Trainer Tips: How to Train for a Half Marathon
Aug 2, 2022
How To Prepare for Your Half Marathon
Whether it’s your first time hitting 13.2, or you’ve been there done that, running a half-marathon is a great goal to work toward. Nothing matches the pride you feel when you finally hit that finish line. But, before you celebrate your win, you’ve got to put in the work - and that’s part of the fun! Training is exciting; it keeps you focused and gives you an excuse to really pay attention to your body and health. As a personal trainer (and an avid runner myself) I’ve compiled a list of tips that might help out.
How Long Do I Need to Train?
It depends on your running experience. If you run a couple times a week already, or just came off training for a 5k or 10k, you’re in good shape to train for as little as 2 months. If you’re coming off the couch, you may need closer to 4 months.
How Many Times a Week Should I Run?
Again, this depends on your goals. We tend to look at weekly mileage totals when looking at how often to run. Just starting out? Start with 10-15 miles a week, then work up to 20-25 and eventually maybe hit over 30. Intermediate to advanced runners, you’ll be working up to more like 40 mi/week. The more days you run per week, the less you have to do each day. The less days you run, the more you’ll have to focus on getting the mileage in on those days. Pick the breakdown that feels best for your body - too many days can lead to over training/injury, too few can lead to not enough conditioning.
How Do I Break Down My Runs?
It generally breaks down to easy runs, speed runs and long runs.
Two major tools of speed are a heart rate monitor or the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale. Heart rate isn’t always the most reliable (many monitors are not totally accurate), but it does give you a good ballpark about how a “fast” run should feel. Figure out your max heart rate by doing 220-age. Try to keep your speed workouts up towards 80-90% of your max and your easier runs 60-70%. RPE uses a scale 1-10, 0 being nothing and 10 being as hard as you could possibly go. For speed runs, keep it at 6-8. This intensity is something you can healthily sustain, but hard enough where you’d find it difficult to keep up a conversation. Easy runs can be more towards that 4-6 range - not very challenging and easy to talk through. Keep your easy runs EASY - try to avoid crazy hills or speeding up too much.
You can break speed runs up into sprinting splits (like 0.25, 0.5 or 1 mile sprints) or you can choose to do a longer run with a warm-up, cool down, and a couple miles of faster paces with built-in breaks in between. For both of these runs, you want to be running at a pace that’s uncomfortable, but doable for the mileage you need to do.
If you’re looking to hit a certain time, you’re going to want to put 1-2 speed-oriented training days in your cycle. This may break down to 2 “easy” runs, 2 “speed training” runs, and 1 long run per week. If it’s your first half-marathon and you don’t care too much about pacing, you don’t have to go crazy doing sprints and fast runs. It will be helpful, but you should put most of your effort on getting the weekly mileage and long run in without over training.
The long run is the one that will train your endurance. This is the one you’ll look back on race day and say “yes I can do this - I did it before!”. You don’t have to run a full half before your day, but I would hit at least 10 miles. One option is to increase your weekly long run by a mile each week. Do one long run a week and try not to skip!
Should I Strength Train?
Yes. Strength training helps you get strong for your runs, making you faster and able to handle more. It also helps prevent injury. Runner’s should train for STRENGTH. This means, you’re looking at lower rep, higher weight exercises. You should focus on your whole body, but it helps to hone in on movements that will improve your running the most. Core strengthening is huge here, as is single leg movement and anything involving your posture. From personal experience, working the hips and glutes is key, as this can help stave off low back issues.
You’ll want to fit strength in around x2/week, but research shows benefits from even one day of a short strength session, so don’t count it out because of lack of time.
When do you get strength in? Some runners get their hard runs and heavy strength in one day, tiring their bodies out so they can recover in subsequent days. If you do this, make sure you leave about 48 hours in between that and another challenging workout. Some runners like to use strength as a type of cross-training and do it in between their run days. If you do this, I’d have one day in between that and your more challenging runs.
If you don’t really know where to start with strength - look into personal training. Trainers are educated in ways to train sport-specific goals, and can help you design and practice a program that will take your running to the next level while also ensuring an injury-free race.
Recovery + Care
Recovery and care includes (at least) warming up before your run, cooling down after your run, stretching after your run, foam rolling regularly, sleeping well, and eating enough. It may also include things like massage!
You need to give your body time in between runs to repair and build - rest days. My advice is to have at least one day a week when you’re doing no workout. You can walk or do yoga, sure, but nothing with too much effort. Cross-training (including things like elliptical, biking, or swimming) can also be helpful here to break up your week with cardio that doesn’t have as much impact to it. 2 weeks before your half, include a taper. Tapering refers to the time right before your marathon that you start to take it a bit easier. Don’t stop moving all together, but definitely cut your mileage and heavy lifts. This is to give your body time to recover after all the hard training you’ve been doing so you’re fresh for race day. No, you won’t lose all you worked for in that time. You run the risk of injury and overstraining if you do not taper.
There’s a lot of information to take in and a ton of opinions about the right and wrong way to do things. The truth is - it’s trial and error. Every body is different and what works for someone else, may not for you. The only way you can learn is to try. If you want more direction, talk to a personal trainer. We can work with you 1-1 so you don’t have to trial and error all on your own. We’ll help you develop a program and work with you to get the most out of your workouts, your results and your enjoyment of training. Enjoy the ride and congrats on taking on this awesome goal.