What running goals are still on your bucket list that you haven’t managed to achieve yet? We all have those races!
If a half marathon is on your list but you haven’t managed to do it yet, why not make that your next goal? It’s a great achievement to tick off the bucket list, and a super stepping stone to the full marathon.
So, how long will it take to train for a half marathon? If you start now, when will you be ready to hit the competitive scene?
Here’s everything you need to know about training effectively for this type of race.
What Are the Keys to Running a Half Marathon Successfully?
Training is a huge part of running a successful half marathon. Remember, being successful doesn’t just mean crossing the finish line! It means feeling good on the road, nourishing yourself properly, and hitting that finish line in a time you’re super happy with.
That’s not to say that finishing a half marathon is NOT a success if you feel a bit wonky during the run or don’t quite hit your goal time. But the goal is to be able to get through a half marathon without feeling terrible, weak, or struggling your way through it.
The key to a successful half marathon is to train hard, train well, and train for the right amount of time. Training smart is something that comes with experience!
But the more time you give yourself to train and the more effort you put in, the better results you can expect to see in your half marathon attempts.
What Factors Determine How Long to Train?
So, how do you know how long to train for before running a half marathon? Well, there are a few things to take into account.
First, consider your own physical fitness.
Are you starting from scratch, with poor fitness but a half marathon dream to spur you on? Or are you already fit, either from running or cross-training, and you’re looking to tick a half marathon off your list?
If you’re not fit at all, you’re going to have to expect a longer training time than someone who is already relatively fit. Running is an amazing cardiovascular exercise, but if your system isn’t used to it, a half marathon distance could be a strain on the body.
If you’re fit and your body can handle the strain on the cardiovascular system, it fast-tracks you a little in terms of training length.
Running History & Experience
Second, consider your running history. Your physical fitness may be amazing, but if you’ve never really run before, you’ll still need extra time to get your running form right and get your body used to this type of exercise.
On the other hand, if you have running experience, your body is probably already primed for this kind of challenge.
Even if your physical fitness is slightly less than you’d like it to be, running experience is handy as you’ll probably have a good idea of proper form already.
Are you aiming to finish without paying attention to time, or do you have a particular goal in mind?
Your goal will play a large part in determining the length and intensity of your training.
Your goal should also depend on the above two factors. It should be appropriate for your level of physical fitness and your experience.
How Long Will It Take to Train for a Half Marathon?
There’s no specific right answer to this question. Ultimately, it will come down to you, your fitness, your ability, and your determination.
But, we can give a few estimates based on running level.
- Total Beginners: 3 to 6 months, to cultivate proper running form and build up running endurance
- Beginner/Intermediate: 2 to 3 months, building up running endurance
- Intermediate/Advanced: 4 to 8 weeks if you’re already running regularly
- Advanced: Those who run at least 30 miles per week can run a half marathon with little to no extra training
Basic Tips for Half Marathon Training
Regardless of what level you’re at, there are some basics you need to get right before attempting to train for a half marathon.
Get the Right Gear
First and foremost, make sure you’re wearing appropriate shoes. Beginner runners need to take particular note of this! You can’t just race in any old trainers.
First, check if you’re a neutral foot/underpronator or an overpronator. Knowing this will enable you to choose the right shoe to support your particular foot. This is imperative! Wearing the wrong shoes can increase your chance of injury and ruin your form.
Also, there’s a saying: Nothing new on race day! Make sure you wear comfy clothing that doesn’t chafe or annoy you and wear something you know well on race day.
Know the Four Primary Elements of Training
There are four primary parts of an effective training program: base mileage, speedwork, long runs, and your recovery.
Running 3 to 5 times a week will build up your endurance. Your base mileage is how many miles you hit each week, and the starting goal is to build this up more and more as you go.
Speedwork boosts your cardiovascular capacity. It’s like the HIIT of running, and it should definitely be included in any training program. Speedwork drills are also known as interval training or tempo runs.
You should be doing at least one long run each week. This will build up your mileage and get you used to running long distances. If you’re aiming for a half marathon, you need to be able to hit that mileage!
You should increase this slightly each week to build up that mileage. Adding 5 to 10% to it on a weekly basis will help you to steadily improve without overdoing it. However, you shouldn’t run more than the half marathon distance at this point.
Rest and recovery days are essential. It can be tempting to hit the road every single day, but these off-days are as important as the on-days. They help to prevent both mental and physical burnout, and prepare your body for the upcoming strain.
As mentioned above, don’t power your way through your mileage. This is a sure way to overtrain, and either injure yourself or just hit a wall of exhaustion at some point.
