Ask The Expert

How Long Does It Take To Train For A Half Marathon?

We asked a group of coaches and running experts for their best tips when it comes to safely preparing yourself for a half marathon

How Long Does It Take To Train For A Half Marathon?
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

How long does it take to train for a half marathon?

The distance of a half marathon is 13.1 miles, or 21.1 kilometers. As you may have already guessed, the specific length of time it will take you to prepare for a half marathon will depend on your current fitness levels and running experience.

We asked a select group of running and fitness experts for their best tips and advice when it comes to getting ready for a half marathon to ensure that you can perform at your peak.

Here’s what they said.

Most Training Plans Are About 12 To 18 Weeks Long

Jordan Duncan, Owner of Silverdale Sport and Spine

There are numerous half marathon training plans available, and most are about 12 to 18 weeks long.

To begin these plans, the majority require that you are able to run for three miles without stopping. Most couch to 5K (3.1 mile) training plans range from six to eight weeks. If you add these two training plans together, you are looking at 18 to 26 weeks.

Therefore, in order for a beginner to train for a half marathon, it generally requires four to six months.

Your starting fitness capacity will determine where you begin, and finding a plan that meets your current level of running ability will determine how long you will have to train.

The early stages of training may be the hardest if you are a beginner, but once you have adapted to training and built up a solid base of endurance, which includes improved muscular and cardiovascular function, it will be easier to increase your weekly mileage that is required for the later stages of the program.

One of the most important things to consider when putting together your running program is to make sure you set aside enough time to train.

Most plans will have you run four to six days per week, so it is a fairly sizeable commitment.

There will be days where you don’t feel like running, however do your best, and you will be rewarded if you stick with it.

Our bodies are quite remarkable in their ability to adapt to training. It is also important to listen to your body. When starting out, you will likely experience soreness, which should subside within days.

Pain, other than generalized muscle soreness, which lingers for longer than a couple days, should be addressed with a consultation with a medical professional.

Running apps are also very important, as they help you track your distance and pace. These are invaluable in order to make sure you complete your weekly mileage goals.

Woman Running in Park

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

A Training Plan For A Half Marathon Should Safely Increase Volume Over Time

Heather Hart, ACSM EP-C, RRCA Running Coach

Typically, a beginner should spend about 12 to 16 weeks preparing for their first half marathon.

I like to see runners comfortable with a long run of around five miles, and a weekly running volume of 15 miles per week before getting started on a half marathon training cycle.

Making sure they are comfortable with this minimum volume will help prevent overuse injury or burnout during the training cycle.

A successful training plan for a half marathon should safely increase volume (mileage) over time – for beginners, that’s typically no more than a 10 to 15 percent volume increase per week.

Multiple weeks of mileage building (typically two to three weeks) should be cycled with recovery weeks to allow adaptations to occur.

For beginners, simply focusing on building endurance is enough. Stronger runners can implement strength and speed building workouts into their training plan, but the focus should be on lower intensity mileage for a first time half marathon runner.

Lastly, it’s important to train for the race you are running! If you’re going to tackle a trail half marathon, be sure to do a large majority of your training runs on trail.

If your half marathon course has a lot of hills, train for those. Training for the course conditions will help you feel much more prepared on race day!

Running Race

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

A Half Marathon Is Challenging But The Training Doesn’t Have To Take Over Your Life

Whitney Heins, VDOT-O2 Certified Running Coach and Founder of The Mother Runners

It should take about 12 weeks for a beginner/casual runner to train for a half marathon.

This time period allows runners to safely build their mileage and endurance without risking injury.

If you build your mileage too quickly, you risk putting too much stress on cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and bones.

Most people’s cardiovascular and muscular fitness improves more quickly than the conditioning of these passive structures. That’s why about 80 percent of running injuries are overuse injuries.

First, you want to be running about three to four days a week. Consistency is key when building your aerobic system, so running roughly every other day allows for your body to adapt and grow the necessary structures such as mitochondria to better fuel the body during running.

Second, you want to alternate most run days to avoid too much rest and too much stress. Stress Plus Rest is the equation for adaptation. You need both to progress.

I recommend cross-training two days a week to continue to strengthen the aerobic system but give the passive structures time to rebuild. I also recommend one day completely off to avoid mental burnout.

Third, a weekly long run is key for distance races. You’ll want to start at about four miles and add a mile each week to your long run, capping the distance at about 10 or 12 miles.

You don’t need to worry about pace on these runs – take walking breaks as needed. Ideally, by the peak of your training cycle, you will have between 20 and 25 total weekly miles.

Fourth, running a race or two at a shorter distance than a half-marathon is a great way to improve speed and nail-down your race day routine.

These races, such as a 5K or 10K, would replace a long-run on a weekend. They will help you know what type of warm-up you need, what is your best fuelling plan, how you do with your pacing, if you have nervous tummy troubles, etc.

If you are running more, you likely need to be eating and sleeping more. Before long runs, aim to eat about 150 to 200 calories of carbs and protein.

And then aim to refuel within an hour of your long run with carbs, proteins, and fats.

Also, your body needs about an extra minute of sleep per night per weekly mileage you run. So if you’re running an extra 20 miles a week, you need an extra 20 minutes a night of sleep to help your body repair.

The half marathon is a wonderful distance! It is challenging but training doesn’t have to take over your life.

Woman Running

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Building Mileage Slow And Steady Is The Key

Bethann Wittig, RRCA Certified Running Coach and Founder of RunBFit

Training for a half marathon is a rewarding yet challenging event to complete. Beginner or casual runners should give themselves at least 10 weeks to build up their mileage and safely train for a half marathon.

Building mileage slow and steady gets to the finish line! The most important consideration is your weekly mileage.

Throughout a 10-week training program, build your weekly mileage from about 15 to 30 miles, incorporating about three to five days of running per week depending on your schedule.

When writing my athlete’s programs, I follow the 10 percent rule. This training idea explains that weekly mileage, or intensity, should only increase by 10 percent week to week for optimal improvement and injury prevention.

Trust the training! Training for a half marathon is a big goal, but it is absolutely achievable with the right training plan.

Starting a full half marathon training program may seem scary, but following a slow progressive program will result in a strong runner at the start line.

Focus on one week at a time, one run at a time, and you will get to that finish line!

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