How to Train for a Half Marathon

So you’re looking for a little challenge, huh? Maybe you’ve completed a 10K race and are looking to step it up. On the other hand, you may be dreaming of running a marathon, yet hesitant about the standard marathon distance. In this case, a half marathon may well be an ideal stepping stone: you’ll still be running a marathon, only exactly half the length.

Make no mistake, however: half the length of a marathon is still quite the undertaking, and should not be attempted without extensive training. You will need to build up your stamina so that you can last throughout the race. With this in mind, here are 5 tips to know when training for a half marathon.

1 - Start early

This will not be a walk in the park, so it’s essential to start training far in advance. This isn’t the type of training that can be crammed into a week–it will take time for your body to adapt to running such a distance. The length and intensity required for training will vary by individual, depending largely on fitness and experience levels. If you’re doing your first half triathlon ever, then you’ll need to start training at least 20 weeks before the event.

2 - Do cross-training

Cross-training is actually a way of developing stamina. It will keep you running longer without getting extremely worn out. On days that you’re not running, take part in light to help build up your endurance.

Swimming and cycling are also excellent choices, as they rely primarily on stamina and endurance. Swimming is most important here, as it involves the entire body; it simultaneously builds strength and endurance, increasing the body’s overall efficiency. Cycling, on the other hand, is an aerobic exercise in which endurance is equally vital. [On a side note, these are the other two components of a triathlon, so practicing here will provide a head start if you choose to do a triathlon down the road].  

Finally, you can benefit a great deal from mixing a mind-body intervention into your training regimen. The two most popular of these are yoga and Pilates.

3 - Target long runs and walks

Long runs are an important part of the training, as this is precisely what you’re training to do. It should be done at least 5-6 days a week throughout the 20-week process. As with any exercise program, the golden rule is to raise the bar gradually.

The objective is to be comfortable running about 14 miles by the time of the event. Fortunately, 20 weeks provides plenty of time to start much lower, and you can even begin with half-mile or quarter-mile runs your very first week.  In addition to adding distance each week, the key is to train consistently.

If you find yourself struggling to complete a long run during your training, you can also alternate running with short walks. If you “hit the wall,” try not to stop moving completely, even for a very brief period. Instead, switch to walking until you’ve recuperated sufficiently. Then return to running once more.

4 - Take it easy

By this, I don’t mean, “take your half marathon training lightly.” What I mean, rather, is that you do not overwork your body. Putting excessive and merciless pressure on yourself will not prepare you for a half marathon. On the contrary, it will only create complications in your body, even forcing you to postpone or cancel the race.

On long runs, only go for what’s manageable and comfortable to you. All too often, people ignore the pains they may be feeling in their body during training, leading to an injury either at the event or beforehand. Therefore, avoid going to the extremes in your preparation. With proper and careful training, your goal (for your body to handle 14-mile runs without overexertion) will just happen gradually and naturally.

5 - Have a healthy and a well-balanced diet

This plays a crucial part in training. What you eat will largely contribute to your ability to complete the half marathon race successfully. Since it is a long-distance race, a lot of energy will be required. Hence, ensure that carbohydrates make up a good portion of your diet. This will provide the much-needed calories and energy on the big day. Additionally, make sure you drink plenty of water to keep the body hydrated.