Half Marathon Training for Beginner Runners

Before you start off your beginner’s half-marathon training program, you’ll want to set your personal race goals for your first half-marathon.  You should have completed a 5K or 10K prior to this race program.  This pre-requisite isn’t just for building up your mileage base, it’s also to make sure you’ve been through the unique environment a road race has.  It’s not wise to mix the challenge of your first half-marathon with the nerves of your first race.

Now that we have that established, let’s talk more about goals. For some people the goal is to do nothing more than reach the finish line.  That’s cool, that was my goal for my first half, first full marathon, and my first ultramarathon. For other runners the goal is to run throughout the entire half marathon without walking. And for many other runners, a specific finish time is your goal.  If your time goal is less than 2 hours, you should visit our half-marathon training for intermediate runners.

You should have 3 race goals.

The first goal is your bare minimum goal.  This is the most important accomplishment you’ll set – so write it down.  No, seriously, write it down and give it to a friend or family member.  I’ll wait.  This is the goal that will scare you into training as hard as you know you are capable of. This is the one that will have you getting up at 5am to run before the summer heat, or running through the rain when you’d rather be at home watching TV.

The second goal is your realistic goal.  This is the one that you are confident you can reach if you train hard for the half marathon.  It’s not an easy goal, but it’s something you know you’re capable of (by the way, if running has taught me anything it’s that you’re almost always capable of more than you think).

The final goal is your stretch goal.  This is the one you’re not so sure you can do, but you’re willing to give it a try.  This is the goal that will have you bragging at work, celebrating all night and back on the roads on Monday ready for your next challenge (OK, maybe not the last one).

Now it’s time to start running (or walking)

A novice half-marathon training plan can be done in 12 weeks.  Of course it can be shorter if you have solid base miles.  This plan assumes you have moderate base miles (10-15 miles per week).  If you have more, you can skip straight to week 4.

Running a half marathon is the first distance where you have to consider the possibility of overuse injuries if you don’t train smart.  So if you’re unsure, then make sure to follow the plan from week 1. If you follow this plan, you will greatly reduce the likelihood of injury.

Beginner Half Marathon Training Program

Week Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun
Week 1 Rest 20 minutes (Easy) Rest 20 minutes (Easy) X-train Rest 30 minutes (Easy)
Week 2 Rest 20 minutes (Tempo) Rest 30 minutes (Easy) X-train Rest 40 minutes (Easy)
Week 3 Rest 30 minutes (Easy) Rest 30 minutes (Hard) X-train Rest 50 minutes (easy)
Week 4 15 minutes (Recovery) 30 minutes (Tempo) Rest 30 minutes (Easy) X-train Rest 60 minutes (easy)
Week 5 15 minutes (Recovery) 40 minutes (Easy) Rest 20 minutes (Hard) X-train Rest Rest
Week 6 Rest 40 minutes (Tempo) Rest 40 minutes (Easy) X-train Rest 60 minutes (easy)
Week 7 15 minutes (Recovery) 40 minutes (Easy) Rest 40 minutes (Hard) X-train Rest 80 minutes (easy)
Week 8 20 minutes (Recovery) 40 minutes (Tempo) Rest 40 minutes (Easy) X-train Rest 90 minutes (easy)
Week 9 Rest 40 minutes (Easy) Rest 20 minutes (Hard) X-train Rest Rest
Week 10 Rest 40 minutes (Tempo) Rest 50 minutes (Medium) X-train Rest 120 minutes (Easy)
Week 11 20 minutes (Recovery) 30 minutes (Easy) Rest 40 minutes (Easy) X-train Rest 60 minutes (Easy)
Week 12 Rest 30 minutes (Easy) Rest 30 minutes (Easy) Rest Rest Race Day!

Details about the Half Marathon Training Plan

  • All runs should start with a short 3-5 minute warm-up and 3-5 minute cool down.  This is to get the blood flowing, nothing more.  This can be a swift walk or a slow jog.
  • Easy means easy.  Not as easy as the warm-up, but not heavy exertion.  A simple test is the “talk test.”  You should be able to carry on a conversation.  If you are alone, you don’t need to talk to yourself, just make sure you could talk if you wanted to.
    • Medium means it would be a little difficult to talk.  You can talk, but there’s some heavy breathing between sentences.
    • Hard means you can’t talk.  You can grunt some words, but you shouldn’t be able to have a conversation.  No matter your age or fitness level, you can run hard (relatively).  This is important if you really want to reach your stretch goal.  (If you don’t want to reach your stretch goal, you shouldn’t have set it.)
    • A tempo run should start easy for 5 minutes, run hard for 10+ minutes, then back to easy for 5 minutes.  So a 20 minute tempo run is 5-10-5, a 40 minute tempo run is 5-30-5.  Got it?
    • X-training is something physical you like to do for fun.  No, Wii Fit does not count.  Biking, hiking, walking, yoga, stretching, and weight lifting are all good examples, but there are many more.

Preparing the night before your Half Marathon race

You’re probably pretty nervous, but don’t be.  You’ve done all the hard work and now it’s time to reap the benefits.

Don’t worry about carbo-loading; a 10K does not require it. In fact, it won’t help at all because you will not be short on carbohydrate energy in 6.1 miles.  You don’t reach that threshold until 12-16 miles.  You have 1800 calories worth of available carbohydrate cells with immediate energy stored away.  Most people burn between 125-150 calories per mile. Eat a normal meal, drink lots of water, and get to bed early.

Have a beer or glass of wine if it helps ease your nerves, but just one!  Then go to bed, and think positive thoughts about your race.  You’ve trained hard, and what was your stretch goal 6 weeks ago is now within reach.  Good luck, and let us know how it goes.  We love to hear from people that successfully use our training programs.

For an extensive 12-week training program:

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