Coach Jeff

Written by Coach Jeff

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Half Marathon Specific Training

While the half marathon distance doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of runners like a marathon does, it’s still a daunting challenge for the beginner and experienced runner alike. For faster runners, racing on the edge of your limits for around 80 minutes is an enormous challenge. For beginners, running a half marathon will require you to be on your legs for over 2 hours, which is a test of determination and preparation.

In this article, we’re going to outline the physiological challenges both beginner and advanced runners face when training for the half marathon, provide you with some specific workouts to address and train for these challenges, and then outline how you can build other races into your half marathon plan to stay race ready and break up the training segment.

The physiological challenges of the half marathon

For the advanced runner, the physiological demands of the half marathon mimic those of the 10k distance. From an energy system standpoint, the 10k is about 95% aerobic and 5% anaerobic while the half marathon is 98% aerobic and 2% anaerobic. This means runners training to run faster and improve their times must include lots of aerobic threshold and half marathon paced miles in their schedule.

For beginner runners just looking to finish, the amount of time spent running is the most important factor in training. Research shows that biological markers of muscle fatigue (aspartate aminotransferase (AST), creatine kinase (CK), lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) and myoglobin) increased significantly immediately after a half marathon and remained elevated for more than 24 hours thereafter. To put it simply, when you’re running for close to two hours, you’re putting a tremendous stress on the muscles in your legs and you have to prepare your body for this challenge in training. To do so, beginner runners have to keep their workout and long run volumes fairly high to train for the specific demands of the race.

Half marathon specific workouts

The physiological demands of the half marathon clearly demonstrate that the 13.1 mile distance is a blend of stamina and speed endurance (the ability to hold a fast pace for a long time). As such, half marathon specific workouts come in two varieties – stamina workouts, like tempo or threshold runs, and long speed workouts, like 6 or 8 x 1 mile. In addition, you need to mix in hard, quality long runs so you can teach your body how to run fast late in the race when you’re tired.

Half marathon race-specific training should start 6 weeks out from your goal race after a solid base building period. The length of your base building period will be determined by your experience level. Beginners will need 12-14 weeks of general training to be capable of completing the suggested workouts while experienced runners may only need 8-10 weeks to get ready.

Half marathon specific workouts for beginners

Week 1:

Threshold run: 1-2 mile warm-up, 2 x 2 miles at goal HM pace w/4 min rest, 1 mile cool down

Long run: 10 mile long run w/miles 7-9 (2 miles) at 10 seconds slower than goal HM pace

Week 2:

Threshold run: 1-2 mile warm-up, 4 miles at goal HM pace, 1 mile cool down

Speed endurance: 1-2 mile warm-up, 4 x 1 mile at 10 seconds slower than 10k pace w/60 seconds rest, 1 mile cool down

Long run: 6-8 miles easy

Week 3:

Threshold run: 1-2 mile warm-up, 5 mile cutdown (start at MP and drop 10 seconds per mile), 1 mile cool down

Long run: 12 mile long run w/miles 9-11 (2 miles) at 10 seconds slower than goal HM pace

Week 4:

Threshold run: 1-2 mile warm-up, 2 x 3 miles at goal HM pace w/4 min rest, 1 mile cool down

Speed endurance: 1-2 mile warm-up, 8 x 800 meters at 10 seconds slower than 10k pace w/60 seconds rest, 1 mile cool down

Long run: 6-8 miles easy

Week 5:

Threshold run: 1-2 mile warm-up, 5 mile alternating tempo (start with HMP and alternate with MP, switching each mile. Example for 2 hour marathoner: 1 mile w/u, 5 miles at (9:10, 9:30, 9:10, 9:30, 9:10), 1 mile cool down

Long run: 14 mile long run w/miles 10-13 (3 miles) at 10 seconds slower than goal HM pace

Week 6:

Threshold run: 1-2 mile warm-up, 6 miles at HM pace, 1-2 mile cool down

Speed endurance: 1-2 mile warm-up, 6 x 1 mile at 10 seconds slower than 10k pace w/60 seconds rest, 1 mile cool down

