Running a last minute half marathon? Expert coach Laura Fountain explains the basic training essentials you'll need to factor in
Half marathon training is a big commitment, but with a bit of juggling, it can be fitted into most people’s diaries. When you’re short on time, whether you’ve left it too late to get started or your week is full of other commitments, it can be stripped back to the bare essentials if you adjust your expectations for race day.
There are three main factors in any training programme and we call these, appropriately, the FIT Factors. This stands for frequency, intensity and time (by which we mean the duration of your runs). So when we think about the minimum amount of training you might be able to do, each of the FIT factors needs considering.
Got some time on your hands? Check out these half marathon training plans.
Frequency of your half marathon training
It’s not true that we ‘all have the same 24 hours in a day’. Some have commitments that simply don’t allow as much freedom to train. While elite athletes might be training six days per week with some of those days clocking up more than one run as well as having strength sessions thrown in, most recreational runners are going to be aiming for much less.
A good half marathon training plan will see you running anywhere from three to five times per week depending on your level and experience. As a minimum I’d like to see runners doing three runs a week, but if you’re taking part in other sports such as swimming and cycling, it’s still possible to train well with two runs per week.
Intensity of your half marathon training
If you were aiming to run a specific time in your half marathon, your training plan would include some tempo runs at race pace and some interval sessions to improve your speed. However, a half marathon is an endurance race and therefore the most important factor is building your aerobic fitness. So if you’re someone who struggles with speedwork or feels intimidated by tempo runs, forget them. Just focus on getting the miles in.
Your long runs are a priority as these will build your endurance and mental strength. Don’t rush these, you want to be running them at an easy pace that’s slower than you’ll run on race day.
Looking for a new challenge? Take on a sub 2-hour half marathon here.
Duration of your half marathon training
How long should your longest run be during your half marathon training? For a complete novice I’d ideally like to take them up to around 10 to 11 miles. It’s an important run for building fitness but it also acts as mental training. Each week your confidence will grow as you hit a new distance – something that you’re really going to need on race day. If you run out of training weeks, then building gradually up to 9 miles is better than training that increases up to 11 miles too fast as that will only increase your risk of getting injured.
How many weeks do I need?
There’s no universal minimum amount of weeks you can get away with when training for a half marathon. Someone regularly running 10k races is going to need a shorter amount of time than a complete beginner. Whatever your level, if you’re looking to run a half marathon that’s sooner than you’d ideally like for training, it’s important to be realistic. You might need to reassess your plans – is there a race later in the year you could focus on instead – and adjust your expectations. This might not be the race to attempt a PB, but you could still have a lot of fun if you simply make it your goal to enjoy it.