The 12 Weeks of Half Marathon Training

Three trail runners run together during the summer

Christmas in December is a tradition. Christmas in July is a way to sell furniture. But Christmas in September? That makes no sense. Then again, neither does a sport that requires Body Glide and compression socks.

The half marathon is one of the most-loved race distances around the country—and for good reason. It requires a mix of endurance and speed, of strategy and grit. It's a benchmark distance for many runners and a tried-and-true fitness test in the build up for longer races.

Many half marathon training programs run 12 weeks and introduce a variety of distances and speeds. With that in mind, and to get you in the spirit of 13.1, I humbly present a Christmas-themed ode to half marathon training.

Week 1

On the first week of half marathon training, my good coach gave me to me: One day off. Yes, we are starting our first week with rest. That’s because rest plays a big role in your performance.

See, for all the blood, sweat, and tears you’re going to leave on the pavement over the next 12 weeks, it’s only when you’re at rest that your body can heal from that pounding, adapt to the workload and make you a fitter individual (a cool thing called supercompensation).

If you need to keep moving on those off days, consider cross training exercises like biking, swimming and the elliptical. Each will keep your cardiovascular system primed while causing less muscular damage.

A runner sweats during a summer workout

Week 2

On the second week of half marathon training, my good coach gave to me: Two workouts per week. Sure, you can finish a half marathon without including intervals, tempos, hills, fartleks or the like. But if you’re aiming to race the distance, mixing in some workouts is critical.

Paces slower than half-marathon pace lay an aerobic base for you to succeed. Faster paces build your engine. Mix them into your training in the right amount (with about 80 percent of your runs on the slower end), and you’ll be set up for success.

Week 3

On the third week of half marathon training, my good coach gave to me: Three days of core/strength/ancillary training. Running is a simple sport, but all those forward steps stress the body. This is particularly true if we lack strength and mobility in other directions.

Having a strong core, doing bodyweight or weight-training exercises, and utilizing dynamic and static stretching can help you stay healthy and improve performance. Try adding core exercises for runners three times per week, and feel the difference.

Week 4

On the fourth week of half marathon training, my good coach gave to me: Four extra miles in my long run. Maybe not this week. Maybe not next week. But if your long run usually tops out at 10 miles, you’ll want to build up to 14 by week 8.

If you’re at 12 miles, shoot for 16. The body needs to be constantly stimulated to adapt and get fitter. Start now by adding a mile a week to your long run until you reach your new goal.

Week 5

On the fifth week of half marathon training, my good coach gave to me: FIVE GOLDEN MINUTES (before you start a workout). I’m always amazed when I see well-meaning runners do a slow jog for a warm-up and then immediately sprint away into their workout. Yikes!

Slow jogging is great for increasing blood flow, but you’re not done. A set of strides, drills, and a bathroom break will lower your heart rate and let you mentally reset before the fun starts.

All told, it should be at least five minutes from the end of your warm-up jog until you start your workout. Try it. I guarantee you’ll feel a whole lot snappier.

Week 6

On the sixth week of half marathon training, my good coach gave to me: A 6-mile(ish) time trial. What is it about racing that brings the best out of us? It’s a magical phenomenon, that ability to dig deeper than normal and feel ever so satisfied.

But racing also comes with trepidation. So now that you’re halfway through your buildup, it’s time to race. A local 10K is a perfect distance to tackle. It’ll let you air out those concerns (Am I fit enough? Do I belong with these ladies? Can I even run this far?) and see that, yes, you really are getting quite fit.

A trail runner smiles for a camera

Week 7

On the seventh week of half marathon training, my good coach gave to me: Seven (broken) miles at goal pace. To race a really good half marathon, you need to know what your goal pace and what it feels like.

Online race pace calculators can give you a good idea of what your pace should be, but you’re going to have to train for the time you want to really nail it. Enter long tempo intervals at race pace.

You’re welcome to a 7-miler, but most runners will find mile or two-mile repeats are a more manageable way to get the time in. Take a two- or three-minute break in between each tempo interval to get your breathing and heart rate down. This is a big workout—you might even save it for a weekend to make sure you’re not rushed.

Week 8

On the eighth week of half marathon training, my good coach gave to me: Eight-hundred-meter repeats. Working your aerobic system to the max is a good way to improve performance at a variety of distances from the mile to the marathon.

Half miles—better known as 800-meter repeats—are long enough to get your heart fluttering at hummingbird-like speeds but short enough that you can recover and come back for more. These repeats should be run faster than 5K pace with a recovery time that’s equal to the time run hard. Four to six is a good range.

A woman running on a trail through the forest

Week 9

On the ninth week of half marathon training, my good coach gave to me: Nine different ways to run hills. There is a saying among elites that “hills pay the bills.” That’s because hills increase power, tax the lungs and heart more than flat running, and decrease pounding on the way up. They’re the kale of the running world, a bitter but satisfying superfood that’ll rip you apart and leave you better than ever.

There are, in no particular order: steep hill sprints, hilly long runs, 400-meter hill repeats, hill bounding, uphill mile repeats, downhill speed development, hilly fartleks, hilly cross-country races and hilly trail runs. In other words, find a hill and make it yours no matter what’s on the calendar.

You’ll be all the better for it—and it doesn’t require a juicer!

Week 10

On the tenth week of half marathon training, my good coach gave to me: 10 quality miles. I’m not asking you to race. I’m not telling you to hammer a time-trial. But proving to yourself that you can run at a sustained, challenging pace for 10 miles is not only a nice fitness booster, it’s a major psychological boon come race day.

Many coaches call this medium pace because it’s right in between an easy run and a harder tempo. Find that sweet spot, and put in some crisp miles as the air dries and the leaves fall.

Week 11

On the eleventh week of half marathon training, my good coach gave to me: An eleven-day taper. You’ve worked hard. Now it’s time to recover by cutting your mileage 30 percent over the last two weeks. Woohoo!

Pump the brakes a second, though. We still have one window to get a big fitness boost. Whether you do mile repeats, more tempos, hills, or some combination of all, this is the last time your body will be able to work hard, fully recover and pass those benefits on to you. So nail that midweek workout and carry that confidence forward.

Week 12

On the twelfth week of half marathon training, my good coach gave to me: A big race to run! Who needs a numerical chant? 12 + 1.1? Forget it. We’re done being clever and coy. Go run.

Next up, my Easter in November racing calendar article. (Kidding. Kidding. Really. I promise.)

By Philip Latter. Latter is a former senior writer at Running Times and co-author of Running Flow and Faster Road Racing. His work has also appeared in Runner's World,, and He currently coaches athletes at The Running Syndicate, in addition to his day job coaching high school runners at Brevard High School (NC).

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