Half Marathon Race Training for Every Level: Everything You Need to Know

Competitors run across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the Sydney half-marathon during the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival on September 20, 2015 in Sydney, Australia

Cameron Spencer / Getty Images

The half marathon is the fastest growing running event in the United States. It also has the second highest number of race finishers behind the 5K. About 2 million individuals complete a half marathon each year compared to the roughly 500,000 who complete a marathon.

What makes the half marathon so popular? While a full marathon is certainly a bucket list item for certain types of runners, the half marathon is a more accessible distance for most. Training is time consuming, the and the half marathon training commitment is more manageable than a full marathon.

A half marathon is a great distance for someone who wants a challenge while being less demanding on their body and schedule than a marathon.

What Is a Half Marathon?

A half marathon is a running event that is half the distance of a marathon—13.1 miles (21.1 kilometers). Commonly, half marathons are held the same day or weekend as a marathon or 5K race, using the same course with different start times.

The IAAF official half marathon world record time is 57:31 for a man and 1:04 for a woman.

Half Marathon Training Plans for All Levels

While you can freestyle half marathon training, it is a good idea to choose a training plan to keep you on track and structured. There are many training plans to choose—you'll want to find one that meets you where you are in terms of your running level.

You can run a successful half marathon without having any baseline running experience, but some plans require you to have a running base. A good running base is eight to ten miles a week.

Beginner Half Marathon Training Plan

A beginner training plan is for a person who is already running at least eight to ten miles per week. These miles can either be continuous or run/walk and you should already be out there consistently for at least two months.

A beginner half marathon training plan may include two days running at a moderate pace for a designated number of miles, one to two cross-training days to do strength training or another type of activity such as swimming, biking, or the elliptical machine, a long run day, and one to two rest days. Training plans are typically 12 weeks long to steadily increase your mileage over time.

Beginner training plans are flexible in that you can adjust your runs to mix in goal half marathon pace with slower, steady paces. You can also switch around the days to accommodate your schedule. You can swap rest days for run days or run days for cross training days depending on your schedule, the weather, and other commitments.

If you have run at least one half marathon before, or you have run a 5K or 10K and can run 4 miles comfortably, you may want to choose the 12-week advanced beginner training plan.

Intermediate Half Marathon Training Plan

If you have run at least one half marathon, the next step for you may be a personal record (PR). The intermediate half marathon training plan is perfect for individuals already running 30 to 60 minutes a day, four to five days a week. This plan can help you achieve your PR by incorporating more tempo runs, which include intervals at easy and 10K paces, and pace runs, runs at your anticipated half marathon pace.

As with the beginner training plans, you can switch up the days you do each workout to accommodate your schedule and the weather.

Advanced Half Marathon Training Plan

The advanced half marathon training plan is for experienced runners, ready to level up their half marathon abilities and pace. You should be running about five days a week and can run up to 8 miles comfortably for this training. An advanced plan incorporates more variety of tempo runs, interval workouts, hill repeats, and cross-training days in addition to long runs and recovery days.

Half Marathon Training Tips

Having a solid training plan for your half marathon is important, but it won't get you to the finish line alone. Proper nutrition and hydration are imperative for having a successful 12-week training cycle and race.

Make sure you are consuming adequate calories daily to meet the energy demands of your training. Eating enough carbohydrates, protein, and fat will ensure optimal body function during training. You may need to experiment with what meals and snacks work best for your body before and after workouts.

Everyone's needs are different so if you are unsure or having difficulty meeting your needs, be sure to consult a registered dietitian to receive individualized recommendations.

Appropriate hydration also helps with optimal health and performance during training and on race day. You'll need to replace sweat loss, which varies based on the weather and how much you sweat as an individual.

As a general recommendation, you should drink 0.4 to 0.8L/h of exercise. Sodium or other electrolytes may be added for individuals with high sweat rates (>1.2L/h) or when exercise exceeds two hours. There are hydration stations throughout a half marathon course, so you can plan in advance where you want to take those water or sports drink breaks.

A Word From Verywell

A half marathon is a challenging, yet manageable race distance that gives a sense of accomplishment when completed. It is a great alternative for those who don't want to put in the time and physical demands of marathon training. There are a variety of training plans to choose from so you can feel comfortable starting from a place that meets your fitness level.

Nutrition and hydration are an important part of half marathon training as well. Make sure you are eating enough to sustain long runs and intense exercise sessions. Always plan ahead for how you will fuel and hydrate on race day. Consult a registered dietitian to help guide you for optimal performance.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How many weeks do you need to train for a half marathon?

    It is recommended to train for 12 weeks for a half marathon. The first few weeks allow you to build endurance, strength, and confidence and the last half of training allows you to increase your mileage to feel ready for race day.

  • Is a 10-mile long run enough before a half marathon?

    If you can comfortably run 10 miles, you should be able to safely complete a half marathon.

  • What is an average half marathon time?

    The average half marathon time for males is 1:55:26. The average half marathon time for females is 2:11:57.

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6 Sources
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