It’s about that time of the year again when we sit down and take stock of all that happened during the year and how we did on our new year’s resolutions. If training and participating in a marathon was one of the resolutions that somehow got set aside in exchange for other goals then this is a great time to consider actually getting it done. With this in mind, how long do you need to train for a half marathon and what are some of the tips that could help you do it well? If this is something that you have been wondering about then you are in the right place. In this article we are going to list how long to train for a marathon, show you how to make a good half marathon training schedule, take a look at how long it would take you to complete the full half marathon distance, and much more.
What Is The Total Half Marathon Distance?
According to worldathletics.org, a half marathon is exactly 13.1094 miles or 21.0975 kilometers long. This is half of the full marathon distance which is 26.2 miles or 42.195 kilometers.
How Long Do I Need To Train For A Half Marathon?
If you have made the choice to take part in a half marathon race in the coming months, the first thing that you need to know is how long to train for a half marathon so you can be ready once race day comes about.
The answer to the question “how long to properly train for a half marathon” is not as straightforward as you may think and it largely depends on whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced/experienced runner
- Beginner – This category encompasses people who ordinarily do not run but wish to participate in a half marathon, people who currently run anywhere between 5 to 10 miles a week, or persons who have participated in shorter races such as the 5K or 10K and would now wish to tackle the half marathon distance in a race.
If you land in any of the above mentioned categories, then you should give yourself anywhere between 3 to 4 months (12 weeks to 16 weeks) to get ready for this race. This allows you ample time to build on your endurance, strength, and confidence for the first 4-6 weeks. The next 8 weeks should be dedicated to half-marathon training.
Please note that if you are a ‘true’ beginner i.e., you have never participated in any shorter races and neither can you currently cover 5 to 10 miles a week via running, then 12-week half marathon training plans will not be enough for you. Find a half marathon training schedule that covers 14 or 16 weeks.
- Intermediate – In this case, an intermediate is someone who has a history of participating in the shorter 5K and especially 10K runs and has most probably participated in one or two half-marathons before. If you fall within this section, then your training schedule should be 10 to 12 weeks.
Intermediate runners can easily take 10 weeks to get ready for this race but if you are looking to beat your current half marathon time record, then pushing it to 12 weeks will work best for you.
- Advanced/Experienced runners – These are the people who participate in such a race several times a year or make sure to compete in this race category at least once a year. The people in this category need the least amount of time to get ready and it can take them anywhere from six to eight weeks to get ready for the next competition/event.
Please note that just as with intermediate runners, experienced runners who want to break their previous record times are advised to increase their half marathon training schedule to 12 weeks.
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Reasons To Participate In A Half Marathon Race
Now that you have the answer to ‘how long to train for a half marathon as a beginner’, chances are that there’s a little voice at the back of your mind questioning you if you truly have the patience and dedication to train for this long and even if taking part in this race is truly worth it.
Before you back out of this commitment/promise to yourself, here are some reasons why you should instead buckle down and eventually take part in this race
- You’ll get a medal even if you do not win. Unlike the Olympics where only the first three people to cross the line get a medal, many local races give participation medals to those who sign up, participate, and cross the finish line on race day.
- Bragging rights – Let’s be honest. You probably know one or two people who always bring up the fact that they ran in some marathon or the other during every social gathering. If you’d like to be like them – or just understand what the fuss is always about – then why not train and run your own race? If a medal isn’t enough for you, the actual fact that you completed this immense distance is a great feat in itself.
- You’ve been considering taking part in a full marathon – There is no doubt that anyone – with enough time, effort and the right kind of training, can move from the couch to a full marathon in just a couple of months. After all, there are multiple marathon training plans that are designed for this exact purpose and goal.
That said, such plans can be daunting if not grueling. Instead of jumping straight into a 42 km race, why not start with something shorter first. This will give you ample time to get your mind, body, and speed right to tackle a full marathon.
- You have been participating in 10K races and want to aim higher – If you have been in several 10K races and are bored and no longer challenged, then your next step should be tackling the half marathon distance. After all this 13.1 miles stretch in more than half of the 10K which translates to 6.2 miles.
