How to Train for a Half Marathon in 12 Weeks
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So, you finally managed to sign up for your very first half marathon. Congratulations! But simply saying you’re going to demolish that 13-plus miles doesn’t mean you actually can right now.
You need physical and mental preparation to really crush the course.
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
12-Week Half Marathon Training Plan
It’s important to adapt this customizable weekly schedule based on your physical capabilities and endurance level. Week-to-week, you will need to listen to your body to know when to bump up your pace or when to take that extra rest day.
Generally, your week will consist of:
- 4-5 days of running
- 2-3 days of either strength or cross-training
- 1 day of rest or recovery
Before we dive into the weekly training schedule, let’s focus on the fundamental components of the training plan: your training runs, your strength and cardio cross-training, and your recovery days.
You’re preparing for a race, so the majority of your workouts will be spent running. Start by running every other day and consider adding an extra run each week when you hit the midpoint of your training schedule.
During your beginning training runs, keep a comfortable pace and listen to your body. Each week, you are going to slowly add more distance to each run.
As you build greater stamina and are able to run longer distances, shift your focus to your pace and set time-specific goals.
Once you have reached your longest distance of 10-miles and have achieved your target “race-pace,” you should start to taper or your weekly mileage.
Matt Fitzgerald, co-head coach of 80/20 Endurance and author of 80/20 Runningrecommends “de-loading” every four weeks, treating week 12 as your final taper. But while you may be running fewer miles, it’s important to keep your pace up during that final week.
“If you de-load too much, your body tends to go on vacation,” he says. “If you surprise your system with a race a week later, you’re going to perform poorly. You’re priming your system by keeping some intensity in the mix.”
Also, remember to warm up and cool down. A pre-run warm-up primes your body for action. Post-run, it’s extremely important to take the time to stretch and ease tension in the muscles in your legs. To that end, NSCA certified Mile High Run Club coach Corinne Fitzgerald recommends foam rolling. “Foam rolling can also reduce DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) so your recovery period will be shorter,” she says.
Cardio cross-training can include rowing, cycling, or swimming, or any other aerobic exercise that challenges your cardiorespiratory system and challenges your muscles in new ways. The goal: Injury prevention.
Just like your training runs, you can vary the intensity of your non-running cardio based on your body’s needs.
Strength training promotes greater power, stability, and muscle endurance while reducing the risk of injury. Strength workouts should target the whole body, not just muscle groups associated with running.
Rest and Recovery Days
There’s no shame in wanting to curl up in your bed with the shutters closed, but you should get up and be at least moderately active.
If you’re feeling good, or maybe just a little sore, consider performing recovery activities such as foam rolling and yoga.
12-Week Half Marathon Training Schedule for Beginners
According to Matt Fitzgerald, following a training plan will help reduce simple errors that could impact race performance.
He recommends the following schedule for beginners who are healthy, not overweight and exercise a few days a week. If you’re a more experienced runner, or this plan feels too light for you, you can increase the intensity of your runs.
Get comfortable with running every other day. If you’re new to running, Matt Fitzgerald recommends 45-minute run/walks where you walk for a minute and run for a minute. By the end of the week, increase these intervals to two minutes.
On days you’re not running, mix in some cardio cross-training and strength training.
Feel free to take one complete rest/recovery day each week.
Increase your run/walk intervals, starting the week at 3 minutes and ending with 5 minutes. Keep up with your strength and cardio cross-training.
Transition from run/walk intervals to jogging for 45 minutes straight every other day.
On days you’re not running, increase the intensity of your strength and cardio cross-training.
This is your first “de-loading week,” in which you’ll reduce the intensity of your running workouts to allow your body the opportunity to recover more fully and prevent overtraining. Go back to longer run/walk intervals on running days, but maintain a high workout intensity on your strength and cardio cross-training days.
Return to steady state jogging, picking up your pace as the week progresses and jogging for 50 minutes instead of 45 minutes. Make one of your runs a longer distance of about five miles.
Keep up with your strength and cardio cross-training.
Note: Now that you’re comfortable with running, it’s important to do 80 percent of your weekly running at a pace at which you can comfortably carry on a conversation, no matter how slow that is. Over time, that “conversation pace” will increase, but no need to force it. The other 20 percent of the time, feel free to push as hard as you can by incorporating intervals into your longer runs. These runs might look like this:
- 10 minutes at your normal pace.
- 10 x 1 minute intervals at an intense (8 on a scale of 1 to 10) effort. Walk or jog for 1.5 minutes between intervals.
- 10 minutes at your normal comfortable pace.
Keep increasing your running pace. If you want to be aggressive, switch one of your cardio-cross training days to an extra run day. Also, make one of your runs six miles.
Build on the solid foundation you’ve established by continuing to increase the pace of your runs, the longest of which should be seven miles. Also keep up the intensity of your strength and cardio cross-training.
This is your second de-loading week. Make your longest run five to six miles, while keeping up the intensity of your strength and cardio cross-training workouts.
It’s time to pick up the pace. Add another 5 minutes to your runs (so that most of them clock in at about 55 minutes), and make your long run for the week eight to nine miles. Keep up with your strength and cardio cross-training.
This is the week to tackle your longest run yet. On your final run of the week, shoot for 10 miles, knowing that it may not be a pleasant experience.
“Suffering through a hard, long run means you’re going to be OK [even if you don’t perform at your peak] in a few weeks,” Matt Fitzgerald says. “Rest the next day. You’re going to be a better runner just for finishing that run.”
Keep up with your regular training schedule the rest of the week, running, strength training, and cardio cross training at the same intensities and for the same durations that you did in week nine.
Begin tapering this week, but don’t overdo it. Drop your long run to eight miles, but keep strength training and cardio cross-training at a high intensity.
In preparation for this weekend’s race, it’s time for a final de-load. Keep running every other day, but drop the distance of your long run to six to seven miles, and skip the strength training and cardio-cross training.
Check out your event’s official website to make sure timing chip pickup, parking, and other logistics go smoothly. On race day, arrive at least an hour before to stretch, use the bathroom, and get oriented with your surroundings. Don’t forget to enjoy the moment that you have worked so hard for.
“Achieving a number on a scale doesn’t provide the same motivation as having a date with destiny,” Matt Fitzgerald says. “There’s a transformative magic to crossing that finish line that will change your approach to running. You might even go home and immediately sign up for another race.”