Our extensive guide on how to train properly for a half marathon gives you everything you need to know on every aspect of your training from warm ups to nutrition and everything in-between. So, whatever level you are currently at this guide will help you run a better and more enjoyable half marathon………..
Personally I think the biggest mistake a lot of runners make is not warming up and cooling down properly during their training and this can cause injuries and result in poor running performance.
Jogging slowly to start with and then gradually picking up pace is not a running warm up and yet I know for a fact that this is exactly how some people “warm up” ; I hear this from a lot of my clients.
Using a proper, running specific warm up routine prepares your muscles and joints for what they are about to do, allowing you to be at your best in training and, of course, on race day.
Because this type of dynamic warm-up prepares your muscles and joints specifically for running it reduces the potential risk of muscular injury, which is, of course, really important.
Some time ago I produced this video highlighting a 4 min running warm up routine which you can do prior to go for a run and, as it is only 4 mins in length it really won’t take up any time at all!
Obviously this is just part of a bigger routine as running warm up drills can take as long as 20-25 mins but if I showed you the full drill you probably wouldn’t do it, right?
So, take a look at the video and bookmark it so you can refer to it every time you go for a run:
One of the main reasons for this specific warm up drill is that you want to get your muscles ready to replicate the movements they undertake during a run; you need a little bit of tension, or spring, in the muscle rather than relaxing it or stretching it out before you run. The stretching bit comes when you have finished your run…………
Cooldown and Stretching
Along with the correct warm up, the cooldown stretches are probably the most neglected area for a lot of runners; you get to the end of your training run and all you want to do is stop and jump in the shower, right? Wrong!
First of all, make sure you stop your run at least 3-4 mins before you get back home ( or wherever the end of your run happens to be) so that you can walk those last few minutes allowing your heart rate to come down slowly and your muscles to cool down.
At this point it’s time for your static stretches and you should focus on the following stretches at the very least :
So, from left to right we have Hamstrings, Quads and Calf stretches all of which should be held for 45-60secs each leg. Holding these stretches for anything less just doesn’t give your muscles enough time to get the full benefit so count to 60 slowly in your head and you shouldn’t feel too achy the next day and be ready to run again!
In conclusion, the warm up and cooldown stretches play a vital role in your training for a half marathon because, if you do both correctly and regularly, they will greatly reduce your chances of picking up a muscular injury which, of course, means you can run and train consistently.
You Gotta Get Those Miles Under Your Belt!
So, now that you are nicely warmed it’s time to get out and do some actual running!
As you will see from the menu at the top of this post there are several elements to training for your half marathon but the most fundamental one, of course, is to be able to run the distance on the day and so getting long runs under your belt is vital.
For the purposes of this article we are going to look at a 15 week programme for your distance runs on the basis that you can already complete a 10k.
Most people move up from 10k races to half marathons so we should be pretty safe with this plan.
When you look at the training schedule below remember that this is just the plan for your long distance runs and we will be adding in your speed runs and hill runs to this schedule further in the post.
|1-3||6 miles||x 2|
|4||7 miles||x 2|
|5||7 miles||x 2|
|6||8 miles||x 2|
|7||8 miles||x 2|
|8||9 miles||x 2|
|9||10 miles||x 2|
|10||11 miles||x 1|
|11||11 miles||x 2|
|12||12 miles||x 1|
|13||10 miles||x 2|
|14||8 miles||x 2|
|15||6 miles||x 2|
On this training plan you will see that the distances taper down from week 13 and week 15 is the week before the race itself so aim to have those 2 x 6 miles runs completed early in the week so you have 3 clear days of rest before race day.
You Need some Speed in Your Legs!
When training for a half marathon you should look at two types of interval training in order to help you achieve your best possible time.
Include interval runs within your long distance runs, shown above, so that you get used to having spells of running faster during a long distance training run, otherwise known as tempo runs.
For example, you may be on a 5-6 mile run and within this distance you could include 1-2 miles at just below your actual race pace i.e. take the first 2 miles slow and steady, then run the next two miles slighter quicker than the pace you want to do on race day, finishing with a slow and steady last two miles.
For this type of training you need to know what pace you are aiming for on race day of course; let’s say that your race day pace is going to be 8 min/mile then your slow and steady pace for this particular training run could be 8.5min/mile.
