Your Half Marathon Training Plan
So, you’ve signed up to a half marathon - congratulations! Now it’s time to get your body ready to run 13 miles in one go. Depending on your skill level, this may seem daunting, but with a good plan and some focused training you’ll be able to prepare yourself for the distance and have some fun along the way!
Here we’ve answered some of your most popular questions about half marathon training plans, as well as a free plan you can try for yourself. Read on for more or jump straight to our half marathon training plan.
What is a half marathon?
A half marathon is a road running race or event that covers 13.1 miles or 21 kilometres - as the name implies, it’s exactly half of a full marathon. For anyone preparing to run a full marathon, a half marathon is usually a good starting point, whether that’s forming part of your training, or the first challenge you set yourself on the journey to a longer run. These events take place all over the country in most major towns and cities, or you can even plan your own independent half marathon to complete by yourself.
Why do I need to train for a half marathon?
Those 13.1 miles will take a lot out of your body - it’s important to ensure that you’re as physically and mentally prepared as possible. For complete beginners in particular, taking time to train for the half marathon is absolutely essential for making sure you don’t cause yourself injury or push your body too far, too soon. However, even for runners with high fitness levels, if you’re not used to running out in the elements for around two hours at a time, you’ll need to take some time to ready yourself.
Why is a plan important for half marathon training?
As much as you may have good intentions for your half marathon training, if you don’t have a plan or schedule in place then you could be likely to rush your progress, miss sessions or fail to take the necessary time to get yourself in shape. Taking the time to first structure a plan for the months leading up to the marathon, you’ll be able to map a plan to suit your starting fitness, how many times a week you’re able to train, and how long you have until your half marathon.
How long should my half marathon training plan take?
Assuming you already have some existing running experience and decent fitness levels (say, you can comfortably run 5km) then your half marathon training schedule will ideally cover around three to four months. If you’re in a rush and are willing to devote plenty of time and energy to your training, you could maybe knock that down to two months, but this doesn’t leave you any room for potential injuries or other plans that might get in the way from time to time. It’s very likely you’ll appreciate giving yourself a little extra wriggle room, just in case. It’s also important to factor in regular rest days each week - these are vital for allowing your body to recover and rebuild (learn more about why rest days are important with our guide).
What is the best training plan for a half marathon?
You’ll find there’s a wide range of different plans available - some that focus almost entirely on building up your running time or speed, and others that include a range of other types of exercise to boost your strength, fitness and endurance. This means you can pick a plan that appeals to your preferred workout style. However, do bear in mind when choosing or creating your programme, that it’s best to cover both bases - a mix of building strength and boosting your cardio performance is the best way to make sure your body is fully prepared for a half marathon. Our ‘best workouts for half marathon training’ section below gives more information and advice on other types of workouts to include.
You’ll ideally want to build up the time and distance you’re running each week, with your longest run (probably around 12 miles) taking place a couple of weeks before your race. That gives your body time to recover before you run the full 13.1 miles on half marathon day.
There are other elements you may also want to consider, when shaping your plan. Key things to bear in mind that will affect how, when and where you train include:
- Terrain - think about where your half marathon will be taking place; will there be hills or is it likely to be flat? Whether on a treadmill or outside, you can reflect this in your training.
- Your objective - is it your intention to simply ‘get around’ the half marathon course? Do you want to finish without walking? Are you keen to run it in a sub-two hour time? Each of these objectives will require a different approach to training.
- Weather - what time of year will your half marathon take place? If, for example, it’s on a breezy seafront in February, you may want to include some outdoor training to ensure you’re ready for the differences the elements can make for your run.
The Free PureGym Half Marathon Training Plan (with a full plan, showing what each week could look like and how it progresses over time)
Our plan (below) combines shorter, easier runs with workout days, rest days and then one longer run every week, right through to your half marathon event. You’ll need to start being able to run for around 3 miles or 5km in one go. If you’re unable to run this far, check out our 5km running tips for advice, then come back here when you’re comfortable with that distance.
