[Updated] 12 week half marathon training plan
This Plan Now Includes The “Runner’s 4X Routine”
The half marathon is the most popular race in America. Running 13.1 miles is not easy, but as long as you put in the training, it’s a relatively “friendly distance.” Beginners who have completed a 5K or 10K, think of the half marathon as the next step up. Many experienced runners like half marathons, because they are easier to train for and race 13.1 miles compared to a full marathon. The purpose of this article is to provide a 12 week half marathon training plan that you can follow. If your ultimate goal is 26.2 miles, a 13.1 mile race offers a good starting point. However, if completing a half marathon is your goal, I can assure you that crossing the finish line will give you a feeling of great accomplishment.
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I have prepared many beginner half-marathoners. This step by step interactive plan increases the weekly mileage and is designed to challenge middle age athletes while also minimizing the risk of training too hard. The plan allows athletes to build endurance and ultimately taper properly. Before starting to train for a half marathon, you need to possess a basic fitness level. But assuming no major problems, most healthy people can train themselves to complete a 13.1-mile race. This half marathon training plan assumes you have the ability to run 3 – 4 miles without stopping, three to four times a week and have been doing so for the last 6 months. Basically, you need a fitness & mileage base before you start training for a half marathon. If that seems difficult, consider a shorter distance for your first race.
In order to ensure your success, I strongly recommend that you follow my proven 4X Runner’s Routine. Details are below, but in short, this routine is as simple as “doing the little things,” but making them a part of your daily routine.
Runner’s 4X Routine
In order to become a faster & stronger runner, we need to employ the strategy of STRESS + REST = SUCCESS. My 4X Runner’s Routine will help with the REST portion. You will engage in the STRESS portion when completing your training plan.
The Runner’s 4X Routine increases strength, improves flexibility, fuels peak performance & help’s us stay motivated to train.
Strength & flexibility exercises go together because they help prevent injury and ensure we have a healthy runner’s body. These exercises are essential because when performed 2-3 times per week, they will aid in preventing a variety of injuries. If you get in the habit of completing these and eventually other exercises, you’ll be stronger, faster and able to run more efficiently.
In my article about periodization strength training, I reveal a proven strategy of starting with bodyweight exercises, then transitioning to light weights (such as dumbbells) and then finally heavier weights where you can perform repeat deadlifts with a barbell with 100+ lbs.
If you’re new to strength training, start with body weight exercises that can be performed almost anywhere. An example is this Level 1 conditioning & strength training routine which can be completed in the first 2 – 3 weeks of your training plan. Level 2 (slightly harder) exercises can be implemented in subsequent weeks through week 6. Instructions for each exercise are explained in the videos. Twice weekly strength training with resistance bands & then eventually to 8,10 – 25 lb dumbbells should continue throughout your training plan.
All of the athletes whom I coach complete regular strength training and all of them have noted the improvements to their performance over time.
Daily exercises to relieve muscle soreness and aid in recovery are essential. These exercises detailed below form the 2nd pillar of the 4X Runner’s Routine and will help to prevent injuries as well as improving stride length & running economy.
Active Isolated Stretches (AIS) & rope stretches should become a daily (or every other day) part of every runner’s routine. Watch the following video to the see the stretches that I complete daily.
Rope stretching can be completed with jump rope or 6 – 8 ft of 1/2” width. Rope stretching helps to get more oxygen and blood flow to your muscles. Regular rope stretching also helps to improve range of motion. I recommend complete this for 5 – 7 minutes/session.
Foam rolling is critical to my runners’ success. Foam rolling relieves muscle tightness & improves circulation. Daily or after longer/harder workouts. How to complete foam rolling exercises. You can also click over to the blog post that I completed a few years ago for images, “how to” and a full discussion about the importance of foam rolling.
Another “must do” warm up exercise prior to any exercise is leg swings and lunges. This routine is included with all of my plans.
Maintaining A Positive Mental Attitude Through Your Training
If you stay motivated to train, you’ll dramatically increase your chances of achieving your goals. The challenge is “life happens” and it’s not always easy to keep training when you’re race is month’s away or if you’re having challenges keeping up with your plan. Developing more self discipline is an essential skill for those who are training for a long race like a half marathon.
If you can set goal properly at the outset, then you’ll have a greater chance of staying motivated. I use these 9 proven tips to develop self discipline to help many athletes over the years. If mental toughness is your challenge, you’ll find my strategies in this post.
Fuel Peak Performance
Nutrition is the last pillar of the 4X Runner’s Routine. A healthy diet and the choices you make on a daily basis can affect your health and performance. Eating well is the foundation for being healthy. Whether you’re training for a marathon or any other race, I strongly recommend consuming a diet that is high in natural foods. Download the short paper on nutrition for runners. I also offer this list of runner’s recovery foods, which has helped many athletes to not only fuel peak performance, but also speed recovery.
This plan includes some specific pacing for the workouts. Use the above pacing charts for guidance, but feel free to adjust. When I write out plans for athletes whom I coach, I like to include a range for the paces. This helps the athlete so they don’t get too worried if they’re slightly off.
Since this free plan is designed for beginners, I recommend that runs designated as “easy” be completed at a comfortable / conversational pace. If you can’t do that, then you’re probably running too fast. (If you run using a heart rate monitors, your target zone should be between 65 and 75 percent of your maximum pulse rate.)
