How to train for a Half Marathon – First Time Guide

Updated: August 10, 2023

August 10, 2023 in Training guides

Training for a half marathon can be intimidating, especially for beginners. The good news is that you can achieve this goal with dedication, patience, and a half-marathon training plan. With careful planning and the right approach to training, you can prepare your body and mind for the challenge of running a half marathon.

 This guide will look at what it takes to successfully train for a half marathon, including creating an effective training plan, staying motivated and healthy during training, and preparing for race day. With these tips, you can develop the confidence and skills needed to achieve your goal of completing a half marathon.


What does training for a Half Marathon involve?

A half marathon is 13.1 miles or 21km. This is a big undertaking for many and a race that does require carefully planned training. There is a variety of half marathons, mainly held on the road, and most big cities tend to have a half marathon race at some point in the year. There are, however, also trail half-marathons and ones on hilly terrain for those looking for a serious challenge. I enjoy racing the half marathon distance. With training, one of the most critical parts of the preparation for this will be the pacing and the kit you wear to ensure you are comfortable during the race.

Reasons you need to know how to train for a half marathon

A half marathon is a long way to run. By preparing for it and training correctly, you will have more likely to finish the half marathon race distance in a goal time, feeling strong.

  • You will be able to get to the start line feeling prepared and confident.
  • You will be more likely to enjoy the experience.
  • You will be more likely to get through the event without injury.
  • You will have a stronger sense of achievement after the event.

Step by Step instructions on how to train for a half marathon 

  • Step 1 – Correct footwear
  • Step 2 – Correct kit (race and training)
  • Step 3 – Goal setting
  • Step 4 – The training plan
  • Step 5 – The workouts
  • Step 6 – Nutrition
  • Step 6 – Mental belief
  • Step 7 – Race week
  • Step 8 – Race Day
  • Step 9 – Recovery

The following steps can be used as a checklist but have been thought about in order; however, there is an overlap between many of them. Read the complete list, and feel free to adjust the order if you need to.

Step 1 – Correct Footwear

The fact that this is a longer race means that you may decide to do the event in a shoe with a bit more cushioning as you will be running for longer. However, if you are going for a PB and are used to running many miles in a racing shoe, you may still be able to use the same shoe you do for a 10k.

If you are taking on the challenge of a half marathon, hopefully, you have done some running and races before and have had a gait analysis.

Step 2 – Correct Kit

I struggled with blisters on my feet during my first few half-marathons. They can start not too bad but be painful toward the end of the race. Therefore testing your race socks and running shoes is vital before the race day. Doing one of your race pace sessions, at least in them, will ensure everything feels good.

Step 3 – Goal Setting 

Setting your expectations before you start the physical training is essential for a half marathon. You can always take some time to adjust your goal nearer the time if you feel stronger or not quite as ready. The importance of this, though, is your pacing. This is important in any race, but as beginners, many people in the longer races can go out too fast and slow in the final few miles. Having a pace goal can help here.

Step 4 – Training Plan

It would be great to start at least ten weeks out here, ideally at 12, to give yourself time to prepare thoroughly for the distance. Your training plan, and the structure can be similar to training for the 10k, but you do need to add a longer run – to make sure you give yourself time on your feet and give your body a chance to adapt to running for longer distances.

Some of the key sessions you could try,

Easy runs: general easy running to recover from the more challenging sessions and still add aerobic fitness.

Tempo Runs: For a half marathon, the tempo pace can be very similar to the race pace, particularly for faster runners. If you are just starting, though, take the pace you defined in your goal setting to practice.

Speed session: Even though it's a half marathon, some faster reps are still helpful for working on running form and making your race pace easier and more manageable.

Long run: The long run will be of crucial importance. Make sure you practice any nutrition and drinks here, too. You may need to ensure you are used to them before race day.

Step 5 – The Workouts 

I ran up to 8 miles around the race pace for my best half marathon. This was during full weeks of training, so my legs were not fresh, but hitting the pace gave me confidence that when I was rested, I could hold it for the entire distance. But you do need to build up your training block over the weeks.

Some ideas,

Race pace run - start at 3 or 4 miles at around race pace and add a mile every ten days until you can manage eight at roughly goal pace.

Faster finishing long run – This helps build strength and gets your mind used to pushing on later into a run. I think a long run should be at least around 90 minutes. You don't want to run these at a race pace, probably around 90 seconds slower per mile. But at the end of the run, do up the effort for the last 15 or 20 minutes to practice running hard on tired legs. And remember to practice taking energy gels or what you plan to use on race day during this run.

