How to Run Your Best Half Marathon: Plan and Prepare

Runners line up at the start of a race

The half-marathon is the most popular race distance second only to the 5K.

It represents a challenging distance event that requires a dedicated training cycle to properly prepare for. On the other hand, it’s not an event that requires you spend the entire day either running or recovering. You can enjoy your race experience in the morning, without sacrificing happy hour in the afternoon.

Many runners who gravitate toward the half-marathon distance are also interested in maximizing and optimizing their performance on race day. In order to run your best half-marathon, there are five stages of preparation every runner should go through:

  1. Analyze and assess
  2. Plan and prepare
  3. Enact and execute
  4. Eat and drink
  5. Relax and recover

Try these tools, tips and tricks to ensure you have your best half-marathon, whether that means enjoying the entire process, setting a PR or finding yourself on the podium.

​Phase One: Analyze and Assess

A woman ties her shoes before starting a run

The first step in your half-marathon preparation should be to analyze and assess what your current fitness level is to establish a realistic expectation for your training and racing. Now is an important time to be honest with yourself. A half-marathon is a 13.1 mile race—that’s a lot of training miles and a long race! Ask yourself if you are ready to start training immediately, or do you need a few weeks to build up a baseline?

Read more about building your training plan in our Beginners Running Guide

Take into account your level of familiarity with the half-marathon distance. Have you run a half-marathon before? How recently? What was your experience like? Would you have done anything differently? Taking time for self-reflection will help the rest of your preparation go more smoothly, and it will help ensure a positive and successful race.

While you’re at it, take a long, hard look at your goals and expectations and how they match up with the rest of life’s demands. Taking into account your work and social life can help you train effectively without feeling overwhelmed. Adjusting your big picture goals based on your day-to-day experiences is a good place to start.

Half marathon gear laydown

Finally, you should also assess what gear and equipment you have at your disposal and prioritize your purchases.

Here are the essentials that you need to run a half:

Half Marathon Gear Checklist

  • Comfortable running shoes
  • Technical, moisture-wicking shirt
  • Supportive sports bra
  • Streamlined shorts or pants
  • Good running socks
  • A watch to track your time and distance
  • Accessories to carry your hydration and nutrition products

Only buy that cute top or fancy headphones once you have a good pair of shoes on your feet. In fact, a new pair of shoes to start your training cycle can not only keep you healthy and reduce your risk of injury, but will give you some extra motivation to kick-start your training!

Read more about The Gear You Need to Run a Half Marathon

Phase Two: Plan and Prepare

How many weeks should you take to prepare for your race?

The following chart breaks down how many weeks you will need for adequate training based on your current fitness and experience level.

Experience Level

Time to Prepare

Beginner (first time training for a half-marathon)

12-16 weeks

Intermediate (run consistently, 13.1 is a new distance)


Experienced (strong fitness base, have run 13.1 multiple times before)

6-8 weeks

Once you’ve settled on the length of your training cycle, you can shop around for races that line up with your schedule. Another way to do this (if you leave yourself enough time) is to reverse-engineer the process. You can choose your goal race, and then work backwards to see when you should start your training program.

And, yes, you will want to follow a structured training plan if you want to run your best half-marathon. Now is not the time to just wing it!

There are three popular options when it comes to selecting an appropriate training plan: downloading the first Excel sheet you find on Google, using an app-based training plan or working with a certified trainer or coach. Everyone has different requirements when it comes to selecting a program, but the safest, most effective way to see success is by working with a certified professional.

A good coach will not only be able to design a custom program to suit your individual needs, but they will also be able to modify and adapt the workouts throughout the course of the entire program. This helps you optimize performance and can keep you from getting hurt.

Your community will be an integral part of your preparation process, and finding a coach, trainer and teammates will go a long way in making sure you stay consistent with your workouts and set yourself up for your best half-marathon. Local running groups are easy to find, many offer free group events and running with others can help make the miles fly by on your weekend long runs.

Ready for the next step? Read How To Run Your Best Half Marathon: Execute Your Plan.

By Timothy Lyman. Timothy Lyman is the Head Coach and Director of training programs at Fleet Feet Pittsburgh. He is a Certified Personal Trainer through the American Council on Exercise and a Performance Enhancement Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

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