The training schedule dictates workouts at distances, from 3 to 11 miles. Don’t worry about running precisely those distances, just try to come close. If you’re longest run prior to the race is only 8 miles, you’ll likely struggle to finish the entire 13.1 miles. Simply do your best to pick courses through the neighborhood or in some scenic bike paths or nature trails. In deciding where to train, talk to other runners. If you’re not certain of distances, there’s many GPS watches make measuring courses easy.
The key to success with the half marathon is the long run. Fortunately, you don’t have to complete any 20 milers. However the 10 – 11 mile runs will help to build your endurance and get you closer to your goal of completing the half marathon. Pacing for these runs is supposed to be easy/conversational. What’s most important on these runs is to listen to your body while completing them and back off if you feel like you are having any pain. As you can see in the plan, I will have you progressively increasing your long runs each weekend. So, over the 12 weeks, your longest run will increase from 3 to 11 miles. During the last 2 weeks prior to the race, you’ll taper (less mileage, similar intensity) and then you’ll race the full 13.1 miles. Even though the schedule below suggests doing your long runs on Saturdays, you can do easily complete them Sundays.
If you’re interested in joining me, I can put together either a custom training plan or I can personally coach you. Either program will be specific to your goals and athletic abilities. Just click on the links for details.
Rest is essential to your success. In fact, remember this formula, stress+rest=success. There’s a few harder/longer runs included in this plan. You need to rest and go slow in between these harder runs to avoid injury and get the most benefit out of the harder workouts. Also remember, to keep your hard days hard and easy days easy. Even if you feel really good on a planned easy day, this doesn’t mean pick up the pace or go run some hills.
These are workouts where you run at a faster pace. For beginners, you complete a few of these workouts. Benefits of speed work include: physiological & physical. You are training your body to push past its comfort zone. As you feel the burn and learn to push past it, you train your body to deal with fatigue. For each of the speed workouts, you should start with 10 – 15 minutes warm-up at Easy pace + some strides. Following speed workouts with 10 – 15 minutes of cool down/recovery jog. Use the pace chart above or either of the calculators to determine proper pace.
Types of speed work:
Runs where you warm up for 10 minutes with a slow jog, and then run at a faster pace than your normal. This pace should be something you can maintain for 20 minutes, and is meant to be somewhat uncomfortable. You then cool down for 10 or 15 minutes with a slow jog. Click on this link for more details about How Tempo Runs Will Help You Achieve Your Running Goals
These are a specific duration of time at higher effort, followed by an equal or slightly longer duration of recovery. After a warm up at an easy pace, you run hard for 2 minutes, then walk or jog slowly for 2-3 minutes to allow recovery. Then you repeat. Just like the above workouts, you end with a cool down.
Swedish for “speed play.” These are less structured than interval workouts. The distance and duration of the higher intensity running varies, as well as the rest between. For example, you would decide, “I am going to run a pick-up at a quicker (not sprinting) pace I could maintain for an entire 5k all the way to that tree (or for 45 seconds). Then, after starting you reach the tree, you jog slowly until you’ve recovered and then you run another pick-up. Keep repeating as designated in the plant. As with the other speed workouts, you start and finish with a slower jog to warm up and cool down.
A great way to build strength, endurance, improve running form and increase speed. There’s 2 x hill workouts included in this plan. If you can’t find a hill in your area, try stairs at a local high school football stadium. Click on this link for more details about hill training for full and half marathons.
I schedule cross training 1-2 times per week in this plan. This means you’re doing something other than running. Aerobic exercises work best. It could be swimming, cycling, hiking, cross-country skiing. The reason we cross train is to stress the body in a different way. This helps build muscle as well as give our body a break from the stress of running and helps to reduce the risk of injury. Cross-training days should be considered easy days that allow you to recover from the running you do the rest of the week. I recently completed a post with a complete guide to cross training.
This can also be referred to as strength training. It includes workouts that strengthen the legs, glutes, core, shoulders, hips and other muscles/joints used when running. There’s a few links to YouTube videos where I will show specific conditioning routines that I recommend. Most of the exercises are simple bodyweight exercises. A few use a BOSU Ball or resistance bands just for variety. Strength Training Workouts For Runners.
Glute & Hip Strengthening Exercises:
This video shows some exercises that are completed with a Resistance Bands. Bands may be available at your gym or you can purchase a variety of resistances in a pack through retailers like Resistance Bands. If you don’t have access to a resistance bands, you can complete the exercises below (see photos and descriptions).
I encourage 1-2 races or time trials during this plan. These can help you gauge your fitness. Also if you’re able to race with others, you can practice nutrition, race footwear and attire. Completing 5 & 10k races or time trials during your training will definitely help you achieve your goal.
Making Changes To The Schedule:
Don’t be afraid to adjust the workouts from day to day and week to week. The key is to be consistent with your training plant.
Strides are a great way to practice good form & improve your speed by turning over your legs at a quick, but controlled pace. Watch the video to see how strides should be performed.
Stretching & Warm-Up:
Before all runs – complete Lunges & Leg Swings (click for video).
Dynamic or Rope stretching (click for video). It’s important to complete rope stretching at least 3-4 times per week.
Foam rolling should be completed at least 3-4 times per week. Click for video
Nutrition & Sleep:
Both of these are essential to your success, yet in many cases they are overlooked by many athletes. Lack of sleep can lead to a few negative side effects. These include reducing your body’s ability to efficiently store carbs, convert fat to fuel and recover properly.
Remember Hard exercise + low carb diet = fatigue. Fueling prior to and during exercise improves endurance performance.