Step 6 – Nutrition

It goes hand in hand with step 5 as we want to practice with what drinks and energy products you will use on race day. They may have a drink sponsor if it's a more significant race, so it's worth checking out. You can also carry some gels in a shirt pocket or have a fuel belt. It's worth trying some, though, as it can take some practice to take a gel at a race pace.

Step 7 – Race Week

On race week for a half marathon, you want to cut back on your training volume (number of miles or kms) and ensure you eat some good carbohydrate meals, particularly in the lead-up to the half marathon, and stay on top of your hydration.

Also, ensure you get plenty of sleep in the week up to race day. Then, if you struggle to sleep the night before the race, it shouldn't affect you much.

Make sure to lay out all your kit the evening before the race and go through a checklist of all the items you may need. This could include:

  • Kitbag
  • Socks
  • Warm up shoes
  • Race shoes
  • Warm up kit
  • Rain jacket
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Suncream
  • Anti-chafe
  • Headphones for before
  • Old carrier bag
  • Some money
  • Mobile phone
  • Race number
  • Race timing chip
  • Water
  • Carb drink/Energy
  • Gels
  • Energy/protein bar for after
  • Snack

Step 8 – Race Day

You should have packed your bag or be 90% ready on race day. Just needing to add to your drinks. Remain calm, have the regular breakfast you have practiced before your long runs, and stay hydrated before the start. Aim to get there at least one hour before. Remember that larger races can have 1000s of runners, so have a well-thought-out plan for arriving at the venue.

Begin to warm up around half an hour before the start but ensure you have plenty of time to get to your starting area. Again remember the larger races can get particularly busy, so be warmed up in plenty of time. Do what you would typically do for a tempo session. For me personally, I find 15 mins running, followed by some drills and faster race pact 80-meter meter "strides," work well.

Remain as relaxed as you can and set off at your pace. Try and get yourself in a group of runners, as this can help you keep pace by shielding you from any wind and allowing you to switch off. In some races, you will see paced groups. It's worth trying this if one of the times works for you. They are often led by experienced runners trying to help runners achieve their goal time.

Try and enjoy it and make the most of your hard preparation.

After the race, be sure to grab a drink and a snack as soon as you can. Treat yourself to a nice meal, and enjoy telling your friends and family the race story.

Step 9 – Recovery

The half marathon is a challenging distance, so it's essential to treat the recovery seriously. Ensure you fuel well after and take a few easy rest days to let your body recover. You may also feel like booking a sports massage to help eliminate aches after the event. Do take it easy, as when your muscles are tired, you are more likely to pick up an injury if you jump right back into training hard again.

Key Considerations for successfully Training for a Half Marathon

Depending on your overall goal, the training for a half marathon can be done in preparation for a marathon—many marathon runners like to run a half marathon in the build-up. If you are a more experienced runner, you may decide not to ease off as much in the week before the race to simulate running fast on tired legs. Some may also choose to pace the run on their marathon goal pace and use it as a dress rehearsal for their marathon.

It can help run with more experienced runners in a half marathon, particularly if it's your first time. This is where the benefit of being a club member can be found. Often you will find a fellow runner looking for a similar time, and you can work together to try and achieve it together.

Taking it to the next level

As mentioned, the half marathon is widely used as a build-up to the marathon. So it may be that the next level for you would be finding a full marathon. However, remember this is double the distance and would require many to change the training volume.

However, some may want to get faster. If that's the case, you may want to drop the distance. Check out our post on training for a 10k. If that's the case, it can help run a faster half marathon time with a fast 10k.

Wrapping Up and My Experience With training for the half marathon

Hopefully, you can take something away from the half-marathon training how. I enjoy the half marathon distance; hopefully, you do too. If you have already raced a few, you can run your goal time or personal best soon.

In my experience, if you remain in good 10k shape and regularly complete a long run, you should not need to change much in your training program to run a good half marathon.

Remember that the big events can sell out quickly, so be sure to find the right race for you and get your entry in so you can plan your training.

FAQ

Can you go from couch to half marathon in 12 weeks?

Many people don't believe it is possible, but it can be done with enough discipline and dedication! One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is by creating a comprehensive training plan that includes running workouts and cross-training exercises. When building your plan, focus on gradually increasing the intensity and duration of your runs.

Can I train for a half marathon on a treadmill?

Absolutely! If you're considering taking on a half marathon, the treadmill can be an ideal place to practice and prepare. You can devise a training plan that will help you make it to the finish line. The benefit of the treadmill is that it can be easy to manage the effort from conversational pace to speed sessions. However, do a few runs outside as the race will be outside.

About the author 

James

James is an elite distance runner and has also raced triathlon for a number of years. He has a certification in swimming coaching, and a passion to help all athletes succeed in finding a balance within sport and life.