How to Train for a Half Marathon in 5 Simple Steps

If running a marathon seems crazy to people who have never experienced the thrill of crossing the finish line, you can take heart that running a half marathon only seems half crazy to those people. In reality, a half marathon is a truly attainable distance for most beginner athletes as long as you adhere to some important half marathon tips and “trust the process”. The trick is to know which training plan to use, how often to run, and what to do on your “rest” days. Fortunately, we have distilled going from where you are to running a half marathon into five simple steps.

1. How to Train for a Half Marathon: Do the Preparation Work.

Running a half marathon is not as simple as going out and running a really long distance over and over until race day. Follow the process and do the work and you’ll be raising your hands at the finish line! Skipping the preparation work will result in frustration, injury and missing race day altogether.

  • Pick YOUR race. Every endurance race begins with the decision to just do it. In the case of running a half marathon, it starts with choosing the right race for you. If this is your first half marathon, take our advice – choose a point-to-point race, in a scenic area, on a flat course, during a pleasant time of year. Running a 13.1 mile out-and-back route in the heat of the summer or dead of winter, up and down hills is a tough introduction and can be demoralizing for even the most seasoned runners.
  • Get fitted for shoes. Before you start Googling “How to train for a half marathon”, you need to make sure you are running in the right shoes. The wrong shoes will almost always result in pain or injury – and it’s totally preventable. Most specialized running stores have foot mapping technology and trained staff members that will help determine the right shoe for your stride and foot. Even if you know you are in the right shoes, consider how long it has been since you replaced them. Most running shoes begin losing their support after 300 to 400 miles.
  • Invest in vital running gear. Endurance training means having to carry your nutrition and hydration with you. Investing in a hydration pack or belt that can hold gels for nutrition will help you practice for race day. You may also want to download a mileage tracking app or invest in a GPS-enabled watch that will help you see your mileage, pace and other vital details as you run. The folks at the running shoe store can definitely give you some pointers here too!

2. How to Train for a Half Marathon: Choose a Training Plan.

If you can already run a 5k, you can probably do a half marathon in about eight weeks. If you are starting from scratch, give yourself 12-16 weeks to be ready. Give yourself enough time as accelerating the plan can often result in injury – especially if it’s your first half marathon distance race. There are thousands and thousands of half marathon training plans out there. Choose one that has you running no more than four days per week. David A Whitsett and Forrest A Dolenger, who literally wrote the non-runner’s book on training for marathons, found through their research that running four days a week is the sweet spot between building endurance and avoiding injury.

Be sure your training plan includes:

  • Rest days before and after your long runs.
  • Cross training days that include weight training and flexibility (also known as active recovery days).
  • Mileage goals rather than time goals. Remember, your goal is to run 13.1 miles, not run three hours. Tracking mileage rather than time will help you keep your eye on the prize.

3. How to Train for a Half Marathon: Start Running!

If you are running a half marathon, you have to start running – duh! Rain or shine, cold or hot, tired or not, your training schedule is your road map to the finish line. The only way to get there is to run. That doesn’t mean you can’t jog or even walk occasionally. Remember, this is YOUR race.
World class running coach Jeff Galloway has developed an entire method for completing a race of any length based alternating between walking and running. Breaking your long distance runs into smaller distances with planned walk breaks to shake out your arms and reset your posture will help you stay injury free throughout your training plan.

4. How to Train for a Half Marathon: Practice Everything Before Race Day.

Running a Half Marathon: Nutrition & Hydration

One of the hardest things to figure out when you are learning how to train for a half marathon is when and what to drink and eat while you are actually running a half marathon. While running, a 150 pound person will burn about 100 calories per mile. Replacing those calories without irritating your stomach is a careful dance. The worst thing you can do is try something new on race day and spend the day running from port-a-potty to port-a-potty or doubled over on the side of the road. Trust us – DON’T DO IT!

A good rule of thumb is to take in calories every 30 to 45 minutes of running either in the form of a sports drink, sports gel or other food. This helps you stay ahead of your calorie need rather than experiencing the dreaded “bonk” in the middle of a run. (“Bonking” is a term runners use to describe the point where either their brain or body stop working the way they want them to. This usually happens when they have exhausted all of their energy supplies without replacing them.)
Don’t forget to also experiment with what to eat and drink before and after a long run. Both your pre-run and post-run meals should include both complex carbohydrates and protein to maximize your energy during your run and boost your recovery afterward.

Running a Half Marathon: Clothing

As tempting as it is to wear a special, brand new race shirt on race day, discovering the fabric and your skin are mortal enemies around Mile 8 is no picnic. Chafing and running DO NOT mix! Try out different clothes during your shorter runs so you will be confident in your comfort. This way you’ll know if cushioned socks cause blisters, if you need anti-chafing roll on between your thighs, bandaids on your nipples (yes, you read that right) or if you prefer a padded sports bra to a non-padded one before you arrive at the starting line.

If it rains or snows or is blazing hot on any of your training runs, odds are you could have that weather on race day. Try out different clothing options during different weather so you can feel comfortable and confident on race day. Gloves and a hat will make all the difference in the world on a cold race morning and can easily be tucked into your waistband or left at an aid station.

5. How to Train for a Half Marathon: Enlist the Help of a Professional.

Sure, looking up internet articles on how to train for a half marathon is great, but it is no substitute for calling in a professional. If running a half marathon is still overwhelming or if you break out in hives at the mere thought of figuring out how to train for a half marathon, you need more than the internet can offer. Even though we commonly associate a personal trainer with a gym, these experts can help you devise the right running and training plan that is right for your current fitness level and will keep you safe and injury free. In fact, no guide on how to train for a half marathon would be complete without mentioning the benefits of personal training.

A personal trainer can help you:

  • Create a personalized “How to train for a half marathon” plan that is right for you
  • Adjust the plan as you progress through each workout and each training run
  • Figure out your nutrition and hydration routines
  • Perfect your running posture so you can run more efficiently and help prevent running related injuries
  • Know when to increase or decrease distance or intensity without injury
  • Construct cross training routines that will boost your balance, strength, speed and endurance
  • Make running a half marathon an enjoyable experience

Whether you are thinking about running a half marathon or you are confident that you know how to train for a half marathon, a personal trainer can help you take your race to the next level and keep you safe.

Even if people say running a half marathon is half crazy, you know what they are really saying is that it is a major accomplishment. Knowing how to train for a half marathon and following that training plan will pay off big when you cross that finish line on race day, arms held high, and triumphant in accomplishing your goal.