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5 rules for half marathon training


Half marathon training takes persistence and discipline, regardless of your running ability. Whether you’re a running rookie or a half marathon veteran, the secret to a great race day result is all in the training.   

When you arrive at the start line you want to be in the best possible condition to achieve your half marathon goals, whatever they may be.

You should be well-trained but also rested and primed to perform following your taper.   

And as important as it is to get enough training in, being overtrained is perhaps an even greater risk than not training enough.

So whether you’re aiming to beat the 2 hour mark, your last PB, or simply finish the race.

Here are my five key rules of half marathon training.

This blog post is brought to you by Thomas Watson. Thomas is an ultra-runner and UESCA-certified running coach. He likes running in weird places and good beer, and writes at

half marathon training

1. Train towards a goal

In run coaching, there’s a saying that random training equals random results. 

The less specific your training is, the less effective it will be. 

In order to make your training as impactful as possible, you should base it around your half marathon goal.

For example, if you’re a rookie runner simply looking to get around the 13.1 miles on race day, you should prioritise those long, slow runs (usually done at the weekends).

These will improve your endurance – and discount any speed work.

If you’re an intermediate runner and have a time-based goal (such as setting a new PB), you can train towards your target race pace.

Use speed work such as interval training to improve your base speed.

If you don’t have a half marathon goal yet, consider defining one – it gives your training structure and purpose. 

It also prevents you from ‘winging it’ on race day, which is a recipe for disaster!

Related: Training for a half marathon? Here are 15 tips to make training easier

2. Follow a training plan

Without doubt the best thing you can do to improve your half marathon result is follow a training plan.

A well-designed training plan is like a road-map through your training journey, guiding you in a structured way to the start line. 

A proper training plan will very gradually increase your weekly mileage.

It will also allow sufficient time for rest and recovery, and take account of your half marathon goals.

A training plan is also an awesome accountability system. I always recommend to my runners to print off their plan and stick it somewhere visible.

A bathroom mirror or refrigerator is a great place to put it. This way you can mark off each day’s workout as it’s completed.

You’ll quickly form a habit of complying with the plan and will not want to miss a single day!

Related: The ultimate couch to half marathon training plan

half marathon training

3. Learn about nutrition

Shorter distance runners can usually get by without spending time thinking about nutrition.

Once you get into a half marathon training plan – with longer and more frequent training sessions – you have to plan what you eat.

In terms of fuelling, it always helps to eat something small 45-60 minutes before your run.  

A banana, or peanut butter toast, for example, gives your body a quick energy boost.

Once you get into long training runs of 45 minutes or more, you also want to start thinking about fuelling during your exercise.

The go-to solution is usually sports gels, although you can also look for other forms of sports nutrition – or more natural solutions, such as trail mix.

After your more intense workouts, you want to eat a small meal within 60 minutes of finishing. 

Aim for something that contains good quantities of both protein and carbohydrates to boost your recovery.

Related: 14 of the best half marathons in the US

half marathon training

4. Cross train for longevity

Often overlooked, cross training can be a secret weapon for half marathon runners in training. 

It helps to make you a more powerful runner and boosts your running economy.

Think of your running economy as your personal miles per gallon.

Cross training also reduces the risk of injury. Performing some form of resistance training focusing on mobility around the legs and hips is probably the best form of cross training a runner can do. 

Most running injuries are caused by a ramp up in mileage. When training for a half marathon, for example.

Even though injuries like runner’s knee and IT band syndrome often manifest in the knees, they are usually caused by muscular imbalances in the upper legs.

Cross training is the key to a sustainable running habit.

Related: Intermediate half marathon training plan: Week by week plan + printable

half marathon training

5. Take downtime seriously

It’s easy to get wrapped up in your half marathon training, and feel you can always be squeezing in more miles and workouts.

But rest is an essential part of the process! 

Each run you do puts stress on your muscles, creating micro tears that need time to repair before your next workout. 

That’s why downtime is a necessary part of any good half marathon training plan.

And it’s not enough to simply stop exercising – you’ve got to actively cultivate a sense of relaxation in order to recover effectively.

While it might sound new-agey – it’s not. During training your body is typically in ‘fight or flight’ mode, in which performance is optimised but recovery isn’t.

You need to shift your state to a ‘rest and digest’ mode, so your brain can signal to your muscles that they can relax and recover – ready for your next workout. 

Spending time with friends and family, walking in nature, and forgetting all about ‘pushing’ towards your half marathon goal can all help you cultivate relaxation that will enhance the recovery process.

In other words, a great excuse to Netflix and chill!

For more, check out my top 5 recovery tips after a long run.

Related: What is a good half marathon time? Average half marathon times by age and gender

Additional resources

Caroline Geoghegan