The half marathon is often the intermediate goal for those runners looking at doing their first marathon. It is also the longest distance running event that experienced runners can do without interrupting their regular racing and training program. For these reasons the half marathon is a very popular event. However, the half marathon is often overlooked as an important part of the build-up to doing a full marathon.
Whilst the half marathon requires a significant amount of strength and endurance it also has a large speed component. The combination of strength, endurance and speed makes for enjoyable training that can be of benefit to those whose longer term goal is a full marathon or better 10km time.
To read about a new concept in half marathon training programs involving only three runs a week please click here
Following are two training programs for a half marathon. One is for runners whose goal is to break the 100 minute mark and the other is for those aiming for a time longer than 100 minutes.
How do you assess your goal time for a half marathon?
If you goal is to go under 100 minutes for your upcoming half marathon then it is expected that you are able to run 5km in 22 minutes or 10km in 45 minutes. These times are only a guide, however, if you are not able to achieve them then it is likely that your speed will be a limitation in achieving the sub 100 minute half marathon goal.
If you are able to achieve these times over the shorter distances then with appropriate strength and endurance work you should be able to break 100 minutes for your half marathon.
Training for the Half Marathon
The training programs for half marathons outlined below will highlight the key weekly sessions that need to be completed during your half marathon preparation. Your weekly training program should be built around these sessions.
Key Sessions for the Half Marathon Training Program
Long Aerobic Run
The longer runs are critical to your half marathon performance as they provide you with the aerobic development, strength and endurance necessary for completing your half marathon.
It is best if these runs can be done over slightly undulating terrain as these rolling hills will provide maximum strength gains. If possible it is preferable to run on softer surfaces such as grass, dirt trails or sand. Softer surfaces will minimise the risk of injury, reduce muscular damage and allow you to better recover in time for your next training session.
The intensity of these runs should be moderate, as the objective is to improving your aerobic capacity. As a guide, your pace should be 20-25% slower than your half marathon pace. For those of you looking at a time over 100 minutes then the goal is to develop the strength and endurance to go the distance, therefore long run training pace can be as fast as half marathon goal pace.
For more information on how to prepare for your long run click here
Tempo sessions are an important part of the training program for half marathons. These sessions should be run at about anaerobic threshold intensity, which is equivalent to about one hour race pace (ie: the intensity you could hold for 60 minutes).
From these sessions some of the key changes youll be working towards are; boosting your anaerobic threshold, improving running economy and mentally conditioning yourself to maintain solid intensities for extended periods.
The tempo/strength session is an extension of the straight tempo session, with a greather emphasis on strength endurance development. This session begins with a tempo period, as described above, followed immediately by some short hill efforts.
The first hill effort should begin right at the end of the tempo period with no recovery in between. The intensity of the hill efforts should be about the same as 10km race intensity. These efforts should be done on a hill of moderate grade only (5-6%) with your stride length slightly longer than normal when hill running. These slightly longer strides will cause more force to be generated in the active muscles and superior strength endurance gains will result.
Between each hill effort jog slowly back down the hill as recovery before immediately starting the next effort.
For more information on strength training click here
Speed sessions are very important and often overlooked in the construction of a training program for half marathons. They provide neuromuscular adaptations that help to improve efficiency and technique. These sessions are often also used as a gentle introduction to intense intervals.
Ideally these sessions should be done on a track or flat grass oval. The efforts should be run at about 1500m race pace, or a pace that is fast but controlled. If you feel that you cannot hold your speed or technique for the entire distance of the effort then you are running too hard.
As neuromuscular gains are the focus, you should aim at maintaining speed and technique throughout the session. All efforts should be completed in approximately the same time. In order to achieve this have a full recovery between each effort, which generally means 2 to 3 minutes of easy jogging.
Whilst the intensity of these efforts is quite high, their short duration with the long recovery between intervals makes them relatively low stress.
