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How DO You Train to Run a Half Marathon?

Right now…I’ll level with you…I can barely run a good mile. A half marathon is 13.1 miles, exactly half the distance of a full marathon, which is 26.2. I chose a half marathon for my goal for several reasons, but among them was that the training runs for a half are much less time consuming than the training runs for a full marathon, so I felt it would be a lot more realistic with my life. Still, though…how do you go from barely running a mile to running 13.1 straight?

I’ve been preparing by lifting weights to build back muscle and doing Barre to increase the strength of my legs, heart, and lungs as well as my flexibility. These are all great building blocks, but at a certain point, in order to run long distances, you have to RUN. There is no other way to get your bones and joints used to the impact and help your body adjust to the stresses of running. I’ve slowly started that process informally with a short run each week, but in the upcoming weeks, I’m going to be increasing that.

And this is where training plans come in.

Like anything else, there are experts in running, trainers that have worked with enough runners to know what works and what doesn’t. I’m starting a program in October for beginner runners to prepare them to go from 0 running to a 5k in 30 days. There are several of these programs out there, essentially “couch to 5k” programs, but this one I chose because it’s a video or audio program, so you get coached on your runs, and it incorporates cross training with weights. It’s a new program and I’m pretty excited about it.

So…by November or early December, I’ll be up to running a 5k or 3.14 miles. That still is not 13.1, for anyone doing the math at home.

It is, however, a solid foundation that I can build on. Running long distances takes time. The biggest challenge is to build up mileage at a rate that increases strength and endurance without adding so much so fast that you risk injury. Again, training plans put together by the pros can really help and a quick google search will dig up plenty of free half marathon training plans or you can find services that will give you more personalized plans for a fee. I’m going with a free half marathon training plan from Runner’s World (a popular running magazine) that assumes you can run 6 miles straight, so part of my work this winter will be to slowly increase from running 3 miles and some change to 6.

But wait…December in Milwaukee means…snow.

Yes, yes it does! It’s a good thing I actually enjoy running in snow, but realistically, at least some of my runs will have to be inside on a treadmill. I plan on purchasing a used one or getting a cheap gym membership at a place with minimal equipment but decent treadmills (as long as Covid cooperates). I should only need a few months for the particularly nasty parts of winter when it’s icy outside. Snow I can deal with but ice means slipping, falling, and not being able to train.

Most training plans DO NOT have a runner running every day. That’s another mistake I made the last time I was training for a half marathon. I loved to run and it was my stress relief, so I ran every day…often even squeezing in 2 runs in one day. This was definitely not the smart thing to do. As you increase mileage, your body needs rest and recovery days to rebuild muscle and bone density. I was basically just pounding on my body and not giving it a chance to rebuild and eventually, I paid with a couple of injuries which required me to stop running entirely and then I had a hard time getting back into it and gave up. At that time, I was able to run 10 miles straight.

The training plans I’m looking at have just 3 days of running to begin, then they add in a long run on the weekend. For me, that will be on Sunday. In some cases, I’ll be able to lift weights or do other workouts on my “off” days, at least while my mileage is low. Avid runners can get really geeky with their training plans. I know some that keep spreadsheets and have all kinds of graphs so that they can see their growth. For me, the focus is more on having a structured plan so that I don’t push too far too fast and risk an injury.

This is definitely a place where an approach like the tortoise works better than the hare. Slow and steady really does win the race when the finish line is 13 miles away.


Published by Geek-Yoga

Yoga Instructor, Fitness and Nutrition Geek, Network Engineer, and Wife and Mother of 2 living the dream in Milwaukee, WI.

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