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Training for a Half Marathon - 8 Running Tips That Will Help You Set Up the Best Half Marathon Training Schedule

When you are training for a half marathon, it's important that you train in the right way.

Your training regimen has to be excellent not only so that you will be able to compete successfully at the half marathon.

It's also important that you ensure that you're not going to injure yourself or burn yourself out.

Training for a Half Marathon Running Tip #1: Run Four Times a Week

Eventually, you will want to be running at least four times per week during your half marathon training period. Now, you can finish a half marathon by running only three times per week. You could finish it on even less.

But assuming you will want to put down a good performance, consistently running at least four times a week will provide you with the best results.

Training for a Half Marathon Running Tip #2: Exception to the Rule - Three Times per Week

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There is one exception to this: if you do a lot of cross-training.

You can do a successful half marathon by running only three times per week.

However, I'd advocate to then compensate for this by adding in extra cross-training sessions.

Especially bike riding is good, but other aerobic exercise like swimming or aerobics classes are going to help as well.

When you are running three times per week, two cross-training sessions will help provide you with a great base to do that half marathon.

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Training for a Half Marathon Running Tip #3: Take Your Time - 12 Weeks or More

Now, I am sure you can finish a half marathon with less training than what I am proposing. However, this article is mostly aimed at getting you to achieve a good time.

So, ideally, you'd have a year or so of running behind you. You have done some 5k and 10k races. Now you are ready to train for a half marathon. You have got the time to prepare. About twelve weeks at least, potentially even a bit more.

In the remainder of this article I will assume you are taking about 12-16 weeks (3-4 months) to prepare for your half marathon. Although I could break down the schedule even further into three, four, maybe even five phases of training, we'll keep things simple.

We'll separate the schedule into two blocks. A base-building block and a quality block.

Training for a Half Marathon Running Tip #4: Build Up the Mileage in the First Six to Eight Weeks of Training

Before you can train for the half marathon, you need to train for your training! This is true even if you are already an athlete, or already have running experience. You need to get warmed up and used to overcoming the wall of aches and pains that you'll run into (pun intended).

You see, if you're going to begin training for the half marathon, it's likely that this will be the one of the longer races that you've ever run in your life. So even if you're in great shape already, even if you're used to doing some running, even if you run or have run "cross country" or 10K races, you are facing a whole new level that you have to climb to before you can hope to compete in the half marathon.

Therefore, you should begin by allowing yourself six to eight weeks to gradually get up to the weekly mileage that you'll need to be putting in for your training purposes. Remember that you want to be peaking at just the right time for the race, and you don't want to be burned out or overtrained when the day of the race comes.

Ideally, you'll build up your mileage in this base building phase to about 25-30 miles per week at least with a long run of at least 10 miles. When you are a beginner, just wanting to finish your half marathon, then you may not reach a long run of 10 miles or even the 25-30 miles per week in the base building phase. When you are more experienced you may get to 40-50 miles per week or even more.

There are no hard and fast rules and there are multiple ways to get to the finish line, but you will want to build up that mileage in the first period of training.

While you are gradually building up to your full training intensity, just do "easy" runs. The focus should be on getting mileage into your legs, training your mind and your cardiovascular system without burning out.

This base building block of six to eight weeks will really help you build up that endurance. The half marathon is a long way to be running fast, so you really need this phase. Refrain from shorter, faster runs as much as possible. Stick to easy running for now, potentially with a weekly tempo run if you are in dire need of speed.

Training for a Half Marathon Running Tip #5: Do Faster Running In the Second Six to Eight Weeks

Now the second part of your half marathon training schedule can include faster running. Still, long runs should not disappear from your schedule and if possible you'll want to build them up until you hit about 15 miles or so.

Again, it is hard to write this article for everybody. If you are already used to running 15 miles easily, then you might want to build it up a bit further than that.

With your easy runs, do not hesitate to make at least one of them a semi-long run lasting 70-90 minutes. This way you'll still get a very good endurance base. I find myself that when I can do a 90 minute run on Saturdays followed by a long run on Sundays without much pain or issues, I am getting in really good shape for a faster half marathon.

Of course, this is just an example. I happen to recover really well from long runs which are around the 90 minute mark, so don't see this as a test case for yourself.

So... still keep that focus on the aerobic, easy runs. But apply speed in two out of your four weekly workouts (or three out of eight fortnightly workouts). When I say "apply speed" I mean either:

  • Fartlek Workouts
    This is also known as speedplay. The emphasis is on doing what feels right. You do longer and shorter speed bursts with some rest in between.

