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11 Things You Need to Know When You Start Training for Your Half Marathon

It’s time to start your half marathon training!

The half marathon is an awesome distance, because it is long enough to be a true challenge for any runner, yet not completely out of reach for most individuals who are willing to apply themselves and do the preparation.

It will take some serious work, but you have what it takes to get yourself fit, cross the finish line, and change your life. The challenge along the way is what makes the finish line so rewarding. Accomplishing something you thought might not be possible is truly worthwhile!

If you haven’t made the plunge to register for your half marathon yet, click here to read why you REALLY need to run a half marathon this year.  

11 Things You Need to Know When You Start Training for Your Half Marathon

Start Training for a Half Marathon in 11 Actionable Steps

Need this information in actionable, bite-sized pieces? Sign up for my FREE 6-Day Kickstart course:

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Great, now that you’re ready to take action, lets go through how to start training for a half marathon.

Find a Training Plan

First, let’s start with the obvious, you need a training plan!

It’s impossible to talk about how to start training for a half marathon without making a plan. Following a training plan is crucial to taking you from where you are now to 13.1 miles. It’s also critical to help you avoid injury and ensure you are following hard training miles with easy recovery days.

A training plan will help tell you what workout to do each day, so you don’t have to rely on elusive “motivation” to help you get out the door. Or worse, get all ready to do your workout for the day and not know what exercises to do or how many miles you should run.

A good training plan will have you running 3-4 days per week if you are a relatively new runner, and upwards of 5-6 days per week if you are experienced with distance running.

Hopefully you have done some base training if you’ve had some time off to get your body back in the routine of running, strong, and ready to train for a race. It’s important to give yourself at least 3-6 weeks of base training before jumping into a half marathon training plan if you have been out of the running habit for a while.

My Favorite Training Plans

My absolute favorite resource for FREE training plans is Hal Higdon. He has a number of plans for any race or distance. You can grab one of his paid, interactive plans if you choose, or you can scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the free plans.

Print it if you choose or create a Google Docs spreadsheet and plug it into my tracker to keep it FREE and digital. I love starting with Hal Higdon’s training plans as a template, and then I can plug the workouts into my tracker and customize my plan for my needs.

A few notes about training plans…

Keep in mind, you don’t have to perform the exact workouts on the exact day that the training plan has you doing each one. You can shift your entire training plan and just change the days of the week at the top so it’s convenient for your schedule. When you do this, just make sure you have an easy or rest day following each of your harder or longer runs (I.e. Tempo Runs, Intervals, or Long Runs).

When you do start a half marathon training plan, you will want to use the beginner or novice plan. Go easy on your body and have grace with yourself. Jumping back in too quickly when you’ve had extensive time off is a good way to injure yourself. If you’ve been running consistently for at least 6 months, then go ahead and look to the intermediate plan.

Thinking about an advanced plan? Jump into that ONLY if you’ve already completed the novice AND intermediate plans for different races, and you’re ready for a new challenge to push you farther. You’ll know when you need it.

Have a Convenient Method to Track Your Half Marathon Training

I mentioned my tracker above. This tracker is a spreadsheet that you can plug ANY training plan into for easy digital tracking.

Running Workout Tracker

You put the training plan workouts in the blue rows in the “Planned Workout” boxes and then you plug the actual mileage you completed each day into the white box below. Then, the spreadsheet automatically totals your weekly mileage. I keep mine in Google Docs so I can create it on my computer, then easily access and edit through my phone.

You can get your copy HERE or enter your email in the form below.

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Decide When You Will Complete Your Workouts

This is an extremely important step. Decide what time of day you will complete your workouts. Will you do them in the morning before the rest of the house is awake? Right after work? In the evening after dinner? Pick a time and stick to it so it becomes routine.

Think about what else in your schedule might have to give. If you have already been working out or running regularly, training for a half marathon might not be a huge change in time commitment. However, if you haven’t been working out, you might have to do some rearranging to figure out how this will fit in your already busy schedule.

Pick a time that is convenient and you can stick to. You might ask your spouse to watch the kids for an hour while you head out for a run. You might need to give up some evenings out for happy hour. Whatever it is, think about it before it becomes time to act on it. Communicate with the people involved. Let them know how important this goal of running a half marathon is to you.

How will you motivate yourself and stay consistent?

The one factor with the biggest impact on improving your running is consistency. One great run won’t make a huge difference in your fitness, but several runs completed day in and day out (even if a few are rather lackluster) will add up to significant improvements. The key is to keep showing up. Whether you are motivated or not. Form the habit that keeps you lacing up your shoes and headed out the door.

