For runners there is no greater challenge than preparing for a significant distance race, whether it is the classic 26.2 mile marathon, or its shorter cousin the 13 mile half marathon. Both are great achievements, and each is different in the preparation involved to complete successfully. There have been volumes written on how to complete a marathon, but not as much on how one can go about training for a half marathon. Although more time to train is always beneficial, with this article, you will learn a basic approach to training for a half marathon in 10 weeks, regardless of your current conditioning and running ability.
Assuming that you’re already doing some running a few times a week, it is important to assess your current conditioning and ability. From there, you can create a training plan that will work for you, and not overtax your body. Also, you should evaluate your shoes to see if it is time for a new pair that will hold up under the increased mileage over the next two and a half months. Other factors to consider are your schedule, and what time of day is best to train, as well as how much time you can devote. Once you have gone through this process, you are ready to begin your training which can build on any running you have done to this point.
Training Schedule for the Initial Phase: Week 1 and 2
As a rule of thumb, you should be running a minimum of 5-6 times a week during the next 10 weeks, with at least one complete rest day each week. The rest day is just that: rest. You should not be doing any exercise on your rest day. Your goal in the first two weeks will be to create this consistent schedule and stick to it, in order to create a sustained training effect on your body. If you are used to running 3 times a week, just increasing the number of days will require some effort. So, you can almost double the amount of training you are doing by just running more days of the week. Don’t worry too much about mileage or time the first two weeks, just be consistent and perhaps increase your normal run by 10-15%.
Gradual Increases in Distance: Weeks 3-6
In the next phase, you will begin to increase your distance gradually. For most average runners, the half marathon will require between 1.5 and 2 hours to complete, so in many ways it is more important how much time you run each day than how many miles. Make your daily run at least 40 minutes or longer, at any pace. It is better to to aim for a consistent increase in time and distance during this phase, and allow your body to get used to performing for a longer period. While some people like a hard / easy day approach, don’t make the hard day so extreme that the easy day you are exhausted. It is better for example to run 6 miles one day and then 5 the next, rather than 8 and 3. In general, you should be training in this phase about 35-40% of the race distance on an average 5-6 days a week, so about 30-35 miles or a week at a comfortable pace. By week 5 and 6 you may want to go up to 50% of race distance, while maintaining your tempo.
Intensity of Training: Weeks 7-8
Now that you have your base of training and can easily run 5-6 miles a day, it is time to introduce some intensity. It has been shown that the greatest training effect occurs in the second part of a workout, when your energy is partially depleted. Then you get a chance to develop your ability to use your body stores to maintain performance, something you will have to do in the race. Therefore, make an effort to increase your running pace the last 2 miles of each run, and get your body used to pushing its limits and then recovering. It is better to increase intensity during this phase than distance, although if you like you can do a 10-13 mile run once to get a feel for the race distance.
Reaching a Fitness Level and Tapering: Week 9
The final two weeks you should be feeling ready to go and eager for the race. Don’t run too hard or far, but keep up your tempo and hone your fitness level. Be sure to eat well and rest plenty to allow your body to be at 100%. Right now it is more about building confidence than fitness, so stay relaxed but focused. Decide what your goals are in the race, whether to have a certain finishing time or simply to complete it.
Race Week: Week 10
The week before the race you should drop your mileage by 30-40%, running around 3-5 miles a day at an easy pace. You can take an extra rest day, and you should only run one or two miles the day before the race to stay loose. You have done the work and are ready to enjoy the race, the excitement and the challenge of putting all of your training to use. Good luck, and good running!