Start with a lower mileage at a slower pace. Build it up week by week, steadily. Add between 5 and 10% of your mileage to your total each week for an achievable, sustainable improvement.
This is an easy mistake to make. When you’re increasing your amount of activity, your body needs more hydration than you’re probably used to providing it.
Neglecting to properly hydrate can have some unpleasant consequences. Nausea, dizziness, cramps, fatigue, and weakness are just some of the things you may experience. Enough to put you off running altogether!
Make sure you’re hydrating before you head onto the road (although not so much that you need to stop for a bathroom break halfway).
Add Variety to Your Training
Cross-training is severely underestimated in the running world. Doing a form of completely different training on the days between your runs can help you to build strength, stamina, and increase your fitness.
Find something that you enjoy, but consider the physical and fitness implications of it too.
Weight training is excellent for strength-building, especially in the legs. Swimming is low-impact and fantastic for cardiovascular enhancement. Cycling builds serious leg muscle and endurance.
Other options include rowing, elliptical, Pilates, walking, jumping rope, and the stair stepper machine.
Don’t neglect recovery. This is the single biggest mistake that new (and sometimes even intermediate) runners make, and it can seriously hamper your performance.
For larger muscles, a foam roller could be an effective way to loosen them up and roll out knots.
Training for Beginners
Most beginners with a decent fitness level can be half-marathon-ready in 3 to 6 months with a solid training program.
If you can already complete a 5k or 10k comfortably, you’ll most likely be closer to the 3-month mark. If not, then 6 months is a more realistic goal.
There are three elements that you’ll need to work on in those months.
Proper Running Technique and Form
Running form is highly important. If your form is off, your chance of injury increases, your performance suffers, and you won’t find the results you want.
Doing running form drills can help, and you should dedicate some time during your week to working on your form and making sure it’s on-point.
Building Running Strength
Running strength and endurance is equally as important. Things like interval training or tempo runs, hill runs, and strength exercises that target the legs and core are excellent options here.
The stronger your legs and core, the more endurance you’ll have. In other words, the longer and further you’ll be able to run before fatigue sets in.
Pay attention to your body. If you feel any niggles, take note and be careful. If niggles become painful, it’s time for a rest.
Don’t take the risk of pushing through pain. You may end up overdoing it, leading to an injury or extreme fatigue.
Consider rest as an essential part of your training, as much as activity, hydration, or nutrition is.
Training for Intermediate Runners
If you’ve been running for 6 months or more, and have comfortably run a few 10Ks or even done a half marathon before, then you’ll probably need 6 to 8 weeks to train effectively for another half marathon.
If you’re aiming to smash a new PB, then you should perhaps consider training for a little longer. This will give you extra time to do more speedwork drills, improving your performance and giving you that little extra to push yourself in the race.
Advanced and Elite Runners
If you’re a very experienced runner who already does half marathon distances regularly, 4 to 8 weeks of training will suffice.
You should already have a good idea of how to train for this kind of race, so structure it as suits you.
How to Choose a Training Plan
Choosing a training plan can be tricky. Here are some guidelines to help you choose the right kind of plan for you.
How Many Days a Week Can You Devote to Training?
Training 6 days a week just isn’t feasible for everybody. Be realistic about what you can commit to. Commitment is essential because consistency is really what counts here.
If you can only commit to 2 or 3 days of training a week, then you need to work with that. Be aware that your training span may lengthen if you can only do a few days a week.
On the other hand, if you want to run this half marathon with 3 months of training, you’ll need to shuffle your life around to accommodate near-daily training.
Ultimately, it’s up to you if you extend your training time to fit your lifestyle, or alter your lifestyle to accommodate your training.
How Many Miles per Week Can You Handle?
Nobody wants to burn themselves out in a half marathon. The goal is to reach the finish line feeling strong and proud of your effort.
The key here is to not overdo it, in training and in the race. Start slow and work your way up! If you aren’t sure how quickly you’ll be able to work your way up, rather start a few weeks earlier to allow for extra time.
Rather run more shorter runs during the week than fewer longer runs. This will build up your base mileage and get your body used to it.
How Much Structure Do You Want?
Structure can make or break a training plan, but it all depends on the person.
If you need a structured plan to follow, you can find plenty of them online. On the other hand, you can create your own if you’re experienced enough to know what you need to do each day.
If you’re a beginner, we recommend finding a basic, structured plan online. They generally give you a mileage to hit each day and may include a few different types of runs in your week.
Intermediates can create their own, but make sure you’re hitting your four pillars and improving weekly.
Ultimately, if you do 3 to 5 runs in a week, 1 or 2 cross-training sessions, and hit at least 90% of your goal mileage, you’re on the right track.
Happy half marathoning!