Beginner guide to half-marathon training

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A half marathon is a big step up if you’re new to the distance. It’ll require a higher weekly mileage, longer ‘long’ runs and a greater variety of sessions to develop the speed and endurance you’ll need. But, says coach Martin Yelling, ‘If you can run a 10K, you can do it. Just allow enough time to prepare. Twelve weeks is ideal.’

Fools rush in

‘You need a solid base before taking on a half-marathon training plan,’ says coach Jeff Galloway. ‘You should be running at least three times a week.’ Our 12-week plan assumes that you’ve covered 12-20 miles a week consistently for at least four weeks, including a long run of six miles or more. ‘The best programmes feature gradual increases in distance,’ says Hal Higdon, coach and author of Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Training.

Go long

Long runs are key to half-marathon success. ‘If you’re a beginner, long runs are even more critical, as endurance is the top limiting factor for new runners,’ says coach Jason Fitzgerald. He recommends peaking at 11 miles to ensure you can run the half marathon comfortably.

Take it easy

‘The most common mistake that runners make with their long runs is going out too fast,’ says Galloway. ‘Be sure you can talk comfortably as you run, and take plenty of walk breaks. This pacing strategy will give you the endurance you need without wiping you out.’

Balance work and rest

Allow time to recover between runs to help you adapt to the training. ‘Running only every other day reduces injury risk. It allows the body to rebuild and improve after each workout,’ says Galloway. You needn’t rest altogether on non-run days; cross-training develops fitness without overloading the joints and muscles. Good options include cycling, swimming, yoga or strength work.

Fuel up

You can train for a 10K without taking on energy during runs, but not for a 13.1-miler. ‘Maximise your performance by getting at least 30g of carbs per hour, and drinking to thirst and stomach comfort,’ says Matt Fitzgerald, author of The New Rules of Marathon and Half Marathon Nutrition. For example, a Torq gel provides 28.8g (£1.55 for 45g).

Find your pace

To work out a realistic half-marathon race pace, multiply your 10K time in minutes by 2.22. ‘Race-pace work familiarises you with that pace so you don’t go out too fast in your race,’ says Higdon. ‘If you go out too slow in the early miles, you can make up the time in the next few. But go out too fast, and you may be walking by the end.’

Set a goal

But don’t make it about the clock. Galloway suggests three goals for first-timers: finish in the upright position, with a smile on your face and the desire to do it again.

Take it one step at a time

If you feel daunted on the start line think only about the first mile. Once that’s out of the way, focus on the next one. ‘I used to set myself little goals within a race,’ says former Olympic marathoner Mara Yamauchi. ‘The next drinks station, the next mile marker…’ Before you know it the finish line will be in view.

Ready to take the leap? Check out our 12-week beginner half-marathon training plan.