higher and take interest in testing your endurance with a longer race.
Perhaps you’ll gradually increase your distance by running a few 10k races, but what if you decide to jump to a half marathon right away? Or if you’ve already run a few half marathons and want to improve your time?
If you have decided this is your next big goal, you may be wondering, how long does it take to train for a half marathon?
In this article, we will answer your question, how long does it take to train for a half marathon, and the factors you need to consider when choosing the right half marathon training plan for you.
We will discuss:
- How Long Does It Take To Train For a Half Marathon?
- 3 Important Factors That Affect How Long It Takes to Train for a Half Marathon
Let’s get started!
How Long Does It Take To Train For a Half Marathon?
Ultimately, there isn’t a single answer to the question: “How long does it take to train for a half marathon?“
There are several factors that will determine how long you should devote to your half marathon training plan, namely your current fitness level and your race goals.
Although we will get into the specifics of how each of these factors affects the ideal amount of time it takes to train for a half marathon, if you are looking for more of a blanket guideline for the majority of runners, it typically takes about 12 weeks, or three months, of consistent training to prepare for a half marathon.
Beginners will need to allow for more time, whereas runners who are already fit and experienced can prepare for a half marathon in a matter of a few weeks.Keep in mind that with almost every half marathon training plan, the last week—if not the last two weeks (ideally)—are dedicated to tapering before the race.
The half marathon taper is not as dramatic or important as the marathon taper, but it is still an essential part of ensuring that your body is ready to fire on all cylinders and feels fresh and recovered from training on race day.
For this reason, half-marathon training plans might seem slightly longer than you would expect them to be to give you enough time to increase the long run by about one mile per week and then calculate the number of weeks it will take you to progress from your current longest run distance to the 13.1-mile half marathon distance.
For example, if your current longest run is 6 miles, a 6-week half marathon training plan will likely be too aggressive and ambitious because you need that buffer of a couple of weeks to taper down and have a little bit of a relative recovery halfway through the build cycle.
3 Important Factors that Affect How Long It Takes to Train for a Half Marathon
The three factors that have the most significant impact one way or the other on how long it takes to train for a half marathon are your starting fitness level, your race goals, and how many days per week or hours per week you have available to train.
Let’s look at each of these variables individually:
#1: Current Fitness Level and Experience Level
It should come as no surprise that the variable that will play the biggest role in determining how long it takes to train for a half marathon is your current fitness level and experience level as a runner.
If you are just starting out, something like a couch to half marathon training plan will be necessary.
These types of training plans gradually build your fitness and endurance as you work your way up to the half-marathon distance.
It is typically recommended to have about six months of running under your belt before you run your first half marathon, so you should be able to take on a couch to half marathon training plan or half marathon training plan for beginners in about 16 to 20 weeks.
Of course, the more weeks you allow yourself between your first run/walk and your half marathon race, the easier it will be on your body to properly adapt to all of your training and get accustomed to running, and the lower your risk of injury, and the more prepared you will be on race day.
Although 16 to 20 weeks at the bare minimum is recommended for novice runners, training for a half marathon in 12 to 16 weeks is usually sufficient for beginners who are currently able to run a couple of miles and have maybe run a 5k once but haven’t been doing a ton of consistent training or formal workouts.
Intermediate runners stepping up from a 5k typically need 10-12 weeks to train for a half marathon, depending on your goals for the race, how long you have been running, and what kind of mileage or number of days per week you are able to run.
If you have been running 10ks and want to jump from the 10k to the half marathon, an 8-week half marathon training plan is usually sufficient.
Lastly, advanced runners who just want to tune up to finish a half marathon might be able to get away with a four-week half marathon training plan, but if you are looking to improve your performance and set a PR, an 8-week half marathon training plan is a good middle ground to give your body enough time to make physiological adaptations.
#2: Race Goals
Whether you are an experienced half marathon runner or training for your first half marathon, your goals for the race will impact the ideal number of weeks you will need to train for the half marathon.
Particularly in cases with experienced runners, there can be quite a big range in the number of weeks that you will need to dedicate to training for the race depending on the answers to the following questions:
Are you trying to set a PR? Has it been a long time since you’ve been doing longer distances, and you have been focusing mainly on the 5k or 10ks? Do you just want to finish the race, or are you really going for a competitive time?
For example, consider the differences in half marathon training plan lengths between a runner who is looking to set a big PR and one who just wants to finish the half marathon.
Let’s imagine that the two runners are of the same fitness level. They have both recently run a 1:45 half marathon about three months ago and have kept up their fitness level over the past three months.
The runners are doing one speed workout per week and maintaining a long run of about 10 miles once a week.
Runner A wants to run 1:38 or faster at his next half marathon and Runner B just wants to jump in a half marathon with a friend but isn’t concerned about his time.
As can likely be surmised, there is quite a difference in the necessary approach to have success in each of these cases.
With Runner A, an advanced half marathon training plan to run sub 1:40–and about 7 minutes faster than his last race—will be necessary. This may take another full training cycle of at least 8-12 weeks to improve his fitness enough.
Even though his endurance has been maintained and he won’t have to worry as much about building up his volume, he will need to focus a lot on speed work and tempo work to make such an improvement in his half marathon performance.
Therefore an 8 to 12-week advanced half marathon training program would be ideal.
On the other hand, Runner B is not concerned about his time, so the only thing that he really needs to be mindful of is sharpening up before the race. Since he has been consistently running at least one 10-mile long run per week, he probably already has the fitness to complete the half marathon.
A 4-week half marathon training plan that would allow him to get in one or two longer runs of 12 miles or so, and then a quick taper would suffice. He could probably even get away with a 3-week half marathon training plan.
#3: Number of Days Per Week You Want to Train
In general, the more you run per week, the more quickly you will be able to get in shape for a half marathon, so the half marathon training plan can be shorter in terms of the number of weeks required.
However, it’s not as simple as deciding to take on the most aggressive plan, running five or six days per week just so that you can train for a half marathon in less time.
You need to consider your current fitness level and ability, the logistics of your life and how much time you actually have per week to train, and your injury risk.
Ready to train? Check out our half-marathon training plans here and decide which is the best choice for you.