For more information on speedwork click here
These sessions are your key “top end” intensity sessions and will be the hardest sessions you will complete as far as running intensity goes.
The aim of these sessions is to improve your sustainable running speed, anaerobic threshold and VO2 max (a measure of the maximum (max) volume (V) of oxygen (O2) you can consume during physical activity. Generally, the higher your VO2 max, the higher your aerobic fitness and the greater your endurance potential).
Ideally these efforts should be done on a track or flat grass oval. Efforts should be done at 3km race pace for those aiming for a sub 100 minute half marathon and at 5km race pace for those aiming for over 100 minutes. Each effort should be of a consistent pace with no surging. The recovery between each effort is relatively short and is specified in the training program below. It should be noted that this recovery period does not allow for full recovery.
This is the session that many runners get carried away with and try to push too hard. If these efforts are pushed too hard then the appropriate adaptations will not occur. Instead the sessions focus will become lactate tolerance, resulting in much slower recovery afterwards. Not achieving the key adaptations at the desired intensities will result in an inferior half marathon performance, so be sure not to push these intervals too hard.
For more information on Vo2 Max click here
If you are able to fit in extra runs during the week then they should be easy recovery runs. These runs are aimed at providing you with some additional aerobic benefits on top of your usual training load, but more importantly are used as active recovery between the key weekly sessions.
These runs should be of very low intensity an intensity that is simply an easy jog. There should be no stress associated with these runs and you should generally finish the run feeling better than when you began.
Preparing for your Half Marathon Training Sessions
The preparation for each of your training sessions is in many ways as important as the session itself. Inadequate preparation will result in poor training intensity and therefore training session goals will not be achieved.
Nutrition and hydration are important so be sure to eat and drink before all key training sessions (especially the morning sessions).
The other key aspect of session preparation is the warm-up. A warm-up should consist of a minimum of 10 minutes of light activity. For more intense sessions your warm-up should be even longer, up to 15 minutes.
The recommended warm-up begins with 5-8 minutes of easy jogging. This should be followed by some low intensity drills in order to take your muscles through an increased range of motion. These drills may include high knees and but kicks, as well as many other running-specific drills.
The next part of the warm-up process is used to provide a little bit of intensity to “kick over” your anaerobic energy system, as well as increasing the length of your stride to finish off your muscular warm-up. This includes surges of 10-25 seconds in length and done at around 5km race intensity. Shorter surges will be fine for your aerobic or less intense runs, but for your key intensity sessions longer intervals will provide a better warm-up for the energy system demands of the oncoming session. Your last surges should finish about 2 minutes before you start the main part of your session.
Static stretching should be avoided as part of the warm-up as this may allow the muscles to cool down and restrict the speed and power of muscular contractions. May people have traditionally used static stretching as part of their warm-up, so if it makes you more comfortable, include only a short 2-3 minute period of stretching prior to starting the drills and strides portion of the warm-up.
