A Half Marathon training plan for beginners

In the last ten years, the half Marathon has become one of the most popular races among amateur runners worldwide. Of course, there are many reasons for its increasing popularity.

Practically speaking, the half Marathon is a necessary step before the highlight of a runner’s journey: the Marathon. And as you have probably guessed, a half Marathon training plan is an integral part of this journey.

A useful guide for first-timers

A half Marathon covers a distance of  13.1 miles (21.1 km) — half the distance of a Marathon. Under the physiology microscope, glycogen stored in muscles and liver will be adequate for this distance. This means that “hitting the wall” syndrome may well be avoided. But, do training time and level of previous experience required for a half Marathon, enter into the equation? Well, from an athlete’s point of view, they certainly don’t pose obstacles for deciding to stand at the starting line. 

With this in mind, we would like to help first-timers overcome the distance with a useful half Marathon training plan; and we intend to do so in this post. However, let us be clear before we start. We will not be examining the case of the elite, or well-trained, athletes this time. For one thing, the insights we will provide are not intended for winning the race; they are meant to guide a beginner into preparing for it, with the minimum effort. 

Weekly external load: Two things to keep in mind

So, you want to train for the 13.1 mi distance; so far so good. Now, you are probably worried that you are going to miss out on other important things in life. Well, we have good news for you! You don’t need to forget about having quality time with family and friends. In any case, you don’t have to sacrifice a single minute of your free time!

All things considered, an average beginner can plan an external load (training hours or distance per week) that works great; as long as it is based on two key factors.

The first one is to find the perfect balance between training and recovery. At this point, the phrase “less is more” must become a mantra for a beginner; and it should be the first thought in program designing too — if you want to avoid injuries or the overtraining syndrome

The second, is to avoid falling into the trap of just repeating the distance every week. That is to say, running while having the belief that you shall perform better on the race day. And that’s a common issue coaches face. Instead, aim at an external load of 22-28 mi (⁓35-45 km) per week; it will take you to the starting line feeling confident. 

Making a difference with a workouts distribution

We’ve just suggested that 22-28 mi per week is good enough for a half Marathon. Nevertheless, there is something even more important than the distance you cover per week. Αnd that something is breaking down your training week into several workouts. 

For example: on one hand, we have a guy that does 3 mi (⁓5 km) daily (3X7=21 mi/week). On the other hand, we have a guy who collects the same tonnage (21 mi). Now, the second guy is using HIIT, tempo workouts, race pace intervals, long run, and whatnot. Will the first guy achieve the same results as the second? Of course not!

Consequently, we recommend that your program includes all the above-mentioned workouts. Thus, a good plan for a training week could look like this: 

  1. Monday → Rest 
  2. Tuesday → Continuous Easy 6-7 mi (⁓10-12 km), run @ Zone 2
  3. Wednesday → Tempo Intervals (2×10 min) @ Zone 3-4 (w 20 min warm-up and cooldown)
  4. Thursday → Rest
  5. Friday → VO2max Intervals: 8×1312 ft (⁓400m) @ RPE 7-8 w 984-1312 ft (⁓300-400m) walk between (HR zone is not a valuable index here, due to HR delay to response)
  6. Saturday → Easy run 5-6 mi (⁓8-10 km) @ Zone 1-2 or REST
  7. Sunday → Long Run 9-11 mi (⁓14-18 km) @ Zone 2 

Periodization: Optimizing your Half Marathon training plan

As you can read here, there are different models of periodization that you can use to optimize your training. Also, these models can help you achieve your peak performance at the right time. Being a beginner, the non-linear periodization may help you build on various parameters of aerobic performance. Then again, a traditional periodization (Base → Build → Peak → Tapering) will allow you to create a solid base; for instance, before starting to use higher intensity exercises on the build period. At the end of the day, the choice is yours.

Create your macrocycle

Above all, enjoy it!

That was it; now you have a chance off to a good start. Of course, there are many strategies you can use for your first half Marathon, in addition to our recommendations. All in all, we did our best to keep it simple. Hopefully, we even offered a few insights that will help you in your training. Oh, there is one last piece of advice we can give you; the most important one: enjoy yourself in the process!

A Half Marathon training plan for beginners was last modified: July 27th, 2022 by Aris Myrkos