Long run: 6 miles easy

Half marathon specific workouts for advanced runners

Week 1:

Threshold run: 2 mile warm-up, 4 x 2 miles at goal HM pace w/4 min rest, 1 mile cool down

Long run: 16 mile long run w/miles 12-15 (3 miles) at 10 seconds slower than goal HM pace

Week 2:

Threshold run: 2 mile warm-up, 6 miles at goal HM pace, 1 mile cool down

Speed endurance: 2 mile warm-up, 7 x 1 mile at 10 seconds slower than 10k pace w/60 seconds rest, 1 mile cool down

Long run: 10-12 miles easy

Week 3:

Threshold run: 2 mile warm-up, 8 mile cutdown (start at MP and drop 10 seconds per mile), 1 mile cool down

Long run: 16 mile long w/7 x 90 sec surges at 5k pace w/5 min easy between starting at mile 10

Week 4:

Threshold run: 2 mile warm-up, 8 mile alternating tempo (alternate between HM pace and 10 seconds slower than 10k pace – start with HM pace), 1 mile cool down

Speed endurance: 2 mile warm-up, 12 x 800 meters at 10 seconds slower than 10k pace w/45 seconds rest, 1 mile cool down

Long run: 10-12 miles easy

Week 5:

Threshold run: 2 mile warm-up, 3 x 3 miles at goal HM pace w/4 min rest, 1 mile cool down

Long run: 16 mile long run w/miles 11-14 (4 miles) at goal HM pace

Week 6:

Threshold run: 2 mile warm-up, 8 miles at HM pace, 1 mile cool down

Speed endurance: 1-2 mile warm-up, 6 x 1 mile at 10 seconds slower than 10k pace w/60 seconds rest, 1 mile cool down

Long run: 10 miles easy

Incorporating 10k races into a half marathon build-up

During the build-up, not in the specific phase, it’s also useful to run one or two 10k races both to break up the monotony of the training and to help you better define your goal half marathon pace.

The best way to schedule these tune-up races is to include one about 6-8 weeks into your general build-up. This race will help break up the monotony of training and give you a glimpse of your progress. Then, schedule another 10k just before you begin the 6-week specific cycle outlined above. This will give you the most accurate picture of your current fitness level to set the right goal paces.

Try these half marathon specific workouts in the final six weeks of your training plan and watch your marathon PR come crashing down.

A version of this post originally appeared at competitor.com

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20 Responses on “Half Marathon Specific Training

  1. Quick question. When you say, “2 mile warm-up, 12 x 800 meters at 10 seconds slower than 10k pace w/45 seconds rest, 1 mile cool down,” does that mean that the 800 is 10 seconds slower than an 800 at 10K pace, or does it mean that the pace is 10 seconds slower than 10K pace? In other words, if my 10K pace is 5:30 (i.e. 2:45 per 800), should I run these 800s at 2:50 or 2:55?

    Thanks!

  2. I am used to work similar training for HM, but what are you doing in other 5 days in the week? Some easy running or 75% HM running?

  3. I just wanted to say thank you for this training plan! I used the beginner version leading up to my race on Sunday. I ran an almost 2 minute PR and finally broke 2 hours, after 3 unsuccessful attempts previously. Do you have a similar plan for the marathon?

    Thanks again!

    • Congrats, Jen! What an awesome race and I am so glad the workouts helped! We don’t have a plan like this for the marathon because the workout progression and long run progression needs to be a bit more individualized (mileage levels, strengths/weaknesses, days of week running). If you’re interested, we don have custom training plans available. Regardless, best of luck and thanks for letting is know about your awesome race!

    • Yes, you are reading this wrong.

      You skipped the bolded section where it told you this is the last 6 weeks of a training schedule. To quote the article: Beginners will need 12-14 weeks of general training to be capable of completing the suggested workouts while experienced runners may only need 8-10 weeks to get ready.

