The Best Half-Marathon Training for Novices

January 15th 2020

A half-marathon is the perfect feat for someone willing to challenge themselves physically, but not quite ready for a full marathon. The 13.1-mile distance is manageable, and with the right preparation and mindset, anyone can finish a half-marathon.  

The half-marathon distance of 13.1 miles is the most popular running distance in America. Roughly four times the number of runners finish half-marathons over regular marathons. Considering its popularity due to the smaller distance and less stringent preparation cycle, half-marathons are a great way to gain a sense of accomplishment. The key to a successful finish is preparing the body for the distance without overexertion or injury. 

Common pitfalls that beginners come across include overdoing the training. People tend to over-commit to their half-marathon training plan. They might even ignore their bodies and symptoms of muscle stress etc. This results in fatigue, body pain, and even escalation of a minor injury (which can be easily treated). Other beginners don’t commit enough to their half-marathon training plan. This can lead to runners not being prepared on the day of the half-marathon. They either injure themselves or fail to finish the half-marathon, sometimes both. 

Finding the sweet spot between neglecting half-marathon plans and rigorous workout sessions can lead to a victorious result. 

Related: Top Marathon Runners and How They Got There

Schedule 

Ideally, a runner has to begin preparing for a half-marathon around 3 months before the date. The ultimate goal of running a half-marathon is to reach the finish line feeling strong. 

Runners typically have to fast-jog or run for at least a month before kick-starting this schedule. Newer runners can maintain a weekly mileage of 10 to 15 miles and gradually build up to 25 to 30 miles. 

Running at least 3 times a week in preparation can help alleviate physical stress. 

It’s important to get a full physical check done by a medical professional and obtain medical clearance before embarking on this journey. 

This half-marathon training schedule by Verywell Fit is optimal for beginners. 

Mondays: Set aside most Mondays as rest days. Rest days are critical for injury prevention, muscle building, and energy recovery. Don’t ignore the rest days. 

Tuesdays & Thursdays: Prepare and execute a thorough warm-up session. After warming up, run at a moderate pace for the designated mileage (this can be set up according to the runner’s stamina). Always remember to cool down body temperature and stretch after a run.

Wednesdays: Alternate Wednesdays between rest days and cross-training days. Cross-training can include a variety of other activities such as biking, trekking, brisk walking, swimming, etc. A cross-training session should ideally consist of 45 minutes of an easy to moderate physical activity that concentrates on building muscle endurance. 

Fridays: Repeat the cross-training activity schedule on Friday. Runners can switch up activities to eliminate monotony and concentrate on building up different parts of their bodies (shoulders, hips, stomach, etc.) Runners have to constantly monitor their body signs and not overexert themselves. 

Saturdays: Set Saturdays aside for a long, slow-paced run. Run the entire 13.1-mile distance at an easy pace. Remember to keep track of your breathing. It’s important to breathe easily and talk in complete sentences during and after the run to ensure that the runner is keeping a comfortable pace. 

Sundays: Sundays are best for active recovery. Run a short distance (optimally 1/3rd of the half-marathon distance) at a comfortable pace. If runners are feeling up to it, they can choose to do a small cross-training session. Always remember to unwind a training day with proper stretching. 

Modify the schedule according to your job and other requirements. 

Start training for the half-marathon by using the SportMe app.

Three women running on the road in the evening

Photo from Unsplash

Steady Pace 

It’s important for runners to pay attention to their pace. Keeping a steady, conversational running pace can avoid joint inflammation, injuries, and general burn out. Always end the run with enough energy to run another mile. Beginners tend to overenthusiastically run too far, too fast during one of their training days. This leads to energy depletion and can avert any desire to train further.

Loss of motivation is the biggest challenge to overcome as a novice half-marathon runner. Signals like sharp ankle pain, gasping for breath, excessive sweating, migraines, etc. are signs from the body that a steady, easy-going pace is not being maintained. Listen to these signs and let the body rest accordingly. Taking two recovery days per week during the training schedule is also recommended for beginners.

