Half marathon training is fairly straightforward. You need to: do a challenging workout each week to improve your fitness, run enough each week to be able to handle the 13.1-mile distance, and do a long run each week that gives you both the fitness and the confidence to handle the distance. That's it.
Why Half Marathon Training Is Different Than Other Distances
Your half marathon training should differ from 5K, 10K and marathon training. Preparing for 26.2 miles requires that you do some long runs that are 20 miles or more. Why? The human body only has enough glycogen—your muscles' first energy source—to run roughly 18 miles. You need to teach your body to burn fat as fuel during marathon training. We've all heard of runners "bonking" at the 20-mile mark, and this is the primary reason that happens.
Sound half marathon training doesn't have this level of a long run as a prerequisite, and that's one of the draws to running a half marathon—your long runs won't take as much out of you.
When you compare 5K and 10K training to half marathon training, the converse is true. While 5K and 10K runners will benefit greatly from a longer weekly run, they can get away with a long run of only six to eight miles and still race those distances well.
The half marathon runner should make it his or her goal to build up to a long run that is as close to 13.1 miles as possible. If you are contemplating your first half marathon after running some 5Ks and a 10K or two, then there is a very good chance that you can build your long run to 12 to 14 miles over eight to 12 weeks.
With that in mind, here's what a week should look like for a half marathon runner, followed by a few half marathon workouts.
Sample Half Marathon Training Week
Ninety-five percent of the adult runners I coach have very busy schedules. That's fine; you can still get fit even if you don't have the luxury of time that professional athletes have. All you need to do is commit to one workout day per week and one long run day per week. Here's a schedule that works best for most people:
Monday: Maintenance day. Complete a run with strides in the middle of the run
Tuesday: Running workout
Wednesday: Run or cross-train
Thursday: Easy cross-train or day off
Friday: Maintenance day. Complete a run with strides in the middle of the run
Saturday: Long run—this is the most important day of the week
Sunday: Brisk walk is best, but any easy cross-training is fine