Your Guide to a Half-Marathon

Your Guide to a Half-Marathon

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By Richard Bowle

If you consider yourself a runner - meaning you have some week-to-week mileage - have you ever toyed with the idea of stepping up to the 21km mark? Training for a half-marathon could be exactly what you need to kick your fitness up a notch!

It’s a normal progression for most runners and a key stepping stone on the way to a full marathon. Perhaps you have already completed a marathon, or perhaps a couple of ‘half’s. Even so, the advice below can still be beneficial for you. You need around 12-14 weeks to train for a half-marathon and will need to slowly build on your long run weekly until you reach a comfortable 18km (if not the whole distance for more experienced runners).

The half-marathon is very different to its big brother at twice the distance, and the training required has to mirror that. Each kilometre is covered more quickly than the full; to build this pace, speed training sessions will play a huge part in your success.

This faster running required through training throws out two main positives for me. Firstly, I feel that the mixture of speed sessions up to two times per week – or three when it gets closer to the event – can make training more interesting.

The second point – and an important one at that - is that with speed training, the intensity and volume can mean you’re walking (or in this case running) a fine line with injury. This means you must be very comfortable during your standard weekly mileage. In other words, you must be able to cover a set mileage each and every week without a single niggle, as well as have some associations with speed work.

Below are a few popular sessions that you might like to add to your half-marathon training plan, as well as the benefits of each. They are by no means technical and a guide to some simple speed sessions. To start with, it’s important to run these sessions steadily until your body can cope with the demands of the more strenuous activities. You must add at least two days between sessions for that all-important rest and recovery. Your running sessions between each speed workout should be at an easy, relaxed pace, so that you can perform at your best for the key speed sessions, as well as give the body time to recover.

All speed sessions should start with a 10-15 minute warm-up of easy running and short (25m) low-intensity sprints. This is to prepare the body for the demand of the session ahead and will - hopefully - avoid damaging muscles and ligaments that are not warmed up and ready for stress loading. The real key, however, is to enjoy the mixture of training and have fun pushing yourself to cover the distance that little bit quicker. Some of the workouts use specific pacing at your 5km and 10km paces. If you are unaware of the pace or speed required, use one of the many free online pace and race calculators. Good luck!


Training:  Exactly as the name implies, you repeatedly run 1000 m. This can be done at a track, otherwise you can measure the distance using a GPS watch or Google Maps. This is a great workout to run about 10 days out from a 5km or 10km race to give you the confidence that you’re ready to roll on race day.

Distance: 5x 1km with 60 seconds recovery between reps, or 8x 1km with 60 second recovery between reps.

Pace: 5x 1km at 5km race pace, or 8x 1km at 10km race pace.

Benefit: Repeats done at these shorter race paces improve your heart's ability to deliver oxygen to muscles and that’s important for you when moving quickly.


Definition: Fartleks are favoured by many runners. Originally a Swedish term that means ‘speed play’, the fartlek brings fun to a speedwork session.

Distance: There is no right or wrong way to do this particular type of workout which makes it great for runners of all skill levels. The distances can vary too.

Pace: Alternate periods of fast running with slow recovery jogs. Choose a landmark along your regular running route and run as fast as possible towards it. Recover for a few minutes and choose a new target.

Benefit: The fartlek has similar benefits of the kilometre repeats, just without the structure. This is a great option when needing to complete a speed session but feel a little tired as you can choose the pace and distances.


Definition:  This exercise is as the name suggests; but going UP - not flat or down. A lot of runners avoid this great speed and stamina enhancer.

Distance: You will need to find a hill that takes at least a minute to walk up. The hill needs to be at a grade of 6-10%. Try to run 6x 60 second uphills, gradually over time add repetitions until you complete 10.

Pace: This has more to do with effort than a specific pace. You should be pushing your running efforts around the 85-90% on the way up and recovering on the way back down.

Benefit:  Hills are another great way to improve your speed. Try 6x 60 seconds uphill; jog back down. Gradually add extra reps until you can complete 10.



Definition: Tempo runs are an excellent way for runners to build speed and strength. They're runs that are done at a steady effort, teaching the body to run longer at a faster pace.

Distance: The distance can start as little as 6km up to a maximum of about 15km. More advanced runners may go further than this; however, as the half marathon is 21.1km, 15km would be sufficient.

Pace: Usually just a little slower than your 10km race pace. You should be going fast enough to want to stop, yet, if you had to go anther 2km at the end you could.

Benefit: Tempo runs help you develop your anaerobic threshold which is critical for running faster. This exercise also teaches you to go faster for longer and trains your mind to stick it out over the distance.



Definition:  This is a popular session with the elite Kenyan runners, hence the name. Choose a distance and speed; run that time out and then turn around.

Distance: Choose a route where you can do at least 7km (3.5km out and 3.5km back). 

Pace: You should run the first 3.5km out at a steady pace. On the return run you should be faster by at least one minute; preferably two or more. For instance, if you get to the turnaround point in 21 minutes - a rate of 6 min/km - then you would aim to return in 19-20 minutes.

Benefit: It acts like a tempo run, developing your anaerobic threshold and tapping into your lactate threshold on the return. It also helps you push that little harder at the end of a race to reach the finish line.


So, once you’ve got your pace calculated and you’ve got a training plan with some or all of the above speed and hill workouts included, it’s just a matter of sticking to your plan!

Recovery is just as important as training, and as you pick up your pace, you are more likely to pick up injuries if you don’t manage your body correctly. Stretching, foam rolling, ice baths (or very cold water) and massage are all great ways of helping your body recover after speed sessions. But if you do notice a real soreness or niggling aches and pains, don’t be afraid to rest for a few days, and if the issue is ongoing, get it sorted with your physio.

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