- You will burn calories – As we all know, running is one of the most common and most effective weight loss workouts. However, did you know that the more distance you cover – and the more challenging your run – the more weight you are bound to lose?
In a study published in 2018, researchers found that, when comparing a variety of running exercises, study participants who ran the longest distances burned the highest number or calories. Researchers also found that study participants who chose to run on hilly terrain also ended up burning quite the number of calories. At the end of the study the researchers concluded that individuals who wish to burn more calories on their workout should not only run for longer but also do it on a hilly terrain (10).
With this in mind not only would training for a half marathon burn way more calories than say a 10K or 5K training plan, (you would be running anywhere between 10 to almost 30 miles a week(11)) but also combining it with something like trail running – which involves running on steep areas such as hills – will lead to more calorie burning and weight loss.
- Multiple health benefits – While weight loss is the most obvious benefit or running, it is not the only one. Some of these other benefits include
- Improved mental health – Studies have shown that running helps to relieve tension, improve one’s self-image, and improve their mood. It has also been proven to be a therapeutic activity for negative psychological conditions, such as depression, anxiety, stress and even eating disorders (13, 2).
- Improved heart health and lowered risk of cardiovascular mortality – A study published in 2015 by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, showed that even running casually for 5 to 10 minutes a day goes a long way in reducing the risk of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease (8). This activity also makes your heart stronger which helps it pump more blood with less effort lowering blood pressure.
- Increases productivity – A study published by the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, revealed that people who ran everyday tended to be happier and more efficient at the workplace (6).
- Improved sleep – The American Sleep Apnea Association, estimates that about 50 to 70 million Americans of all ages and socioeconomic classes experience sleep-related problems. These problems range from common issues such as insomnia disorder and sleep apnea to less known and commonly occurring issues like narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, nightmare disorders and more (14).
Recent sleep statistics by the Sleep Foundation show that this issue has not gotten better and many people still suffer from sleep disorders and do not get enough sleep at night (12). Studies have shown that participating in this physical activity for as little as 30 minutes a day can lead to improved sleep (3).
Running has also been showed to reduce the risk of diabetes, lead to an improved sex life, strengthen the muscles in your legs and joints in the ankles and knees, strengthen immunity and decrease the symptoms of menopause.
- Less possibility of injury or overtraining than when participating in a marathon. A full marathon distance is a lot of miles and many runners (beginners and advanced) often injure themselves, especially during training due to overtraining.
- It’s a great opportunity to meet more people who share the same interests as you.
- A chance to spend more time with family and friends, especially if you are training together
- Offers a fantastic opportunity to travel and explore new locations – If you sign up for a marathon held in a different city or country then this automatically gives you a chance to travel and explore. When training, you are also able to explore new areas in your neighborhood, especially if you try trail running.
- You will most likely get a new hobby out of it – or grow one if running is already a hobby for you.
What To Look For In A Half Marathon Training Schedule
Now that you know how long to train for a half marathon and you are armed with reasons why you should dedicate time to properly prepare for this race, the next logical step is to look for a good schedule that will help you achieve your goals.
This is where most people, despite their dedication and determination, go wrong. Despite the fact that the internet is full of half marathon training plans, most of them are not good – not only for race prep but also for you and your health.
Here is what to look for when picking your training plan – If a plan doesn’t have any of the following steps or components, leave it.
- Easy run days – Easy runs are done at a slow pace and you should be able to comfortably breath and hold a conversation during the activity. These are essential in every training plan from beginner to advanced schedules. For beginners, easy runs are a safe way to help increase their miles and also help with cardiovascular and muscle development. For experienced runners, these help maintain their hard-earned muscles and aerobic fitness levels (5).
- Rest days – This is non-negotiable. If a training plan for a half marathon does not have at least one rest day then that is not a plan that you should be on – or even consider trying out. Rest days are important in every routine as they give your body, mind, and muscles a break from working out. The number of rest days may vary from plan to plan but we advise you to have at least two rest days – You can choose to do absolutely nothing on your rest day or choose active rest instead.
