How to Train for Your First Half Marathon

By August 24, 2012Articles, Training

Ready to boost your race goals from 5ks and 10ks to half marathon? Here’s an eight-week training plan to ensure a smooth transition.

moving-on-up3 It’s no wonder that the half marathon is the fastest growing running event. The 13.1-mile distance is long enough to require a structured training program to keep you motivated for months. Plus, you earn plenty of bragging rights and a shiny medal when you finish! So, if you’ve thought about bumping up your race goals from a 5k or 10k to 13.1 miles, there is no better time to do it. Half marathons, which are popping up across the country, are the perfect distance for a destination weekend with the girls. Whether you’re training for one of The Women’s Half Marathon Series races, or another fun 13.1 race, here is how to get started on your journey.

A Solid Mileage Base
Before you sign on the dotted line, it is important to have a solid base of miles to support the training program progression. There are two programs in this training plan: The first program is geared towards those who regularly participate in 5ks and run three to four miles three times per week. The other is geared toward those who regularly participate in 10ks and run five to six miles three to four times per week. If you aren’t there yet, perform a pre-season build-up. Gradually increase the frequency (number of runs per week) by one session and your time by five minutes per run every two to three weeks until you reach the baseline mileage listed above. Remember, patience is the key to running stronger and longer.

A Recipe For Success
Every workout has a purpose in a structured training program. This lends itself to a constant stream of motivation, guiding you safely to the start line. Like every great recipe, it is the blend of ingredients that makes us a strong distance runner.

The long runs develop endurance, or the ability to run longer, more easily. The hard runs (speed, tempo, negative split) build stamina to run faster with improved strength and form. The cross-training and strength workouts balance your mind and body to prevent overuse injuries and mental burnout. The easy runs and rest days give your body an opportunity to recover and adapt.

Ebb And Flow
The eight-week program gradually progresses in duration (mileage and time) and then cuts back in distance (week 4) to let your body recover from mileage demands. The most important rule to follow is to use all your gears—run at the prescribed effort level (easy, hard) and allow your body to recover after every run. There is a significant difference between running for fitness and training for long-distance race. Fitness running involves shorter sessions at a similar pace, while training involves a variety of specific running workouts (long, fast, easy) that build in cycles to prepare you for race day. If you add too much spice to any recipe (run at the same pace every time), it becomes inedible (aches, pains and injury). The 5k-to-13.1 program focuses on building easy-paced mileage for safety, while the 10k-to-13.1 program includes easy and hard training efforts.



Training Key

EZ = Easy Run: Run for the scheduled time at an easy effort level 6. The easy run will allow your body time to adapt and recover from the longer, harder training sessions.

NS = Negative Split Run: Run the first half of the workout at an easy effort level 6. Dial up the speed to a slightly faster effort at level 7-8 for the second half, aiming to finish 30 seconds to two minutes faster. This is a key workout that will teach you how to pace in training and on race day. Think “tortoise” in the first half and you’ll have the stamina to pick it up in the second half and beat the “hare.”

SI = Speed Intervals: Run 10 minutes at effort level 6 to warm up. Run the scheduled number of intervals (i.e. four times) for two minutes of an easy jog at level 5-6 to recover. The goal is to run the final interval just as strong as the first. The secret to an effective speed workout is optimal recovery by easy jogging or walking to catch your breath. Run 10 minutes at effort level 6 to cool down.

T = Tempo Run: Run 10 minutes at effort level 6 to warm up. Run the scheduled number of intervals for five minutes at hard effort level 8 followed by two minutes of easy jogging at effort level 6 to recover. Run 10 minutes at effort level 6 to cool down.

LR = Long Run: The long run should be performed at a slow, comfortable pace (level 6). You should be able to hold a conversation easily. This is the key workout to build aerobic endurance and stamina for race day.

XT = Cross-Training: Also called “active rest” for your running muscles, cross-training includes Pilates, cycling, inline skating, swimming, etc. Cross-train at an easy-to-moderate effort level 6. Low-impact activities best compliment a long-distance running program.

ST = Strength Training: Includes Pilates, resistance training or strength classes twice per week (i.e. Tuesdays and Thursdays) on cross-training days or after easy runs. Strength training builds a strong foundation in your core, upper and lower body to support you mile for mile.