      So, you should have already done 12-14 weeks of training before starting these workouts.

  4. I am currently 2nd week into free trial customized training plan for 1/2 marathon race scheduled Sept 21. I have compared this training schedule to mine and I see very little similarities if any. There seems to be no threshold runs at HM pace or no speed work in my program like the ones posted here. I am quite concerned they are not in my plan and wonder why the discrepancy. I have done such workouts in previous training plans and know they are of great benefit.

    • Hi Dianne, thanks for the question. As a note, it would be better to ask this question on the site, either in the forums or stream so we can help you quicker (we don’t read comments as often as we do forums and the stream since we dedicate more time those we’re coaching).

      To answer your question – that’s because your schedule is customized. This is a very general schedule. If you look, these are sample workouts for the last 6 weeks of training. You are not in the last 6 weeks of training yet. When you get to those last 6 weeks you’ll notice you have every single workout mentioned here – tempo intervals, cutdowns, alt tempos, etc. Every workout is in there. It may look slightly different, again because it’s not a template (and of course because your schedule is in km).

      Specifically, while your likely looking at the “advanced” part of this article, advanced in this article is for people running 80-90km per week (advanced in my mind means you need to be comfortable running over 80km per week). Since you’re currently about half that we can’t just assign you workouts you’re not ready for. So, we’ve adjusted everything to make sure it helps you take the next logical step in your fitness each week rather than just throwing a template at you.

      Hope that makes sense. Do you mind if we move this to the forums? This will allow other coaches to answer questions and follow up faster?

  5. when you say 6 weeks out, the sixth week workout means the week of the race? isn’t that to tiring for the legs, body in the last week. If not, what do you recommend for the last week? Advanced runners, 8M @ HM would really chip into the race performance so something is out of order here. Please clarify.
    Thank You

      • Thank You coach.
        Also when there are 3 building block workouts per week, is it Monday the one you recommend as a rest day, or no rest days are assumed? I am working towards breaking 1:20 for the HM, and with leg length discrepancy of 1.25 in is a long journey, 1:34 in May 2012, 1:25 July 2014, both at 4600 ft elevation. If God wills I will do it, and workouts like ones you shared here are very beneficial. Thanks again.
        Best Regards,

  6. What pace should my long run be if I am trying to do a sub 2 hour half marathon.

    What is the difference between a long run and a long run easy in the beginners plan?

  7. Really looking forward to having a go at this. Quick question, in the threshold runs, where you say “rest” what do you actually mean? Is it a rapid slow down to a gentle run or a complete stop? Many thanks.

  8. Just wanted to say – I’ve been more-or-less following your 12-week training plan from competitor.com, which seems to use a lot of these workouts, and today I improved my half-marathon from 2:11:59 the first time to 1:58:50 the second time around. So thanks!

    Just wondering, though: I ran 20k at completely even 5k times and then the last km … slower. Much. Should I try to slow down at first to make a negative split, or just hope that the next time I’ll have the mental strength to sprint through the finish, since it really was only 1k that went annoyingly pear-shaped?

    • Thats great, but we are not actually connected to competitor, we have our own training plan. We would love for you to become a runners connect athlete though! It would be better to try to be more conservative at the start if you fell apart at the end. Here is hopefully a helpful post on how to do that :)http://runnersconnect.net/running-training-articles/improve-your-pacing-skills/ Hope this helps! Good luck!

  9. Iam planning to run my first half mararhin to be held exactly 28 days frim today. Previously I have taken part in one 10k race officially.
    Every week I have been practicing walk-run of 10k at local lakeside.
    My average 10k timing is 95 minutes. I know it may spund ridiculous, but iam interested to run half marathon.
    So please can you give your opinion on will i be able to reach finishline, within cutoff time of 3hr 20 min.
    I got nearly 4 weeks un my hand,
    Also please tell me if I have to discontinue my lowerbody weight training sessions, so as to go forward with the half marathin training.
    Thank you,
    Shobha

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