I’m sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t actually have a race on the calendar right now.
Sure, I’ve looked at some possibilities, from local 5Ks to the Chicago Marathon and my rollover place from 2020 but it’s hard to feel confident that any of them will actually go ahead right now. However, I am optimistic for smaller races to happen in the summer and autumn this year, and so I’m continuing to train as if they are. Whilst my big goal is a marathon this year, I’m breaking it down into smaller training blocks;
- base building
- 5K and speed focus
- Half marathon and longer distance
- full marathon training
And so will be looking to run a half marathon PB this year (currently 1.40 from Phoenix 2019) and training properly for a half for the first time ever. Typically I run half marathons as part of marathon training, utilising them as long runs or fun runs.
The half marathon is a great distance. It’s far enough to be a big achievement (13.1 miles is LONG way!) but short enough that you can train for it without it taking over your life in quite the same way that a marathon or ultra does. I think that it’s the perfect challenge for runners of any level too. Just completing a half is a great goal to have when you’re first stepping up from running 5ks or 10ks. Once you’re comfortable with the distance, trying to cut down your time is a fantastic challenge. Trying to run at pace for a whole 13.1 miles is a special sort of painful.
How to Choose a Half Marathon Training Plan
Whichever end of the spectrum you’re at, whether you’re a completer or a competer – there are tons of great training plans out there to help you on the way to your goals. I’ve rounded up some of the best training plans, from those that’ll help you run-walk your way around the distance, to the ones that’ll get you breaking 90 minutes (or close!).
Embarking on a training plan can be a big commitment, so it’s important to choose the right one – one that’ll both help you reach goals and is realistic for you to stick to. Here are some things to think about:
How much time you have
Some training plans will only ask you to do three runs a week, whereas others will have you running triple digit miles. Think about your average week, look at your diary, see what other commitments you have coming up and be realistic about what you can fit in.
Your running experience
Even if you have all the hours in the world to fit in the training, if you’ve never ran more than a few easy miles each week, jumping straight into an 80-miles-a-week plan with multiple interval and tempo sessions is probably a bad idea. You ideally want your plan to start at a similar place to where you currently are – e.g. if the first week asks you to run 30 miles, make sure you’ve got a few of those under your belt recently.
But don’t be disheartened – if you’re not running loads at the moment, you might just need to take a little more time before you get going with a harder training plan. Take some time to put in the foundations and slowly build your mileage and you’ll have a much happier and less injury-prone training time!
Fitting in strength training and stretching
While some people are of the opinion that runners should only run, there’s an increasing amount of evidence that regular strength training and stretching can help make you strong, faster and less likely to get injured. Some training plans will include designated strength or cross training days but if not, think about where you’ll fit them in yourself.
Who wrote the plan
There’s some amazing free training advice and plans out there by super knowledgeable, qualified people. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of not so reliable information being thrown around too, that comes without any scientific backing. Check out the source of any plan you see before you follow it, and make sure that whoever wrote it knows what they’re talking about before you put your training in their hands.
The Best Half Marathon Training Plans
For absolute beginners:
Before it even gets to the actual training plans, this guide by Cancer Research starts with a full 13 pages of super helpful information for beginners. It tells you what to expect at a race, the sort of kit you need, information on where and when to train, a health checklist, nutrition information… Pretty much everything you might be wondering about, they’ve covered.
The 16-week training plan starts with just three easy walks or jogs of 10-15 minutes in length, which should hopefully be a realistic starting point for most people. Over the course of the 16 weeks it builds you up to being able to run for two hours. This one doesn’t include any interval training, but suggests a few runs at a slightly brisker pace.
Something I love is that it’s all measured in minutes rather than distance. I think that this is great for beginners in general, and also means you can easily time runs without needing a GPS watch or any fancy equipment.
I am a massive fan of run/walking (you can read my blog on why I love the ran/walk method for marathon and half marathon training). Jeff Galloway is the man when it comes to run/walking training plans. He designed the run-walk-run method a form of interval training (also known as Jeffing) to help people start running. He included strategic walk breaks to allow beginner runners to control fatigue, virtually eliminating significant running injuries.
His plans are great for those coming back from injury, tackling their first half marathon or those with increased injury risk. A lot of the pains and injury that runners sustain are due to overuse (or doing too much, too soon). The walking breaks built into these plans allow brief moments of recovery, reducing risk of injury.