Realistic Goals 

Man running on the bridge at daylight

Photo from Unsplash

It’s important for beginners to manage expectations. A person with limited physical fitness cannot expect to finish a half-marathon. A novice runner who does not adhere to the training schedule might not have the required stamina and energy to finish either. On the other hand, it’s important to understand the physical limits of one’s body. All numbers provided in schedules and guides should be treated as a rough estimate and not a strict benchmark. Runners with pre-existing heart conditions or fractures should not attempt to run 30 miles a week. It’s important for beginning runners to analyze and understand their strengths and weaknesses.

Start as early as possible to ensure a suitable outcome. Stringent planning is good to an extent, but it’s more important to preserve health. Stick to the plan as long as bodily harm and long-term damage are actively being avoided. Finishing a half-marathon can give beginners a rush of motivation, but it’s also crucial to understand when to hang one’s hat up. 

Related: 20 Tips For Long Distance Running

Training Apps 

Training phone apps like SportMe are easily downloadable on both iOS and Android. These apps can be instrumental in planning and executing the logistics of a 3-month training schedule, including the race day. SportMe can map a runner’s routes, running pace, heart rate, blood sugar levels, and food habits. You can also find trainers to offer professional advice about your routine. It’s possible to connect with like-minded individuals living nearby and get in touch with expert marathon runners for tips and additional training. 

A solid plan is the key to executing a training schedule and the best marathon training apps do exactly that. They help set up plans and incentivize runners to adhere to the plan even when it gets tough. 

Diet 

Just as important, quality fuel is a necessity to operate a machine. A healthy diet is crucial to keeping the body fit. Eat a high protein diet during the training schedule to help cell recovery. A balanced diet also helps with maintaining energy levels and improving muscle strength. 

The race-day diet is just as important as the scheduled diet. Do not experiment with new energy gels, energy drinks, caffeine, or other foods on the day of the race. Loading up experimental ‘super’ foods can send beginners running for the bathroom instead of the finish line. Get adequate carb supplies before and during the race. Runner’s World suggests that 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour are essential for proper performance. Ideal pre-workout meals are high in carbs, moderate in proteins, and low in fat and salt. Digestion issues can really hamper a runner’s chances of finishing a half-marathon.

Adequate hydration is also important. Runners have to take into consideration a lot of factors like the weather, their body type, etc. Drink plenty of mineral water before, during, and after the race. Running for prolonged periods in the hot sun can sap up body water levels quickly. Excessive sweating can also deplete body water levels. Aim to replenish fluid levels by 30 to 60 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes. It’s also beneficial to have sports drinks with electrolytes after completing a long run. 

Clothing and Accessories 

Running is one of the easiest sports/ physical activities to access. In terms of clothing and accessories, equipment, and barriers to entry, running is convenient for most people to take up. But it’s also important not to neglect proper running gear, especially when running long distances. 

Running long distances is about making the body (specifically the legs) feel comfortable. Approach the nearest specialty sports equipment store and ask for guidance. Applicability of running shoes over different requirements is a tricky topic. It’s important to pick out form-fitting shoes with comfortable soles. Absorbent heels, a fit-every-size lacing system, and proper airflow are other factors to consider. 

Proper socks, tank tops, breezy leggings, and gym shirts have to be purchased. Contact an expert who can suggest products to match your exact requirements like body type, long-term use, etc. 

Final Note

Men running on the road at daylight

Photo from Unsplash

Running your best half-marathon entails proper training and regimented preparation on the day you’re going to run. In addition to pacing yourself for the duration of your training, make sure you’re in the right mindset on the day of the run and don’t try any new exercises or nutritional diets. Monitor your progress with SportMe, using our pace calculator and skilled expertise. Find out how it works here.

Related: How to Breathe When Running