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The Ultimate Guide: Training for Your First Half Marathon

Updated: Apr 17

So you've signed up for your first half marathon...congrats! I am so excited for you – the half marathon is my favorite distance, and I’ve run over 20 of them! It is an exciting and empowering milestone in your running journey. While the distance may seem daunting, with the right training plan and mindset, you can cross the finish line with confidence. Keep reading and I’ll guide you through the essential steps to prepare for your first half marathon so you show up to start line knowing you can finish and have fun along the way!

Before we dive in, you've got to see these free running resources I made for you!

Running Foundation for a Half Marathon

If you're new to running or have limited experience, it's crucial to begin by building a strong foundation. Start with a combination of walking and jogging, gradually increasing your running time and distance over several weeks. Focus on consistent training and gradually build up to running three to four times a week.

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Assess Your Fitness Level for Half Marathon Training

Before embarking on a training plan, assess your current fitness level. Determine your average running pace, your comfortable distance, and how your body responds to different intensities. This self-awareness will help you set realistic goals and tailor your training plan accordingly. This will also help you pick the right training plan for you!

Seek Professional Guidance

Consider seeking advice from a running coach (heyyyy–send me an email with any questions!) or consulting online resources specifically designed for beginner runners (check out my level 1 training plans here). A coach (like me!) can help create a personalized training plan, offer guidance on proper form and technique, and provide invaluable support throughout your journey. If you have questions on any of this, please reach out – happy to help even if you don’t purchase anything!

Choose a Half Marathon Training Plan

Selecting a well-structured training plan tailored for beginners is crucial for feeling confident in running your first half marathon. Look for plans that span around 12-16 weeks and gradually increase mileage and intensity. These plans typically include a mix of easy runs, long runs, cross-training (strength training!), and rest days to balance your training and prevent overexertion.

Gradual Mileage Increase

Gradually increasing your mileage is key to building endurance and avoiding injury. Aim to increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10% each week. Include a long run every week, increasing the distance incrementally. This progressive approach allows your body to adapt and strengthens your cardiovascular system over time. I also like when plans include some less intense weeks (down weeks) so you recover – this prevents injury and helps when you have those busy weeks in your life outside of training.

Cross-Training and Strength Work

Incorporating cross-training activities such as swimming, cycling, or strength training helps improve overall fitness and prevent overuse injuries. These activities provide variation and give your body a chance to recover from running while building strength in different muscle groups. Aim for two strength training sessions, 20-30 minutes per week at the least and add one or two additional cross-training if you want or have the time. (Check out what I use for strength & get $20 off a year enrollment, plus access to me for any questions with code JENNIFERTSP20)

Practice Consistency

Consistency is the most important part of successful training. Stick to your training plan, making running a regular part of your routine (I think we have blogs we can link to here!). Prioritize consistency over speed or distance at the beginning. I like runs by time at the beginning stages of training because you’re not worried about running too fast or the run taking up too much time. You know how long it will take regardless of distance. Establishing a habit and maintaining a consistent training schedule will set you up for long-term success, through this race and beyond!

Listen to Your Body

As with any physical activity, it is so important to pay attention to your body's signals and listen to any warning signs of fatigue or injury. Fatigue is a part of any training cycle, but there is a difference between feeling tired and not being able to complete runs or workouts because you’re so exhausted. Pushing through pain can lead to more severe issues and setbacks. Rest days and recovery periods are equally important as training days. Give your body ample time to recover and rejuvenate to prevent burnout. If you’re finding you’re not recovered enough to complete workouts or feeling totally drained even after a rest day or two, it’s time to make some changes to the plan so it works for you!

Mental Preparation

Training for a half marathon requires mental strength as well as physical strength – 13.1 miles

is no small feat! Cultivate a positive mindset and visualize yourself crossing the finish line. Break the distance into smaller, manageable goals, focusing on one run at a time. I like to chunk it into the first 5k, the first half, and the last 5k. Celebrate your progress and stay motivated by joining a running group or finding a running buddy for support and encouragement. If you’re interested in a virtual option, check out my group training club, Run Strong Training Club.

Race Day Readiness

As race day approaches, familiarize yourself with the event logistics and course map. Practice your nutrition and hydration strategies during long runs before race day to ensure they work well for you. You should definitely be fueling and hydrating during half marathon training long runs and races. Lay out your race-day attire, including comfortable running gear and well-fitted shoes. Plan your pre-race meal and get a good night's sleep before the big day.

Training for your first half marathon is an incredible journey that will push you beyond your limits and empower you with newfound confidence. With a well-structured training plan, consistency, and a positive mindset, you'll be prepared to conquer the distance and celebrate your achievement as you cross that finish line. Embrace the process, enjoy the experience, and savor the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing your first half marathon. Best of luck on your exciting journey, I’m cheering for you!

I’d love to hear about your upcoming race – shoot me an email here and tell me what race you’re signed up for and how you’re feeling about it!

Need more resources to train for your first half marathon? Check out these:

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