Training for a half marathon is an admirable, yet common ambition amongst those new to fitness. What that means is there are a lot of people out there who want to help you achieve it.


I’ve taken a look at a few of the half marathon training plans out there and tried to bring some of the best pieces of information together, starting here:


When should you start training for a half marathon?


Overwhelmingly, the advice is to NOT, go from zero to half marathon. Basically, you need to build a running base. If you are interested in the science, London’s Serpentine Running Club has a wonderful introduction that explains the ‘ingredients’ of their marathon running cookbook:


“The principles of marathon training are straightforward. Your body needs to adapt its joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons to withstand the impact of running, to develop a metabolic system which can provide sufficient energy to keep you running for anything from 2 to 6 hours, to develop a cardiovascular system sufficiently powerful to deliver oxygen to muscles over that period, and to build strength and flexibility in muscles sufficient to carry you round….”


Ok, their training plan is for a (whole) marathon, but the principles still apply and it’s really interesting, right? You don’t start learning to read war and peace by jumping straight into it – you start with smaller books first.


Of course, this should not put you off chucking in the sofa habits and setting a big target – but just like how you eat the elephant, take it one bite at a time.


Set training milestones

Any half-marathon training programme out there is really a series of small milestones to set yourself. A half marathon can be daunting. And as per the previous post in this series – you need to build your physical (and mental) strength up to the task.

I’ve seen plans that talk about distance goals – but for real beginners I am actually a fan of time goals first. Think about which might suit you better.

Distance goals – start with 5k and 10k

Find your local park run and just start going, you don’t need to enter a race. Get really comfortable with the 5k distance, you want to get to the point where this is your minimum training distance in a week. Entering into a 10k race is a great way to start with a small training programme and then get that elated, ‘I’ve achieved it’ feeling once you have completed your first race.

Don’t forget frequency. This applies to both distance and time goals. You should be getting out at least 3 times per week – whether it’s running, jogging, run-walking or an even more sophisticated combination with interval training and long and short runs.

A half marathon is 21km (13.1 miles) long. Once you have worked your way up to running 8-12 km per week across 2-3 runs, you are ready for a more serious half marathon program.

Time goals – start with half an hour

This is my favourite (and in my opinion the easiest) way to think about running – time. It means you need a watch, but any old time telling device will do. It’s my favourite way of thinking about training because its easy to measure; its easy to grow; and it’s the best way of overcoming your running mental block.

If you have chosen to run a half marathon, in the grand scheme of things, your guestimated finish time is probably going to be somewhere between two and three hours. This means this is what you need to practice – getting up to this point. Start with half an hour, build 5-10 minutes longer each run (do some shorter and some longer runs each week).

Try building your own programme with this –what is realistic for you? I’m keen to hear in the comments field below.