How to Train for a Half Marathon in Six Months
Running a half marathon is a lofty goal. Most training plans consist of 12 to 20 weeks of training, so six solid months will give you ample time to build a base and hone your performance. Regular training is essential if you want to finish 13.1 miles feeling strong and without injury or excessive soreness.
Spend the first four to eight weeks building a running base. Master going 3 miles or farther three to four times per week. If you are not currently running, start with a brisk walk and add in short bursts of jogging that last 30 to 90 seconds. Increase the length of the running intervals gradually over the course of several weeks until you are able to go the three miles multiple times during the week.
Start your official training 16 weeks prior to the race. During the first week, plan to run at least four times per week.
Plan one running day to focus on speed. Do intervals ranging from 400 m to 1,600 m -- one to four loops on a track -- with 400-m rest intervals done at a walk or light jog. Run these intervals at a speed faster than your half-marathon goal pace to improve your leg turnover and enhance your ability to use oxygen, or VO2 max. Use a track, treadmill or pre-measured course for these drills.
Focus on tempo running for a second day of your running. In the first weeks, make your tempo run last just 2 to 3 miles and gradually work up to a tempo run of 5 to 8 miles, depending on your fitness level. Start a tempo run at an easy pace for 1/2 to a full mile and then pick up your pace to your 10K speed or, if you haven't run a 10K, to a speed that feels uncomfortable, but sustainable. Leave at least one day between your speed work and your tempo run. Perform light cross-training or rest between these two hard run days. Tempo runs teach you to run quickly for a sustained period and are vital for a strong race-day performance.
Make the third day of your running a long run. Plan this run for a weekend day or another day during the week that you have an extended period to devote to your run. In week one of the 16 weeks, start with a long run of just 3.5 to 4 miles. Add a mile each week to the long run to extend the distance. Every three or four weeks, make your long run last just six miles to give your body a break from distance. Pick back up the next week where you left off. Run the long runs at a moderate pace -- you could run with a friend so conversation keeps you from going too fast and wearing your body out.
Plan for cross-training and one easy run day per week. Make the easy run day last just 2 to 3 miles. Cross-train at least one, and maybe two, days per week with a low-impact cardio activity such as cycling or swimming. You could also perform light strength training.
Allow for at least one day of total rest per week. Make this day consist of informal exercise, such as a walk with friends or family, or no exercise at all. Rest permits your body to restore itself after hard training.
Lighten up on your training the week prior to the half marathon. Plan to run just two times the week leading up the race and cut back on the distance and intensity of these runs. Rest from all formal exercise the two days before the race so you are fresh on race day.
If you are unable to run 3 miles straight several times per week by week 8 of your training, consider defaulting to a shorter distance such as a 10K.
If you feel any pain during training, stop immediately. If the pain subsides, you can resume your training plan, but if it lingers for several days, consult a physician to ensure you don't have a serious injury.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.