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How to Train for Your First Half Marathon

Your first half marathon can be an experience you'll never forget.

So you’ve been bitten by the running bug, have you?

Maybe you started running because a friend cajoled you into your first fun run. Or maybe you started running for weight loss and got hooked on local races in your city.

After the novelty of racing 5K and 10Ks wear off, you may be left thinking ”Ok, what’s next?

Before you jump into marathon training, you may want to consider your first half marathon.

The half marathon is the fastest growing race distance in the United States. According to Running USA, there was more than 2 million half marathon finishers in 2014.

RELATED: 13.1 Tips for Running Your Best Half Marathon

More runners are flocking to the 13.1 mile race distance for good reason—it’s the perfect blend of endurance and speed. The distance requires new runners to build their fitness substantially, but the training required to run a successful half marathon isn’t nearly as grueling as for the marathon.

Your first half marathon can be completed with just a few “upgrades” to standard 10K training. If you’re ready for a new challenge and want to take the next step with running a longer race, the half marathon is the race for you.

What Makes Your First Half Marathon Different

Most beginner runners can finish a 5K with just a few weeks of consistent running. After a 5K gets easier, just another month or two will get you ready to finish a 10K.

But the half marathon is different: at more than double the distance of a 10K, it requires greater focus on endurance and long runs than shorter races.

You might have been able to “fake it” through a 10K race, but that will be virtually impossible in a half. Training should be taken seriously and approached with care.

But don’t worry, most new runners can successfully run their first half marathon within 6-9 months of starting to run.

With a focus on two key training components, your first half marathon will be a smashing success.

Priority No. 1: Stay Healthy Long-Term

You can’t train (or race) well if you’re injured.

I often tell runners I coach that consistent training is the “secret sauce” to successful running. After weeks and months of diligent training, you’ll be able to run more and faster than you thought possible.

But nothing prevents consistency more than running injuries. They force you to take time off, delaying big gains in fitness and wreaking havoc on motivation.

Fortunately, there are three simple ways you can dramatically cut your risk of getting hurt.

  1. “Sandwich” your runs between a dynamic flexibility warm-up and a runner-specific strength routine. Both the warm-up and the post-run strength workout help build athleticism, strength in the areas that runners need it most, and gradually improve your running efficiency.
  1. Run slow on your recovery days. Too many runners push the effort on their easy days, compromising recovery and performance on subsequent priority workouts. Instead, remember the “3 Cs” of easy running: comfortable, controlled, and conversational.
  1. Variety reduces repetition—and injuries are technically called repetitive stress injuries.

By rotating 2-3 pairs of running shoes, running a variety of paces throughout your training, getting off the concrete and onto softer surfaces, and introducing dynamic stretching and strength exercises, you’re teaching your body to be more athletic and more injury resilient.

RELATED: The Importance of Varying Your Running Surfaces

These strategies form the foundation of intelligent running so you can then worry about the actual training you need to run your first half marathon.

Priority No. 2: Mileage and the Almighty Long Run

There’s a reason my college cross country coach, Jim Butler, half-joking says “mileage!” is the reason for his athletes success: quite simply, it works!

Mileage—or more specifically, more mileage—is the most effective way of building your endurance.

Combined with a regular long run, these two training elements will get you ready to complete 13.1 miles with enough gas left in the tank to finish strong.

Most beginner half marathoners should aim to complete at least 20 miles per week, but preferably 25-30 miles, during their highest volume training weeks. This total workload ensures the body is capable of handling the stress of covering 13.1 miles and the impact forces of running for about two hours on race day.

The long run is also critical. Before the race, it’s best to build up to running at least 10 miles once or twice to ensure you can confidently complete a half marathon. Of course, it’s ideal to run more than the race distance to increase your confidence and ensure you can definitely finish the race.

A good rule of thumb is to only increase your long run by one mile every 1-2 weeks. More substantial increases in distance predispose you to injury (and we know how valuable injury prevention efforts are for runners).

The half marathon is a challenging but rewarding event, requiring careful training that focuses on building general endurance.

For beginners, it’s the perfect race to get hooked on distance running.

RELATED: 12-Week Half Marathon Training Plan

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About the Author:

Jason Fitzgerald is the head coach at Strength Running, one of the web’s largest coaching sites for runners. He is a 2:39 marathoner, USATF-certified coach and his passion is helping runners set monster personal bests. Follow him on Twitter @JasonFitz1 and Facebook.