|Pace for Half Marathon Training||Notes|
|Long Aerobic Run||20% slower than half marathon goal pace||Moderate, should be neither hard nor easy. Run solid and strong.|
|Speed Intervals (on track)||1,500m race pace||Not a total sprint, maintain control and technique|
|VO2 Intervals (on track)||5km race pace||A very hard session but each effort should be at an even pace and not be run faster than 5km race pace.|
|Tempo||60min race intensity||Can be completed over a hilly circuit. Intensity should be firm but sustainable.|
|Strength Efforts (hill efforts)||Approx 10km race intensity||On a hill of moderate grade. Stride length should not be shortened too much for the hill.|
12 Week Training Program for Half Marathons
Sub 100 Minute Half Marathon Training Program
|Week Number||Long Aerobic||Tempo/Strength||Speed||VO2||Medium Long Aerobic|
|Week 1||80 min||4x4min with 3min recov.||4x200m||–||30 min recovery|
|Week 2||95 min||4x5min with 2min recov.||4x300m||–||40 min recovery|
|Week 3||100 min||6x4min with 2min recov.||5x200m||–||50 min recovery|
|90 min||1x10min||4x200m||–||60 min recovery|
|Week 5||105 min||2x8mins with 3 mins recovery||5x200m||–||50 min recovery|
|Week 6||110 min||2x12min with 5 mins recovery||5x300m||–||40-45 min recovery|
|Week 7||100 min||6min tempo then 4x90sec strength efforts||–||5x800m with 2min recov.||70 min recovery|
|Week 8||120 min||10min tempo then 3x90sec strength efforts||–||4x1000m with 2min recov.||40 min recovery|
|90 min||8min tempo then 4x90sec strength efforts||–||6x600m with 90sec recov.||60-70 min recovery|
|Week 10||110 min||12min tempo then 5x90sec strength efforts||–||4x800m with 90sec recov.||50 min recovery|
|Week 11||90 min||2x12min with 4 min recov.||–||5x1000m with 2min recov.||60 min recovery|
|–||2x5min with 5 min recov.||–||4x600m with 2min recov.||30 min recovery|
Suggested Weekly Training Structure – Sub 100 min – Half Marathon Training Program
|Rest or Recovery||Speed or VO2||Medium Long or Recovery||Day Off||Tempo/cruise intervals/strength||Rest or Recovery||Long Aerobic|
Over 100 Minute Half Marathon Training Program
|Week Number||Long Aerobic||Tempo/Strength||Speed||VO2|
|Week 1||80 min||4x3min with 2min recov.||4x150m||–|
|Week 2||95 min||3x5min with 3min recov.||4x200m||–|
|Week 3||105 min||4x5min with 2min recov.||4x250m||–|
|90 min||2x8min with 3min recov.||5x150m||–|
|Week 5||115 min||2x10mins with 5 mins recovery||4x250m||–|
|Week 6||130-140 min||1x12min||4x300m||–|
|Week 7||100 min||8min tempo then 4x90sec strength efforts||–||4x600m with 2min recov.|
|Week 8||130-140 min||6min tempo then 3x90sec strength efforts||–||4x800m with 2min recov.|
|100 min||12min tempo then 4x90sec strength efforts||–||6x400m with 90sec recov.|
|Week 10||110 min||2x12min with 5 mins recovery||–||5x600m with 90sec recov.|
|Week 11||80 min||2x12min with 6 min recov.||–||4x1000m with 2 & 1/2 min recov.|
|–||Recovery with strides||–||4x400m with 2min recov.|
Suggested Weekly Training Structure – Over 100 min – Half Marathon Training Program
|Day Off||Speed or VO2||Recovery||Day Off||Tempo/cruise intervals/strength||Rest or Recovery||Long Aerobic|
You now have your key training sessions for each week leading into the half marathon. Your next important step is structuring the program so that each week you can achieve your weekly goals by completing the scheduled sessions, but also allowing enough recovery at appropriate times to ensure you get the maximum adaptations from all key training sessions.
To make this a little easier some suggested weekly structures are outlined above, one for each training program. You will note that all intense sessions need to have a day off or an easy day prior to the interval training day. It also highlights the importance of allowing adequate recovery prior to and after your weekly long run.
Your minimum training frequency should allow for all key session to be fitted in. On top of this, other runs should be short and easy recovery runs, as described in the training session section. It is suggested that most runners have at least one day off per week, which should ideally be after the weekly long run.
It is important to plan your weekly training schedule so that it fits in with your other commitments, such as work, family and study. A marathon training program that is not structured around outside commitments will commonly get interrupted and sessions will end up being missed. Do not aim too high by trying to squeeze too much half marathon training into a busy lifestyle. The worst thing you can do is overtrain. Be realistic when setting your half marathon training goals and your weekly training structure.
The Final Touches of your Half Marathon Performance
You now have a well structured half marathon training program with your key sessions outlined, which should allow you to get into good run form leading into your competition. The final preparation now involves the half marathon itself, with the two key issues being pacing and nutrition. As these are complete topics in themselves, here is a brief overview.