You can split it up another way as well by running 1 mile slow and steady (eg 8.5min/mile) and then 1 mile at just under race pace of 8min/mile repeating this for 6 miles. So, the principle remains the same, you just set your pace according to where you are with your training.
If you don’t know what your fastest pace is you can very easily find out!
Find a fairly flat route around your local park or area and measure out 1 mile ( a lot of parks now have 100/200mtr posts or you can us a running app on your phone). Once you have warmed up, run that mile as fast as you can and I mean as fast as you can, so that you can barely breathe at the end! Record the time and you now have your fastest mile time; you can work everything else out from this fastest time.
You can also include specific speed sessions as part of your overall training.
The best place to do your speed interval sessions is a running track and some running/athletic clubs will host track nights where you can pay a small fee and turn up to train with other members, alternatively check out your local park to see if they have the 100mtr marker posts. Another option is to measure out some distances using a phone running app.
So, for your speed interval sessions, as with all training sessions, you need to warm up correctly and then run to your park/running track so that when you start your speed intervals you are nicely warmed up.
There are many combinations to choose from for speed interval work, and I have selected a few here that you might like to try:
|2min on/2min off|
|On : faster than race pace||6-8/session|
|3min on/ 1min off|
|On : faster than race pace||5-7/session|
|400m on/ 400m off|
|On : faster than race pace||5-7/session|
|Faster than race pace/60 secs recovery each leg||1/session|
So, in summary, you should aim to do one speed session every week and it can either be:
- In the form of a tempo run within one of your long distance runs
- A specific speed interval session on it’s own
A really important part of your training, even if your half marathon is a flat one!
In simple terms, if your race route is relatively flat then using hills in your training will make your race day experience so much easier and more enjoyable.
Equally, if the course is hilly then you need to make sure you have trained on hills, for obvious reasons!
When considering hill training you should look at introducing two types :
Make sure that your longer training runs, which we looked at earlier in this post, include a few hills along the route. They don’t have to be big hills; gradual inclines will suffice and in some cases will actually be more beneficial.
So, within a long run of, say, 6-7 miles you should choose a route that includes at least two decent hills and 2-3 fairly long, steady inclines.
When you take the hill/incline don’t sprint up it just to get it done, take your time to take on the hill and, over time, you will be able to run the hill and still have enough legs to carry on running the rest of the course.
It’s no good if running up the hill completely takes it out of you and you can’t carry on, so build up your hill running pace gradually over a period of a few weeks.
The second part is to work on some much shorter and steeper hills within your training programme. So, you need to find a fairly “short, steep hill” approx 15-20 mins away from your starting point so you can have a steady run to the hill itself.
The hill can be a steep road or grass/woodland area, whichever you prefer, but it does have to be quite steep!
The “steep hill” programme
This training programme works like this:
Start at the bottom of the hill and sprint up the hill for approx 35-45 secs
- Make a note of where you finish after a max 45 sec sprint (house number, bench or lamp post etc).
- Stop at this point, turn round or cross the road and jog slowly back down to your starting point.
- At the starting point sprint back up again, stopping at your reference point (house number, bench or lamp post etc) recording your time on a stopwatch. Jog slowly back down to your start point.
- Repeat this 6-10 times aiming to produce the same time every time ie if your first sprint takes you 42 secs aim to make sure all 6-10 sprints are 42 secs
- Once you have done your 6-10 hill sprints jog back home
- Over a number of weeks you should be able to increase the number of hill sprints in each session from 6, in the first instance, up to a maximum of 10 each time. Once you can do 10 repetitions you then work on reducing the time that each each one takes you.
So, that’s the hill training for you! Hill training is really tough but if you can stick at it (especially if your race day course is flat) then you will reap the rewards on race day.
Core and Gym Work
Being strong is really important for runners, or, indeed for any of us who take part in any kind of exercise or sport; despite this, so many runners neglect this part of their training and this is a real mistake.
To give you an example ; When Mo Farah was in the early part of his career he wasn’t always winning races and although he was getting in lots of miles in his training sessions, his coaching team very quickly worked it out that he needed some strength and power in his legs.
To that effect they designed a power and strength programme in the gym and the rest is history!
So, if it’s good enough for Mo then it’s good enough for you and me, right?
Here are a few strength training ideas for you to help improve your overall running performance :
Upper-body exercises are important for running as this area needs to be strong to help maintain good posture as you run.