- Cross Training – Most half marathon training plans choose to skip cross training days which is a great disservice to anyone using such plans. Cross-training allows you to work on your cardio without the constant pounding of running, helps with injury prevention, gives you a chance to rehabilitate your sore (and probably overused) muscles, improves your running efficiency and power, and much more (4). Examples of cross training exercises include rowing, swimming, cycling, strength training, walking, yoga, playing soccer, etc.
- Long runs – They offer you the opportunity to increase your mileage as the event draws near with the goal of getting your body used to the long hours and miles on your feet. These runs also increase your muscle strength, aerobic capacity, and more (15).
- Tapering – This is a customary practice in many endurance sports like long-distance running and swimming. It is the practice of reducing exercise in the days just before an important competition and is essential for optimal performance. The benefits of tapering include replenishing glycogen stores in the muscles, muscle repair and reduced fatigue.
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According to a study by the Frontiers in Sports and Active Living published this year (2021) marathon runners who taper have better performance (and even greater finish times) than those who do not (9). The best time to taper is three weeks before race day.
Please Note (7):
- During tapering weeks you are advised to increase your protein intake to help with muscle repair, increase your complex carbohydrate intake (from sources such as rice, pasta, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes) and reduce fat intake.
- You should also be sure to drink plenty of water and reduce alcohol and caffeine consumption.
- You may also lose two to four pounds during this time which is completely normal
- Speed work – Unlike the above points, speed work is optional in a training plan, especially a beginner training plan for a half marathon. Speed work involves things like
- Intervals – a set of repetitions of a specific, short distance, run at a substantially faster pace than usual, with recovery jogs in between.
- Tempo runs – They are longer than intervals – anywhere between 4–10 miles, depending on where you are in your training – and are done at a challenging but sustainable pace.
- Sprints – This involves running over a short distance (100 to 400 meters) at the top-most speed of the body in a limited period of time.
Speed work helps with proper running form – which in turn helps you run more efficiently, endurance, improves your breathing (or rather how efficiently your body uses oxygen), leg strength and builds a higher lactate tolerance (1).
How Long To Train For A Half Marathon If You’re Only Running 2 Miles Currently?
Running 2 miles places you right in the beginner category and we would suggest that you set aside 12 to 14 weeks (16 weeks if you are extra nervous) to get ready for the next half marathon.
How Long To Train For A Marathon Beginner?
As seen above, a full marathon is double the distance of a half marathon and thus, logically you would need more time to train properly enough to cover this great distance. As a beginner, you will need anywhere between 16 weeks to 20 weeks to get ready for such a race.
The Bottom Line: How Long To Train For A Half Marathon?
Regardless of your experience with road running, the average time you should spend getting ready for your next half marathon race should be about 12 weeks. This time gives you an opportunity to work on your cardiovascular fitness, endurance, pacing, and more. Please make sure to speak to your doctor before starting any racing training plan.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 5 Reasons Runners Should Practice Sprint Training (n.d., aaptiv.com)
- A Scoping Review of the Relationship between Running and Mental Health (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Daily Morning Running for 3 Weeks Improved Sleep and Psychological Functioning in Healthy Adolescents Compared With Controls (2012, jahonline.org)
- Eight Benefits Of Cross-Training (2004, runnersworld.com)
- Everything you need to know about running easy miles (2019, runnersworld.com)
- Exercising at work and self‐reported work performance (2008, emerald.com)
- How to Taper Correctly (2014, runnersworld.com)
- Leisure-Time Running Reduces All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality Risk (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Longer Disciplined Tapers Improve Marathon Performance for Recreational Runners (2021, frontiersin.org)
- RUNNING DESIGNS THAT AFFECT CALORIES BURNED (2018, researchgate.net)
- Set Yourself Up for Success With This Guide on How to Train for a Half Marathon (2021, runnersworld.com)
- Sleep Statistics (2021, sleepfoundation.org)
- The Positive Effects of Running on Mental Health (2020, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The State of SleepHealth in America (n.d., sleephealth.org)
- The Ultimate Guide to One of Our Best Training Tools: Long Runs (2021, runnersworld.com)