                Related: Quit Quitting! How to Keep Your Running Motivation for Life

Plug Yourself into a Half Marathon Training Support Group

Support groups can really make a huge difference.

When you’re feeling high and want to celebrate some wins, runners are the perfect crowd to share it with! When you’re feeling low and need some help to get back out there the next day, this group of runners know exactly what you’re feeling and will help you get moving.

My favorite running support group is Train for a Half Marathon.

The group admin has organized regular topics each day of the week. (One of them is “Training Tip Thursday” presented by Yours, Truly 😉) If you’re looking for a place where you can learn more about running, half marathons, and mindset, this is the place to be.

These runners are awesome, motivating, inspiring, and JUST LIKE YOU. Some run more miles than others, but we all share the same journey. I’ve made some true friends in this group, and I encourage you to do the same!

Get the Right Running Gear

Running can be a very inexpensive sport if you choose. But having some of the right running gear can really make your experience more enjoyable. Add your running gear one piece at a time and use it to reward yourself for hitting new milestones.

Running Shoes

Priority #1 for spending money on running: get yourself a good pair of running shoes. For half marathon training, 2 pairs would be ideal so you can rotate between them.

My two favorite running shoe brands are Saucony and Brooks, but I also like Asics and there are several great shoe brands available on the market. It’s tough to take a shoe recommendation from anyone on the internet, because everyone’s body is different.

The best way to find out which shoe works best for you is to go to a specialty running store, try at least 5 different pairs on, and run in each pair. Many running stores have a treadmill, you can run around the store, or down the sidewalk.

Listen to your body on this one. I tend to pick the shoe that feels the more comfortable and effortless. I choose the one makes me feel excited to run! Take note of the brands and models you like the most, and you can order your next pair or two online after you’ve already tried them on.

Running Sports Bra

A good sports bra is also a must for women. You need to support the ladies while you are out there running. Running is a high impact sport, so treat it as such.

You want a bra with little to no bounce, and one that won’t chafe. This is currently my favorite running sports bra. There is no bounce, and the material is designed to prevent chafing on my longer runs. Of course, I still never forget the Body Glide if I’m going further than 6 miles.

Additional Gear and Goodies

After that, the options are endless. You can spend as much or as little as you want on running clothes and gear. A Garmin watch can be really helpful in your training, but any old digital watch with a stopwatch function will work, or a GPS running app on your phone.

My most up-to-date page on recommendations for running clothes, gear, nutrition, and hydration can be found at my Recommended Resources page.

Head over to see what I use to support my running habit.

Run at the Right Intensity During Half Marathon Training

As you start training, you’ll get excited to run farther and farther. You will beat your time from the previous day, and it will be intoxicating. In the beginning, you can probably run slightly faster than the day before and keep building on it each day of your training.

And then…you will get to a point where trying to run faster and faster every day is exhausting. It might make you less excited about getting up and going for a run because it just feels like too much work to beat your previous time.

This is where I tell you: you don’t have to get faster and faster each day. Your training should include 1, maybe 2 hard days per week (Around 20% of your weekly mileage) where you run fast at a hard effort for you. The other runs (Around 80% of your weekly mileage) should be easy runs.

An easy run is just that—easy.

It should be a low effort, enjoyable pace. I refer to my easy run pace as “Cruise Control”. It’s an effort that I don’t have to think about or push, I just let it happen. It should feel EASY, like you could do it all day. If you notice yourself breathing hard, slow down—even if you’re at a crawling pace.

The point of your easy runs is to get more mileage in to prepare your body for the distance without stressing your body to the point of injury. Easy runs are also designed to help your body recover from harder efforts. Pushing harder on more days of the week without allowing your body adequate recovery will only backfire.

I’ve employed the 80/20 Running Principle for over 2 years, trained for and run 6 half marathons plus over a dozen 10k’s and 5k’s, all while staying injury free and setting new personal records along the way. It seems counter-intuitive that slowing down actually helps you get faster, but it does!

Head to my related article for more information on this concept.

                Related: 80/20 Running: Why You Need to Slow Down

Running more miles does you no good if you get injured training for a race before you even get to the starting line. When in doubt, take an extra rest day. If you’re feeling extra exhausted before a hard workout, switch to an easier workout or run half as many miles. Or just sleep an extra hour instead.

I’m giving you permission.

                Related: Appreciate the Training Process—When to Keep Going and When to Take a Day Off

Learn About Nutrition for Runners

You’ve probably heard that nutrition is more important than training. In many ways, it is. It’s important to fuel your body with enough without eating too much.