Good posture is important whilst running, especially if you start to get tired towards the end of your run, as it will put less stress on the rest of your body and allow you to take in more oxygen.
Here are two videos to give you some ideas for an upper body strength and conditioning routine:
So, a sample upper body routine could look like this :
- Single Arm Cable Row/Press Ups 3 x 12 each
- Upright Row/ Rear Delt Raises 3 x 12 each
- Standing Dumbell Shoulder Press/Lateral Dumbell Raises 3 x 12 each
Watch these two videos for ideas for a lower body strength and conditioning routine:
So, a sample workout for your lower body could look like this :
- Deadlift/Lying Hamstring Curls* 3 x12 each
- Front Squats/ Swiss Ball Leg Curls 3 x 12 each
- Seated Leg Extension/Calf Raises 3 x 12/3 x25
*When performing lying hamstring curls, take the pads up with both legs and lower down with just one leg, alternating legs each lowering rep. This is because, in general, most people don’t use their hamstrings properly when running so they need to be strengthened individually.
Core muscles are nearly always forgotten about but, again, they are very important for running. A strong core can help prevent injuries to other areas of the body. These exercises will strengthen your core:
- Swiss Ball Back Extensions/Swiss Ball Ab Curls 3 x 12 each
- Lo-hi Cable Woodchop/ Leg Lowers 3 x 12 each
- Lying Single Leg Hip Raise/Side Plank to Hip Raise 3 x 12 each
So, begin your training schedule with one visit per week to the gym and make sure you continue with these sessions throughout your training programme.
In order to progress your strength gains, you can introduce more challenging exercises as you go through your schedule or simply keep to the same exercises but increase the weights you use.
Bear in mind you should aim to increase the weights you use by approx 10% every week.
Nutrition and Hydration
This section has has been written by our in-house Sports Nutritionist Claire Desroches. Claire has gone into some detail here, as good Nutrition and Hydration are vital if you want to run a good half marathon.
So, over to Claire:
You get out what you put in
You’re asking your body to perform a task that is close to its limits, so you can’t afford to not fuel it properly.
As well as getting your legs strong and improving your fitness, your training runs are all opportunities to test out your nutrition and hydration plan for race day – the golden rule is don’t do anything on race day that you haven’t done in training!
Although different strategies will work for different people, here are a few general evidence-based guidelines to help get you started:
Any runner knows that carbohydrates – that’s sugars, and includes everything from refined white sugar to starchy carbs like pasta and potatoes – are important for runners and all endurance athletes… but how much should you really be having?
A lot depends on how fast you run, how efficiently you run, how fit you are and what sort of diet your body is used to.
Recommendations for athletes engaged in high-volume training range from 5g to 10g of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight per day, so we recommend starting at the lower end in your early phases of training and increasing it as you need.
For example, if you weigh 80kg (176 pounds, or 12.5 stone), try aiming for at least 400g of carbohydrate daily.
If you are struggling with your energy levels but are eating enough overall, try adding 100g of carbohydrate for a few days, and see how you feel. Continue adjusting, and testing for 2-3 days, until you find your sweet spot.
So what does 400g of carbohydrate look like, and how can you fit that into your diet? Here’s an example*:
- 60g (3/4 cup) rolled oats (39g) with 300ml semi-skimmed milk (15g)
- 1 large banana (24g)
- 1/2 cup mixed berries (5g)
- 1 tablespoon raisins or sultanas (13g)
Total: 96g carbohydrate
- 2 slices bread (27g) with jam (30g)
- 1 medium apple (20g)
- Large jacket potato (63g)
- 1/2 cup baked beans (28g)
- 3 tablespoons sweetcorn (9g)
- 2 tablespoons hummus (5g) with 1 large carrrot (9g)
- 1 large or 2 small satsumas (7g)
Total: 101g carbohydrate
- 1 low fat fruit yoghurt (177g)
- 2 tablespoons mixed seeds (5g)
- 1 medjool date (18g)
- 100g pasta (uncooked weight) (75g)
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce (8g)
- 3 tablespoons green peas (8g), 3 tablespoons cauliflower (3g), 2 broccoli spears (3g)
Total: 97g carbohydrate
Total for the day: 411g carbohydrate
* To make it easier to see the high-carbohydrate foods, we haven’t listed foods like meat, fish, or eggs, which don’t contain carbohydrate.
