How To Train For A Half Marathon: 9 Expert Tips For A Successful Race

Last Updated:

Training to run your first, fifth, or 55th half marathon is always exciting. It is a great distance because it is long enough to feel incredibly rewarding upon completion and short enough that it is manageable for most runners juggling a busy life with a full-time job and other responsibilities.

But what are the best half marathon training tips? How long does it take to train for a half marathon?

What should training for a half marathon entail?

Keep reading for some of our best tips on how to train for a half marathon and how long it takes to train for a half marathon.

We will cover: 

  • How To Train For A Half Marathon: 9 Tips For Half Marathon Preparation

Let’s get started!

A runner adjusting her shoe.

How To Train For A Half Marathon: 9 Tips For Half Marathon Preparation

Here are some expert tips for how to prepare for a half marathon:

#1: Choose an Appropriate Half Marathon Training Plan

Among the many hundreds or even thousands of online half marathon training programs you will find, there can be a bit of a range in the number of days per week that the training plan has you running or performing some type of exercise.

The more aggressive the training plan, the more frequently you will be running per week and the higher your training volume or mileage will be.

For example, there are half marathon training plans for beginners that only require running 3 days per week, while advanced or intermediate half marathon training plans often have six running workouts per week.

Consider your injury history and logistics in terms of your life schedule when trying to find the best half marathon training plan for your needs.

Some runners can realistically only run four days per week due to work or family commitments. 

A notebook with the word, plan on it.

If you have a history of getting injured when you run too much or you have some type of chronic injury that flares up with high mileage, you should look for a half marathon training plan that is not only more gradual and conservative with plenty of recovery days, but also that relies on cross-training workouts to substitute for some of the base building aerobic runs. 

If you have only been averaging 15 miles per week, you also wouldn’t want to jump into a half marathon training plan that has you starting at 25-30 miles per week or train for a half marathon in just six weeks.

Be honest and realistic with your current fitness level, the time that you have available to train, the health of your body, and what types of workouts and training volume you can handle.

One of the most common questions among new half marathon runners is, “How long does it take to train for a half marathon?”

Most runners who have a decent level of fitness can train for a half marathon in 12 weeks or three months. 

Beginners can expect to spend at least 16 to 20 weeks training for a half marathon (though it’s best to have six months of running under your belt) if you are just getting started on your running journey. 

Advanced runners may be able to train for a half marathon in 6-8 weeks, depending on their level of fitness and goals.

A runner running uphill.

#2: Vary Your Runs

Although when you are just trying to finish your first half marathon, the majority of your workouts will involve building your endurance rather than working specifically on your speed, steady-state running is, perhaps surprisingly, only part of the training that you should be doing.

It is also important to do interval workouts, hill runs, and tempo workouts, as well as runs that have some half marathon pace work in them.

This variety is necessary to develop all aspects of your fitness and get your body comfortable with running harder and faster so that half marathon pace is physically and mentally sustainable.

#3: Cross Train

Another important type of workout on good half marathon training plans is cross-training. 

Running is a high-impact activity, so if you do too much running too quickly and progress your distance too aggressively, you run the risk of injuries

Cross-training refers to any type of exercise other than running, but it is best to focus on low-impact cross-training activities such as indoor or outdoor cycling, swimming or deep water running, or using the elliptical machine. 

The primary purpose of cross-training workouts is to improve your aerobic fitness while reducing the impact stresses on your bones, joints, muscles, and connective tissues relative to running. 

A person diving into a pool.

#4: Take Rest Days

Although you may want to run every day or get to a point a couple of weeks into your half marathon training plan where you feel like you can keep running longer than what the workout dictates on your plan, it is very important to take the prescribed rest days and keep the runs capped at the time or distance suggested by the schedule to prevent overdoing it.

#5: Don’t Neglect Mobility Work

What is not specifically listed on most half marathon training plans are recovery modalities such as stretching and mobility work. These should absolutely be part of your workout routine.

Dynamic stretches before you run, such as walking lunges and hip swings, will help warm your muscles up and prime them for the workout to come.

Foam roll the major muscles in your lower body, such as your hamstrings, quads, calves, and glutes. It can also be helpful to use the foam roller on the outside of your leg along your IT band.

A person foam rolling her IT band.

#6: Nutrition Is Key

The other important component of half marathon training is nutrition

In terms of your nutrition, you are now a runner, so you need to treat your body as if you are an athlete in training; after all, you are.

Focus on nutrient-dense, whole, natural, unprocessed foods like vegetables, lean proteins, fruits, whole grains, seeds, nuts, eggs, legumes, and low-fat dairy.

#7: Strength Train

In addition to your running and cross-training workouts, it is highly recommended that you do core exercises and strength training workouts two or three times per week.

Plus, studies show that strength training workouts for runners can improve aerobic capacity (VO2 max) and submaximal endurance performance due to the neuromuscular adaptations that result.

Even if you don’t have a gym membership or any strength training equipment, you can do bodyweight exercises such as squats, lunges, push-ups, planks, bridges, tricep dips, and other exercises for your abs, hips, and lower-back muscles.

A runner doing squats in his living room.

#8: Set a Reasonable Goal

An important aspect of how to prepare for a half marathon is to set a reasonable goal. If you are planning to run your first half marathon, just set the goal of finishing. That in and of itself is an incredible accomplishment.

If you have run a half marathon before and want to improve upon your time, try to set reasonable goals so that you are not setting yourself up for failure.

Experienced runners who have been running for several years but who have only run one or two half marathons, or beginners who have only run one half marathon, can expect to make much more significant improvements between two subsequent races, provided their training cycle goes well, and they run a smart race.

You can make much bigger improvements in fitness when you are just starting out, and because the half marathon is such a long race, there is a fair amount of strategy and pacing involved in having a successful race. Some of this boils down to experience. 

A notebook that says SMART goal setting and lightbulbs.

Therefore, even if you feel like your first half marathon went pretty well, you will likely find that your second half marathon will go even better, even in cases where your training didn’t change much, and your fitness hasn’t improved significantly.

On the other hand, if you have been training and racing half marathons for several years and have chipped away at your PR, expecting to make an improvement of seven minutes or 30 seconds per mile in one race may be unrealistic.

For example, if your first half marathon was 2:01, then you ran 1:53, 1:51, 1:50, 1:49, 1:48: and then the 1:45, hoping to jump to 1:38 on your next half marathon might be a bit too ambitious.

#9: Have Fun

Just because you are getting serious about your training for a half marathon, don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the experience. Running should enrich your life, not become a burden.

Find ways to keep the joy in running, whether running with friends, trying new routes, listening to good music, or training for a half marathon for a cause that is near and dear to your heart.

For all of our free half marathon training plans for all levels and timeframes, click on our database here!

A close-up of a person's smile.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.