How to Train for a Half-Marathon That's Only a Month Away

Water's Edge Half Marathon Starting Line
Water's Edge Half Marathon Starting Line. Wendy Bumgardner ©

It's a common scenario: You registered for a half-marathon or a walking event months ago thinking you had plenty of time to train. But then life got in the way and now you realize you haven't done any real training and the half is only a month away. What should you do?

The answer depends on your current level of fitness. The first question to ask yourself is whether you can already walk six miles (10K). If you're a healthy person who's walked that distance in the past month, you should be able to finish a 13.1-mile course—though (sorry!) you may be walking with blisters the last few miles.

If you aren't already walking for six miles at a time each week, it's wiser to switch to a shorter distance event, such as a 10K (six miles) or 5K (three miles). Most people should be able to finish a 5K or 10K distance with only a month of training—or even no training to speak of.

Another major consideration: To safely and responsibly participate, it's important to feel confident that you'll be able to finish before the closing time of the event. Walk and race event hosts close down water stops and open the course to traffic on a set schedule. If you're lagging, you upset the entire system and endanger yourself. Try to accurately predict your finish time to be sure you'll finish before the race closes.

How to Do It

The key to crash training is building fitness quickly with frequency and intensity. Doing some cardio every day will help you make the most of the short time you have. If you can maintain discipline and stick to these strategies, chances are good that you'll be able to go the distance.

Walk This Way

Every week for the next month you need to take a long walk one day a week. All the other days of the week you should walk for 30 to 60 minutes. Your first long walk should be 1 to 2 miles farther than your usual workout walk. That means if you can already walk 6 miles you should aim to walk 7 or 8 miles once the first week.

Each week thereafter you should increase the distance of that long walk by another mile. If you can do this without experiencing blisters or muscle strain, you may be able to do a hurry-up schedule and bump up the distance by two miles each week.

Your walking pace and endurance will improve as your conditioning progresses, but with your short training time, it's more important to work on distance than speed. Start each workout with a warm-up mile (go at an easy pace, you should be able to speak comfortably), then spend the next 45 minutes at 80 percent of the projected race pace for the day of the event (aka minutes per mile or miles per kilometer). Finally, reduce your speed to an easier pace to finish the required distance for that day.

Keep Blisters at Bay

The increase in distance and walking time will test your mental and physical endurance and may also cause blisters. Your feet aren't used to the long mileage and you don't have time to slowly toughen them up. You'll need to find the right recipe—stat!—to prevent foot blisters, which can take several days to heal, possibly setting your training back even further.

Start by switching to socks made of wicking fabric rather than cotton, which holds moisture next to your skin. Sweat softens your skin and makes it more prone to blisters when your foot rubs against your shoe. You can also use a lubricant and/or corn starch on your feet to keep them dry and reduce friction.

Employ the Buddy System

Training with friends is fun and workout partners can be a source of inspiration and support. They can also provide an opportunity to share ideas and strategies. Consider a partner who's at or above your fitness level. That way you can challenge each other and help push each other when you need it.

Gear Up

A rule for long distance walks is "nothing new on race day." Wear your race socks, shoes, shorts/tights, top, and hat on your long training walks. If you're going to be wearing a costume for the race, it's even more important to make sure you can walk in it.

If you need new shoes, now is the time to get them. You want shoes that are broken in but still fresh, with between 80 and 150 walking miles on them. To help prevent blisters, you'll want to wear them on a few shorter walks before wearing them on your long training days.

Walking Snacks and Sports Drink

Be sure you know what and when to drink and what energy snacks you'll use. Find out from the race website what sports drink and snacks they're providing on the course and use those on your long training walks. If they give you problems, you may want to carry your own. Note how often there will be water stops and decide whether you need to carry water with you.

Race Day

By now you should know when and when to drink and what energy snacks you'll use. If you're going to walk with friends on the day of the event, it's wise to have trained together for a couple of your long-distance days. You may discover your paces aren't compatible and that it's best for you to split up during the race and meet at the finish area afterward.

Do It Right Next Time

To keep yourself on course, schedule your training walks in the future.

A Word From Verywell

If your event is approaching and you don't have the ability to get in a minimum amount of training, it's no crime to skip the event. You may save yourself from an injury and you won't divert event staff from their duties. While many event fees aren't refundable, sometimes you can transfer to a shorter event or a future event. It doesn't hurt to ask. Use this as a lesson learned to schedule your training better for your next race or event.

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