How to Train for a Half-Marathon

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 04, 2021
4 min read

Running a half-marathon is a big commitment, even for experienced runners. Knowing how to train for a half-marathon will help prevent injury and burnout as you work towards your goal

Before you start training, you should get prepared with the right kinds of running gear. If possible, head to a store that specializes in sporting goods and running equipment for some guidance. You will need:

  • Running shoes. Running in old, worn-out shoes increases the chance of injury, so it’s worth investing a little money into protecting your feet. Your feet and what kind of support they need will dictate what kind of shoes you buy. For example, if you have a unique gait or put extra pressure on certain parts of your feet, you might need special running shoes.
  • Socks. Standard exercise socks will do the trick, but if you’re serious about training, you should consider investing in socks designed for runners. Running socks wick water and sweat away from your feet to prevent slipping and blistering. You can also find padded socks and socks designed to be worn on either the left or right foot.
  • Shorts and shirts. Lightweight clothing that wicks sweat away from your body will help you stay cool. Tighter is better when it comes to running shorts and shirts, but don’t choose an outfit that will cut off circulation to your waist, legs, or arms. If you’re training in cold weather, get a pair of running tights and a long-sleeved top.

With this basic running gear, you'll be ready to start training for a half-marathon. Depending on your training conditions, you might want sunglasses, a hat, waterproof clothing, and more.

Many factors will affect your training, like how many weeks you can train for, your experience as a runner, your fitness level, and more. General advice for half-marathon runners will tell you to run three days a week and to dedicate each run to either speed, tempo, or distance.

Speed runs. These runs will help you run faster, but you should do these cautiously if you’re not an experienced runner. At a high speed, run a set of 400, 800, then 1600 meters, followed by a few minutes of jogging or walking. Repeat this for 30 minutes or less. If you feel an injury coming on or are sore from your last day of training, skip speed work.

Tempo runs. These runs will help you keep pace during your half-marathon, even as you get faster. Run at a slightly faster than normal pace for 2 to 8 miles. Don’t run for more than 30 minutes.

Distance runs. These runs will make it easier for you to run long distances. Your end goal is to run 13.1 miles without stopping, and during training you will build up to a 12-mile run at a steady pace without overworking your body. These test runs are a good opportunity to see how much fluid and fuel you’ll need during your half-marathon.

If you feel like your training is overwhelming, slow it down and focus on endurance instead of speed. Doing too much before your body is physically ready for it will result in injury! You should take at least 10 weeks to build up to your half-marathon.

It’s recommended that you drink 17-20 ounces of fluids at least 2 hours before you exercise, and 7-10 ounces every 10-20 minutes while you exercise. During trainings that last longer than an hour, drink a sports drink or consume an energy gel that will replenish your body’s sodium and carbs.

Although you’re training to run a long distance, you won’t be running every day as part of your training. Cross-training is an important part of building muscle that will aid you in building endurance and increasing speed. On your non-running days, you should participate in some other aerobic exercise or strength training. These exercises can include:

If you feel like you need an extra day to rest and recover, substitute running with one of these other activities.

One of the most important aspects of your training is listening to your body. If you ignore warning signs and push yourself too hard, you might not ever make it to race day. The best way to avoid overtraining is to recognize where you’re starting from and move slowly up from there. If you’ve never run a half-marathon, you should be more cautious than if you’ve completed multiple races.

Training for a half-marathon can be hard work, but you should do your best to enjoy the challenge and make it to race day. If you’re consistent in your efforts to train, you’ll be prepared to knock your half-marathon out of the park.