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The Beginner’s Guide To The Half Marathon

Check out coach Matt Forsman's foolproof approach for completing 13.1 miles.

Check out coach Matt Forsman’s foolproof approach for completing 13.1 miles. 

Whether you’re new to running or making a comeback after a long layoff, training for the half-marathon distance is manageable even for the busiest lives, and works well for beginners and more experienced runners alike. If you can manage two to three miles at a time, of either running or a combo of running and walking, a couple times per week, you can get into half-marathon shape in 12 weeks. You’ll want to plan on adding a weekend run of slightly longer length—four to five miles—then gradually increase your mileage to nine to 10 miles over three months. The best thing about halfs is that training for them is usually lifestyle friendly; a few days of running, a couple days of cross-training, and a couple days of rest will get you into shape.



Half marathons are also ideal because the incidence of injury tends to be lower with the half-marathon, compared to longer distances, such as the marathon. Research shows increased mileage can be a risk factor for injury, and I’ve seen far fewer injuries in half-marathon runners than in marathoners.

In this half-marathon blueprint you’ll find a 12-week, day-by-day plan that will train you to complete the 13.1-mile distance at a comfortable pace. For true beginners or those who haven’t run in 10 years, for example, the run/walk option is recommended. Follow the pure run approach if you’ve maintained reasonable fitness in other ways but are transitioning to running. However, even a fit, athletic person can benefit from the run/walk approach initially.

MORE: 10-Week Advanced Half Marathon Training Program

Fundamentally, running is challenging for everyone; you’re not alone. Training can sometimes be daunting, especially as your mileage increases. So, to keep from becoming overwhelmed, try breaking your running sessions into manageable tasks. For example, if three miles seems daunting, don’t focus on the entire distance; instead, achieve one mile at a time until you finish your goal distance. Something challenging can often become more digestible if you break it down.

Remember this plan is merely a road map designed to safely guide you toward a very achievable goal. But just like any road trip, there may be detours and that’s OK. Listen to your body as you progress through training and trust what it tells you. Complete the workouts at a pace that feels good, but also pushes you to become stronger and fitter. It’s also important to take advantage of your rest days, too, as your body will benefit from ample recovery time every week.

Train hard, get fit and most of all have fun.

About The Author:

Matt Forsman is a USA Track & Field and Road Runners Club of America certified coach. Known by his runners as “Marathon Matt,” Forsman coaches marathoners and half marathoners in the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit for more information.