There are also spaces for ‘workout’ days, which is where you’ll factor in your strength or functional training. Jump ahead to our ‘best workouts for half marathon training’ section for ideas of what to do on these days.
Finally, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, we advise that you try to go for a light jog or walk the day after your race - this will help to loosen your quads and aid healing. If 30 minutes feels too long, feel free to keep that to 10 or 20 minutes.
The best workouts for half marathon training
So as you can see, we recommend plenty of workout days as part of your training - but what types of exercises are best? Read on for some ideas on how to train for a half marathon (when you’re not running that is):
- INCLUDE PLENTY OF CARDIO TO BUILD ENDURANCE: First things first, you want to make sure you can complete the entire route; so it goes without saying that you need to practice running. But other cardio machines will also help to improve your endurance and aerobic capacity, which means you can mix up your workouts. Try including some sessions on the stationary bike, the ERG or the rower to ensure you can stay the distance without getting bored of always running. You can even interchange your treadmill training sessions with some cardio fitness classes, to get your body used to a variety of workout styles ahead of the half marathon.
- INTERVAL TRAINING CAN HELP IMPROVE YOUR SPEED: If you’re happy with your endurance, but looking to cross the finish line faster, try intervals on the treadmill. High intensity interval training (HIIT) alternates brief stints of sprinting with short periods of a slower paced run. The approach offers an effective work out, that boosts your endurance and can help improve your speed. Start by sprinting for 30 seconds, before reducing your pace to a jog for the next minute, then repeat for a set amount of time – for beginners, we recommend starting at around 15 minutes and building up from there. Our guide to treadmill HIIT workouts explains in more detail.
- INCORPORATE WEIGHT TRAINING TOO: While most people focus primarily on cardio, it can be worth investing some of your gym time in weight training as well. It’s an essential companion to running, as you’ll be able to strengthen key muscles and joints to increase your endurance and improve your speed. You’ll also find yourself less likely to sustain injuries if your muscles are stronger and more muscular. Schedule your weight training for days you aren’t doing long runs as you’ll find adding weights to an already physically draining exercise day can risk over-stressing the body. Find out more about training with free weights or how to brave the weights room with our guides.
- USE RESISTANCE BANDS TO STRENGTHEN THE GLUTES: One particular muscle worth focusing on is your glutes – they’re the primary muscles that help you run fast, and they’re an important source of power for longer distances. If you’re looking to activate muscles quickly and effectively, resistance bands are one of the best methods, particularly for glutes. This inexpensive, space saving piece of equipment is ideal for use both in and out of the gym. Try lunges, sidekicks or squats that incorporate a resistance band and you’ll boost the effectiveness these exercises provide for your glutes, helping to improve your big run.
- MAKE SURE TO WORK ON YOUR CORE: As well as strong glutes, your running will be massively benefited by a strong core. This is your mid-section area, including your abs, lower back and obliques. Focusing on these muscles will boost your stability, posture and balance and also help with your running speed. Some of our top recommendations for core workouts include the plank, the dead bug, reverse crunches, glute bridges and the side plank – find out more about these with our beginners’ guide to core exercises. Our Core Workouts & Exercises hub has even more workout ideas and advice.
- AND INCLUDE PLENTY OF ALL-ROUNDER FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH WORKOUTS: As most of the tips above show, strength training is a crucial part of improving your running and preventing injuries over longer distances. The stronger your muscles are, the better they are at propelling your body forward! Functional training is an effective way to target the major muscle groups and develop mobility, all of which will be useful for your half marathon. You can incorporate a variety of movements, and gently build in the use of weights such as dumbbells or kettlebells to further boost your strength. Popular examples include squats, deadlifts, leg presses, step ups, kettlebells swings and box jumps. Our guide shows 5 useful functional exercises in more detail.
Need to work on your leg strength, functional fitness or core for your next trail run? Why not book in a session with one of our Personal Trainers? From ultra trail challenges to shorter cross countries they can put together a plan to get you over the finish line. Or visit our online running hub for more inspiration.