Sports running coach and nutritionist Matt Fitzgerald points out that elite endurance athletes around the world fall into commonality on 5 key nutritional habits, and these habits would benefit recreational runners as well.

Focus on these 5 eating habits in your daily diet:

1. Eat Everything

2. Eat Quality

3. Eat Carb-Centered

4. Eat Enough

5. Eat Individually

Eat everything refers to maintaining a large variety of foods in your diet. Quality ensures the content of your diet and quality of the foods you eat is high.

Many people try to villainize carbohydrates, but the reality is carbs are an essential nutrient for endurance athletes, and their place in your diet should be treated with such importance. You need to make sure you eat enough to support your training. If you aren’t eating enough, you are sabotaging yourself. Lastly, the foods you eat need to work for you. This refers to incorporating individual preferences and avoiding what doesn’t work for your body.

To go more in depth on each nutritional habit, head over to my full Nutrition for Runners article.

                Related: Nutrition for Runners: 5 Core Eating Habits that Will Make You Faster

start training for a half marathon

Learn How to Fuel Your Long Runs

In the beginning, your long runs will be in the range of 4-6 miles. Any runs under 6 miles do not require fueling with gels or sports drink. Runs 6-7 miles long: take a sports drink with. Over 8 miles: add a gel or other running fuel.

You body can only store enough fuel to keep you going for about 90 minutes. Longer than that, you need to supplement with running fuel to avoid “hitting the wall”. The reality is, you will probably not be finishing your half marathon in 90 minutes or less, so you will want to learn how to fuel your runs lasting longer than an hour.

Related: The Complete Nutrition Guide on How to Fuel a Half Marathon

Practice Fueling on Your Training Long Runs

Here, I’m going to refer to a very important rule in running: NEVER try anything new on race day.

Race day is the worst time for anything unexpected, so you definitely want to try everything you plan to use on race day—including gels and sports drinks—in your training.

You can start practicing with different types of running fuels on your long runs over 6 miles. I recommend getting some sample packs of different types of gels and trying which flavors you like the best. Then, have your favorites ready to go for race day.

The benefits of testing out fuel on your long run are 1) so you aren’t completely depleted and can still function like a normal human being after your long run and 2) so you know which ones work for your stomach and don’t run into any nasty surprises during the race.

To get started on different types of running fuel and which ones to try, head over to my mini-guide where I walk through 5 different types of fuel along with the pros and cons to each one.

                Related: Types of Running Fuel and How to Use Energy Gels for Beginners

Learn How to Recover Properly After Long Runs

Recovery is always important, but it will be most important after your long runs. Your body will be challenged on each long run as you push further and further in distance.

Hydration and muscle repair are key to recovery after long runs. Staying hydrated will help facilitate the process of delivering nutrients to your muscles and flushing away waste and byproducts of muscle repair.

Here are the Keys for Long Run Recovery:

  1. Drink a recovery shake within 30 minutes of finishing your run
  2. Hydrate before, during, and after your run. And for the rest of the day.
  3. Stretch
  4. Focus on getting to sleep early
  5. Bonus: Take an Epsom salt bath to sooth your muscles (This one is my favorite!)

                Related: Recovering from a Half Marathon Sucks: Here’s How to Make It Suck Less

Get Enrolled in a Half Marathon Training Class

There is a TON of information online available to help you with your half marathon training. Honestly, you can get sucked all the way down into the rabbit hole of training methods, different types of runs, which shoes to buy, what fuels work the best, and how to pace yourself.

If you’re already feeling a little overwhelmed, I hear you.

To help avoid the overwhelm and save you time as you learn how to train for your first half marathon, I’ve created two options to help you learn what you need to know, without all the extra “advice” that isn’t necessary for your first long distance race.

  • Join my FREE 6-Day Half Marathon Training Kickstart Course. This course will set you up to start your training including a workout tracker, training plan recommendations, and mindset training.
  • Enroll in the “12 Weeks to Your First Half Marathon” course. This is the FULL 12-week course where I walk you through your training plan week by week with advice applicable to each phase of your training. I’ll share helpful things I wish I knew while training for my first half marathon. This course is a great way to save you time scouring the internet and sorting through all the information to find what you need, not to mention saving you from making painful mistakes!

Which half marathon are you training for?

RunningMyBestLife

Run Happy,

Alexis

About Me: I’m Alexis, Founder of RunningMyBestLife! I am an avid recreational runner, half marathoner, wife, dog mom, busy professional, downhill skier in Northern Utah. My mission is to help new enthusiasts fall in love with the sport of running. I believe that running is a catalyst to taking control of your life and living your best life by design. Learn More –>