  • Interval Running
    Interval workouts are a bit more structured than fartlek workouts. They usually consist of a fixed set of repeats of fixed length, e.g. 6 x 800m, 5 x 1000m, 3 x 1 mile, etc.

  • Tempo Running
    Tempo running is running at a speed that is just a bit faster than easy running. It is a little faster than half marathon pace and an excellent way to prepare for a fast half marathon.

Are you more a beginning runner? Then you'll want to focus mostly on tempo running. A bit more experienced? Then still focus mostly on tempo running... :)

A mistake I see made quite often is that people only know two speeds: slow or very fast. However, if the long run and a good aerobic base are the most important factors in your half marathon training, then tempo running should be a very close second.

Tempo pace is the pace you'd be able to maintain for roughly an hour. This is faster than half marathon pace, but you can still do it for sufficient lengths of time. This makes tempo running an incredibly good workout especially for half marathons.

It helps build up that physical and mental strength which you'll need when doing the half marathon. Half marathon pace feels easy compared to tempo pace, so doing plenty of good tempo workouts is going to be a terrific confidence booster going into a half marathon.

Interval running is useful as well, however, just keep in mind that it should be the addition to your running schedule. Don't neglect your long runs, easy runs and tempo runs in favor of intervals.

Training for a Half Marathon Running Tip #6: Cross-Training

As mentioned before, doing some cross-training is a good idea. Your heart doesn't mind how it gets its workout. Via running or via another way. In order to keep variety in your half marathon training schedule and give the legs a bit of a rest, cross-training is really useful.

There will probably be a few people that stop to read this article right now. They'll refer to the specificity-principle: in order to become a better runner, you need to run more.

I think there is a lot of truth in that statement. However, what is also true is that ninety per cent of runners have to deal with some type of injury during any given year. That's right.

That's a whole lot. Running a whole lot is not going to be very useful to you, when you can't run your race due to an injury.

You can decrease your risk of injury by doing cross-training. It will help strengthen other muscles in your body. It may give you improved core strength, which in turn has been proven to make you a faster runner.

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So, cross-training is not all that bad... :)

Good examples of cross-training are bike riding and rowing, but aerobics, pilates, yoga etc can be good as well.

I do some bike riding sessions and also some weight lifting.

The weights I usually do in some type of circuit form, i.e. I intend to make it into a strength and cardio session, rather than just lifting heavy.

But I am not going to be too prescriptive here. Cross-training can involves things like exercises with kettle bells or dumbbells, exercises with a medicine ball, doing push-ups, doing Hindu squats, and doing plyometrics.

Variety prevents your body from getting used to the same routine; if that happens, you actually are hurting your chances in the race, because you start getting diminishing returns from your workouts.

Furthermore, variety prevents mental boredom, which is a great enemy of the distance runner. Doing the same thing over and over again can, after a while, will dull your mind. You will want to have a sharp, excited mind during the half marathon race.

Training for a Half Marathon Running Tip #7: Short Taper

In the final 10 to 14 days of your training before the race day, gradually diminish your mileage to prevent burnout and chances of injury.

Some general running tips for your half marathon taper:

  • Do your longest run (or close to longest run), 14 days out from race day.

  • Do a shorter last long run at least one week out from race day. E.g. if your longest run was 15-20 miles, make this last long run an "easy" 10-12 miler or so.

  • In the last week, still leave some space for intensity via a tempo run and an interval session. But make sure to make both of these workouts much shorter in length than usual. E.g. if you normally do 12 x 400m intervals, cut this down to 5-6 x 400m.

  • Make sure the last quality workout (i.e. long run, intervals, tempo) is at least three days out from race day.

  • Do some easy running of 20-30 mins in the last few days before the race, or rest. Do what you feel most comfortable with. Resting completely those last three days is usually not great. Many people who do it report "stale legs" on race day. But you need to consider how you feel during that period.

Training for a Half Marathon Running Tip #8: Write Out Your Schedule

It would be good to have a written-out schedule in place for yourself that defines how you will gradually increase your mileage each week for the early six to eight weeks and how you'll incorporate your speed workouts and cross-training into your schedule.

Make sure you have some flexibility built in. Unless you are extremely disciplined and life never throws you a curve ball you will not be able to plan out 12 to 16 weeks day-to-day.

Don't get overly upset when you have to miss out on a training day. See if you can juggle things around a bit to make up for it or if it is not possible, just move on with the schedule.

Missing one or two days out of your full 12-week half marathon training schedule is not going to break your performance.

So, still interested in half marathon training?

Then you now know the basic approach to take for your training.

Enjoy the journey and make the most of it.

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