If there were a yearbook for running distances, the half-marathon would win “most popular” — hands down. In fact, according to Running USA, nearly two million people finished 13.1 miles in 2015. Plus, with some races selling out in minutes (we’re looking at you SeaWheeze and Brooklyn Half), there’s no doubt these races are hot.
“I love half-marathons because they are so readily available around the world,” says Olympic medalist Deena Kastor, who holds the American record for the half-marathon and marathon. “Whether you want to run fast, visit a certain city or celebrate a theme, there’s a half-marathon for you.” And that holds true if you’re a first-timer or a seasoned pro.
So when you’re ready to step up to this new distance, we have the half-marathon training plan that’s perfect for beginners. Designed by Deena and her coach (and husband!) Andrew Kastor, also head coach of the Mammoth Track Club, this 16-week half-marathon training plan will help you cross that finish line feeling strong and proud.
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How to Become a Half-Marathon Master
Before you jump into this plan, you want a solid running base. That means you should be able to run 20 minutes non-stop, says Coach Kastor. The first four weeks of the program focus on helping you expand your base. If you already pound the pavement a few days a week and can run five miles non-stop, don’t fret. Just kick off your training program at week five.
Starting in the fifth week, the plan includes easy running days (you should go at a low intensity, conversational pace), plus three key workouts. On Mondays, you’ll see interval training with one- to four-minute pushes, when you should run at approximately your 10K race pace. Coach Kastor designed these sessions to increase your speed. Make sure to warm up and cool down for 10 to 20 minutes, whether that’s walking, jogging or doing dynamic stretches. On Wednesdays, you’ll have slightly faster tempo-pace runs (think comfortably hard).
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Reserve Saturdays to tackle those long runs, meant to develop your endurance and help your body adapt to longer distances. You’ll alternate the type of run you complete on these days. One week, you’ll do a steady state run. This includes pounding the pavement at an easy, conversational pace that’s about 60 to 75 seconds slower than your goal time. The next week, you’ll do a half-marathon simulation run. This involves running the first half of the workout easy and the second half at your goal half-marathon race pace. Don’t know your goal finish time? No problem. Aim for a pace you can maintain for the entire length of the workout, says Coach Kastor.
Why You Need to Cut Back to Get Ahead
If the plan seems challenging, stick to the minimum time or distance on easy days. Then, focus on pushing through the interval workouts, long runs and tempo-paced workouts. Keep in mind, while you may be adding more mileage each week, it’s important to add rest (and sleep) too. That’s why Coach Kastor built in cut-back weeks (the fourth, eighth and 12th weeks of the plan), as well as taper time (the last two weeks) to help you rest and freshen up your legs before race day.
“Many people are under-rested. Our bodies are capable of great things if we are resting in between [hard workouts],” says Deena. “I can’t over-emphasize how important it is to recover. It’s where a lot of adapting and growth happens.” Take that as permission to go to bed early and spend some QT with your foam roller.
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Your Beginner Half-Marathon Training Plan
Graphic by Damion Tedeschi