We don’t like to talk about “good” or “bad” foods, and when it comes to long or hard training sessions or events, sometimes it’s best to just get the carbohydrate into your body quickly – so refined carbohydrates like white breads and pastas, fresh and dried fruit, and even sweets, snack bars and sports drinks can play a vital role here.
The important thing is to aim for a balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, and to make sweets and treats the exception – as you are training hard, you want to make sure you are getting lots of vitamins and minerals in to help your body recover!
Protein isn’t generally associated with endurance athletes, and yet it is every bit as important to you as it is to those pumping iron in the gym.
And no, you don’t have to use protein shakes – though they can come in useful when you need a refuel and don’t have a balanced meal to hand.
It is generally recommended that active individuals consume at least 1.2g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. If you are attempting to lose weight during your half marathon training, it is especially important to ensure you are getting your protein in, to preserve your muscle mass (which will help you run the race, of course, but also keep your metabolism from dropping).
For our 80kg individual, this equates to a minimum requirement of 96g of protein per day. The high-carbohydrate meal plan above already provides 89g of protein!
Here are some high-protein foods you could add in:
- chicken breast: 26g per 100g* serving
- salmon: 24g per 120g* serving
- beef mince: 22g per 100g* serving
- tuna: 17g per small can (72g drained)
- firm tofu: 13g per 100g*
- quinoa: 12g per half cup*
- brown rice: 10g per half cup*
- lentils: 9g per half cup*
- milk: 8g per cup of dairy milk, or 7g per cup of soy milk
- chickpeas: 8g per half can
- egg: 7g per average egg (60g) * uncooked
So you see, you really don’t need to be spending lots of money on protein supplements just to hit your targets! However, some people find that getting the right amount of food in on a heavy training day can be difficult, and protein shakes can be a quick, portable, no-fuss solution.
If you decide to add a protein shake to your nutrition plan, we recommend choosing one that includes some form of carbohydrate (often found as glucose, dextrose, or maltodextrin), to give your muscles the energy they need to recover from a hard training session.
One nutrient you don’t often hear about in performance nutrition is fat – and yet it is every bit as essential to your health and performance.
However, the amount of fat you need in your diet is a somewhat controversial topic, and preferences can vary hugely from person to person.
Generally, if you are getting enough carbohydrate and protein from whole foods (i.e., not just shakes and supplements), your fat intake should be adequate.
Try to prioritise unsaturated fats over saturated fats – so more avocados, nuts, and seeds, and less red meat and full-fat dairy – which will be easier to digest and tend to pack more of a nutritional punch. As always though, a balanced and varied diet is key!
Nutrient timing can play a role in your nutrition plan, and can get mind-blisteringly complex, but when in doubt, K.I.S.S.! (that’s Keep It Simple, Silly!)
Aim to have a full and balanced meal 4-6 hours before training, and a small high-carbohydrate snack (like a banana or a cereal bar) about 30-60 minutes before your session. If you train first thing in the morning and can’t stomach anything beforehand, make sure you’ve had a carbohydrate-rich meal the night before and have a high-carb snack readily available for straight after your session.
Try to have a snack as soon as you can after training; ideally high-carbohydrate with a little bit of protein (if we’re getting technical, 3:1 carbohydrate:protein is a good ratio to aim for). For example, a couple slices of bread with peanut butter is a good place to start, or a good handful of trail mix, or a fruit yoghurt.
This is often where a post-workout protein shake can come in useful – to see you through your stretches and shower, or whatever else you need to do. Within 2 hours of finishing your session, you should be sitting down to a balanced but carbohydrate-rich meal.
If you feel like you are struggling with energy dips (“bonking”, or “hitting the wall”) during your longer training runs, and the rest of your nutrition plan is sufficiently high in calories and carbohydrates, you might want to experiment with taking on some fuel during the run.
For most people, this will take the form of an energy gel or a sports drink (not the low-calorie sugar-free kind!).
Start with a gel or enough sports drink to provide about 30g of carbohydrate, about 40 mins in. Then refuel with 30g of carbohydrate every 30mins. If you still feel low on energy, try increasing the dose to 50-60g of carbohydrate, as long as your stomach can tolerate it.
This is where practice is absolutely crucial, as sports drinks and gels can vary hugely in taste, consistency, and formula, and some may just not agree with you – which isn’t something you want to discover on race day!