Half Marathon Pacing
The best pacing strategy for a runner aiming for less that 100 minutes in the half marathon is to run as close to even splits as possible throughout the event. Most people make the mistake of going out too hard. Choose your goal speed and aim for this from the very first kilometre. For those running over 100 minutes it is best to start out slightly slower than your average pace. This will minimise the severity of fatigue later in the event. Do a self-assessment at the 5, 10 and 15km mark to see how you are feeling. If all is going ok and you are feeling strong build the pace a little as the event unfolds.
Pre-event nutrition is important leading into your half marathon. However, during-event nutrition is also important, especially for those runners taking longer than 100 minutes. Fluid (preferably a sports drink) should be consumed at all drink stations, as well as an energy gel at about ½ way for those sub 100 minute runners. For the over 100 minute runners carbohydrate intake becomes even more important as you are competing for longer. On top of the frequent sports drink, have an energy gel at the 8 and 15 kilometre marks. Scientific sports drinks can increase your endurance by helping metabolize (burn) your body fat so it becomes a long lasting energy supply. Sports nutrition for marathon runners is obviously a large topic. For more detailed information on sports nutrition click here
To learn about a sports drink, used by Olympic gold marathoners, that converts your body fat into energy to improve your marathon endurance click here
This program should help you work towards you half marathon goal, providing a good mix of intensity, strength and aerobic work to allow you to reach your potential. In the longer term, distance running performance is very much based on training background and/or the number of years spent training. Therefore you will find that your performance will develop over coming years, provided you follow an appropriate training program. This is especially true for those runners with less that 2-3 years in the sport.
Best of luck for your half marathon.
PS: If you want to read about a new concept in half marathon training programs involving only three runs a week please click here
Half Marathon Frequently Asked Questions
How long should my recovery be after the half marathon?
Every runner recovers at different rates. This is largely dependent on training background and training volume. If you are a runner who has been running for less than three years, or you have not done a lot of training leading into the half marathon, then it would be best to allow for two weeks of recovery. This recovery period should initially involve some days off and light walking, swimming or cycling. This activity will enhance your recovery. Towards the end of this period you may start doing some very low intensity short jogs. It is very important to use your judgement, based on how you feel, to determine when to fully restart run training.
If the half marathon was a major goal that you worked towards, then it is generally a good rule to have two weeks off (may include some cross training) after the event to allow for both physical and mental recovery.
How long after completing my first half marathon can I move up to the marathon?
If you are using your half marathon as a stepping stone to the full marathon it will be very important to have a mental and physical break after the half marathon. So take two weeks off running and just complete some light aerobic cross training if you wish to do any training at all.
If you completed the half marathon quite comfortably and did your two-hour runs prior to the event, finishing in good shape, then the full marathon is an option. If these runs were a struggle then it may be worth getting another half marathon and the associated training under your belt before you look at the full marathon.
Assuming your goal is after the half marathon is to move up to the full distance, then a preparation period of 4-5 months would be required for those runners attempting their first marathon. A good general rule is that you will need to be capable of completing two hour long runs about three months out from your target marathon.
How can I use the speed work I did for my half marathon to run a new PB for 10km?
During the half marathon preparation you will have developed a good level of strength and endurance both good characteristics when targeting a 10km. The advantage of half marathon training is that you will not have lost much speed in your preparation and therefore you should be in quite good condition for a 10km.
After the half marathon it will be important to allow adequate recovery (see above) before starting to touch up your speed for the 10km. If you recover quite quickly then it is feasible to compete in a 10km about 4-6 weeks after the half marathon with the aim of running a good time.
You will have the endurance so just continue to touch this up with weekly long runs of moderate duration. Your focus however should be on interval work and more specifically VO2 sessions to start getting you on track to maintaining a consistent speed throughout the 10km.