His half marathon plans are set in timed runs during the week and distance goals for the longer weekend runs – starting at 30 min runs. Jeff’s website suggests run/walk breakdowns dependant on pace, for example a 10 min mile would correlate to a 90 second run/30 second walk.
For first timer half marathoners:
For my first marathon I used Hal Higdon’s Novice Supreme Marathon training plan, and it took me from 1 mile to 26.2 miles. Personally I’m a big fan of Hal Higdon’s plans, They can be used to suit all levels of runner and are the first training plan of choice for many beginner runner (his plans are the starting point for many, many runners I follow on IG!)
This Novice plans are for people who can comfortably run 3-4 miles at a time and are now looking to tackle their first half marathon. It prescribes 4 runs per week plus crosstraining. The Novice 1 plan doesn’t prescribe set paces, whilst the Novice 2 schedule has some recommended faster workouts with ‘race pace’ miles thrown in.
Hal’s plans are 12 weeks long but you can always start with one of the Base Plans if you want to build up more slowly to create a 24 week plan to get you to that first 13.1 mile race!
FOR THE TIME POOR:
This plan is based on the marathon training plans that have worked well for me, including a speed workout, a tempo run and a long run. I wrote it at the request of a couple of friends tackling their first half marathons after running a couple of 5K and 10Ks. This isn’t for the total beginner runner, but I’d recommend it for those stepping up to the half marathon distance after having run for a little while. Or if you want to start pushing the pace in training to run a PB in your race, without the time to dedicate 5+ days a week to running.
The plan is over 10 weeks, and include 3 runs per week, a strength/HIIT day plus yoga/stretching and is based on a combination of plans I’ve followed written by coaches and the ‘Run Faster, Run Less’ training plan which I’m a massive fan of.
For sub-2 chasers:
Some race times somehow just seem to carry more weight than others, and the sub-2 hour half marathon is one of them. Of course, it’s totally arbitrary really, but it’s a goal a lot of runners chase and a satisfying one to tick off. If you’re a little more experienced (perhaps you’ve already got a slower half under your belt, or maybe you’ve ran some 10kms and are now looking to increase the distance), then this is a good plan to follow to get you running 13.1 miles in under 120 minutes.
This plan includes more structured workouts than the ones above – you’ll be asked to complete various different types of intervals and run at specific paces sometimes. It starts 23 miles in your first week and builds up to 35, so fairly manageable and a good introduction to doing different types of training if you normally just ‘go for a run’ without much purpose. Interval sessions will likely feel super uncomfortable at first but you do get used to them, and you might even find yourself enjoying the burn!
Runner’s World also has similar plans to help you tick off different time goals – sub-1:45, sub-1:30, etc. Good news if you like this format of plan as you’ll be able to keep ticking off PBs using a similar style of training.
For the super dedicated PB chaser:
The Hansons school of training is more famous for its marathon training approach, but the half-marathon plan follows similar principles. You’ll run six days per week – three easy days, three what they call ‘SOS’ days (something of substance). There’s a lot of speedwork and tempo runs, with the idea being that you get used to running on fatigued legs.
I wasn’t totally sold on Hansons for full marathon training because the longest run was only 16 miles, which I didn’t think I’d feel prepared for a marathon from (mentally if not physically – knowing you have a few 20 milers can really help with self-belief come marathon day!). The half marathon has you running 12 mile long runs several times though, so I don’t have the same concerns. If you have the time and dedication to run this much, it’s definitely worth looking at.
What about bespoke half marathon training plans and coaching?
All the plans I’ve talked about so far are “off the shelf” and therefore not tailored to you and your goal. They come in one size fits all and it’s up to you to tweak it to fit your schedule. But running isn’t one size fits all – everybody is different and your training should reflect that!
It’s for this reason that I often recommend thinking about working with a running coach if you can afford to do so. Most coaches will offer the option of monthly coaching including regular check-ins, adapting plans, etc or simply a one off bespoke plan. For the latter you’ll provide information about your running experience, injuries, goals, etc, then the coach will write you a plan. It’s customised to you but is a more affordable option as doesn’t come with that ongoing support.
I’ve written more about the pros and cons of working with a running coach here, and would definitely recommend thinking about it!