It is vitally important that you begin each training session – and your event – well hydrated. That doesn’t mean downing a litre of water or sports drink right before you start, but rather being well hydrated all day, every day.
Water, milk, juices and smoothies, soup, tea and even coffee all count, though as caffeine is a diuretic (i.e. it makes you pee) you shouldn’t rely on caffeinated drinks to make up your entire fluid intake. Water from foods can also contribute to keeping you hydrated – another incentive to get those fruits and veggies in!
The simplest and most effective way to monitor your hydration levels is by checking the colour of your urine – clear or pale yellow is good, bright yellow or darker is a sign you are dehydrated (though bear in mind certain foods, like beetroot, or supplements, can alter your urine colour).
We recommend using a “pee chart” to assess your hydration status both first thing in the morning and after training:
Even if you begin your run in a well-hydrated state, it is a good idea to take some water on board during sessions lasting one hour or more, or in particularly hot conditions.
Your rehydration mantra should be: early, little, and often.
How much you need to hydrate during or after a run will depend on how fast you run, the climate, your clothing, and your individual sweat rate. Sweat rates can range from 0.5L to 2L of sweat per hour!
If you are unsure how much you need to rehydrate, try weighing yourself immediately before a long run and immediately after (after removing sweaty clothing); generally, you will need to drink about 1.5L for every kilogram of bodyweight lost.
If you sweat a lot – and therefore need to drink a lot – it might be worth adding some electrolytes (mineral salts) to your water. Hyponatremia (low sodium) is a serious medical condition and is known to occur when athletes drink too much water after sweating a lot, but don’t replace the electrolytes that are lost in sweat.
If you are taking a sports drink, make sure this contains electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium). You can also purchase electrolyte tablets or concentrated electrolyte solution to dissolve in your water. As above, experiment during your training to find the right product and strategy for you.
It is worth noting that coconut water is not suitable for rehydration where electrolytes are required, as although high in potassium it doesn’t contain sufficient levels of sodium, but if this is a drink you enjoy there is nothing wrong with including it in your hydration strategy.
Likewise, if you struggle to drink enough because you don’t enjoy water, try adding some squash or cordial.
Remember to listen to your body, and to adapt to the conditions. Being dehydrated is the best way to ensure all those months of training and good nutrition go to waste!
Key Nutrition points to summarise
- Practise everything during training, don’t try anything new on race day
- Aim to get the nutrients you need from a balanced and varied diet
- Prioritise getting sufficient carbohydrates into your diet, and consider your protein intake
- Always pay close attention to your hydration status
- Listen to your body and find the nutrition and hydration strategy that works for you
Tapering and Afterwards!
Tapering is very important because, if you get it right, it will allow you to be at your peak fitness, fresh and ready to go on race day.
So, in order to taper correctly you need to work out your training schedule to enable you to finish all your “really hard” training approx 12-14 days before your race date.
Then schedule in fewer, shorter runs in the last two week before your race and increase the number of rest days.
So, a few pointers for the last two weeks of your training :
- Complete your longest training run two weeks before race day
- In the next week reduce your peak mileage by approx 50%
- In the last week before race day reduce your peak mileage by approx 40%
- Reduce your strength sessions accordingly
Remember, you will not achieve any gains in fitness in these last 12-14 days so you really need to follow these tapering guidelines.
If you continue with high intensity runs and training sessions you run the risk of injury or being over-cooked and not properly rested come race day.
Trust me on this one!
Relax and go for a drink! (not straight afterwards though).
So, as you come across the finish line :
- Stay on your feet and walk around for 10 mins whilst taking on plenty of water, slowly-don’t gulp it down!
- Stretch! Refer to our cooldown stretches at the beginning of this article
- Get a massage (plan ahead and book one in advance). You can book here!
- That night take a long soak in the bath with some mineral salts to aid muscle recovery
- Now you can have that drink, just a small one mind.
The Two Weeks After Race Day :
- Don’t stop training!
- Go out for a few “easy, short” runs to loosen off the legs with a couple of days rest in between
- Stay really well hydrated by drinking 2-3 litres of water daily
- Have another sports massage
- Book your next race!
So, there you have it, our guide on how to train properly for a half marathon.
We are confident, that if you follow the advice in this guide you will achieve a great time for your half marathon and, more importantly, enjoy it!