Your half marathon training schedule…

By Patrick Drew, updated November, 2013

marathon in parisSo, you're a fit and healthy individual, and want to find yourself a new challenge to really push yourself to the limit. You've spent day after day in the gym, on the streets, in the countryside, getting yourself as fit and healthy as you can possibly be. What do you decide to do? Naturally, a marathon of course. Now, if you are indeed planning on running a marathon, then you must be aware that no matter how fit you think you are, there is always room for improvement, and you must know exactly what to expect and how to really maximize your training sessions. Outlined below, we've listed some tips to help you properly train for an upcoming marathon. One of the first recommendations though that we would always make is — start with a half marathon!!

The half marathon: Though it is not correct to say that the half marathon is half as difficult as the full one, it is half the distance (21.1 kilometers instead of 42.2 kilometers) and thus you really should try getting into shape for this first. Also… if you are going to run a half marathon or a full one — it really helps if you are already running regularly. If you currently do no running at all — or are a very sedentary person — then you have a hard task ahead of you. Please consider reading our article on beginning running. The important thing to note is that typically the first kilometer is the hardest. Then as you keep increasing your distance (though there is often a pain "wall" or "barrier" to break through each time) it is not as painful as the initial ones. Some runners say that once you get into the "zone" past 5 kilometers you could just keep running all day!?

One of the first recommendations though that we would always make — is start with a half marathon!!

Status: The first thing you need to do is to establish what your status is. Can you run 1 kilometer? Can you run 5? Or 10? Are they "easy." When I say easy I mean that you do not feel like you are about to die when you finish each time. You need to establish your baseline. Thus if you can comfortably run 5 kilometers then you have a very good base line — and can already run about 25% of the half marathon.

Timing: Here is the next key ingredient. How long does it take you to run 5 kilometers? It is important that you establish this as you then have 2 very important metrics that you can measure to help your training. Remember the axiom "What you can measure you can improve." Thus you know that you can run e.g. 5 kilometers in e.g. 28 minutes. Note that these are your particular private times — to help you assess your training. In terms of a half marathon training schedule you need to know your own metrics — and continuously improve them for your own sake. If you are competing to win then you need to start measuring your own metrics against the other runners. Here though you also need to include factors such as age, body composition, fitness, running history, etc. We will discuss more about competing in a marathon later but for this half marathon training schedule we will assume this is your first run and you just want to complete it.

runners grey

Schedule your training plan and stick to it religiously — A marathon is a big deal and should be treated with the respect it deserves. Don't make the mistake of thinking that just because you're fit, you'll just get a training session in here and there, and will go for a run when you feel like it. Doing this is a recipe for disaster and it could have serious consequences on your health come race day. Draw up a training schedule and stick to it. No matter the weather, no matter the time, no matter how you feel, if you've committed to running a marathon, you must be fully prepared.

Schedule your training plan and stick to it religiously…

Pace yourself: Remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint, so pace yourself and don't try to do too much at once. This goes for your training sessions and on the day of the race itself. Go at a steady pace and try to maintain it as much as possible. You want to choose a pace that tests you but doesn't leave you exhausted and dripping in sweat after the first couple of minutes. Get your pace right, and you give yourself a great chance of success on the day. The pacing is where the metrics of time come in. You can easily buy cheap running timers that will help you maintain the right pace — and once you know exactly how fast you can run one kilometer and 5 kilometers in… you can start to push it slightly and increase the pace.

Always stay hydrated: Whether it's a fancy sports energy drink, or plain old water, staying hydrated is simply vital to get you through each training session and to allow your body to exercise for longer. If you happen to be covering relatively short distances, then a regular bottle of water will do just fine. If you're covering longer distances, and it happens to be pretty warm, then a sports drink rich in carbohydrates and electrolytes will serve you better. One thing's for sure, always ensure that you're fully hydrated. As you sweat, moisture and electrolytes are lost from your body, and must be replaced. If carrying it is an issue, there are specially designed "hydration belts" which fit snugly and comfortably, and are designed to carry your bottle safely.

Half marathon training schedule: When you have established your baseline and know how long it takes to run e.g. 5 kilometers then you can start preparing for the 21 kilometers. I recommend starting training at least 4 – 6 months before the race, depending on your physical abilities and time constraints. Then break down your 6 months into e.g. one month intervals and gradually lengthen the distance you are running. So for example in the first month consistently run 5 kilometers e.g. twice a week. This will set a good foundation. Then in month two increase to 8 kilometers per run. In month 3 try 10 kilometers per run. In month 4 do 12 kilometers per run. In month 4 do 15 kilometers per run. At this stage you now should know your body and running capabilities very well. So in the last 2 months I would stay at 15 kilometers per run — and maybe once every 2 weeks or so do 20 kilometers. See how it feels to your body and how you need to pace yourself to do it. Importantly — the week before the actual run only do very light running — maybe 2 - 5 kilometers maximum. This will help your body that is now used to running longer distances "save up" and get ready for the half marathon.

I recommend starting training at least 4 - 6 months before the race…
running finish line

Always warm up and stretch before each session: Some people make the mistake of jumping straight into a training session without warming up and stretching their muscles. Warming up and stretching is a way of loosening the muscle fibers in your body, ensuring that the likelihood of a pulled or torn muscle is unlikely. Fail to properly stretch and warm up, and you could be in danger of tearing or pulling a muscle, which will put you out of action for weeks, or even months. Even more importantly is the stretching that must be done after the run!! Please see running stretches and warm ups

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