A lot of novice runners wonder about how long it really takes to prepare for a half marathon. The truth is, there is no “right” answer to this question that suits everyone, as the amount of preparation needed depends on a lot of factors that are different for everybody.
To help you determine how long you should train, start by asking yourself the following questions:
- What shape am I in now?
- What is my goal for the half marathon?
- What kind of training program will I use?
Now let’s delve a little deeper into explaining these questions and how the answers to those are relevant to finding out how long you should train.
What shape am I in now?
The key here is to be honest with yourself. If you are overweight, injury prone, or have a pre-existing medical condition (for example an old knee injury), you need to allow yourself some more time as raising the bar too fast is likely to be bad for your health.
Note: We recommend you always get checked out by a doctor before commencing training and obtain medical clearance that your body is able to handle the training.
Other than your physical condition, take an honest look at how much you are running/exercising now. Most training programs start off at a certain “base” mileage, assuming you are able to run at least a short distance at moderate pace. If you haven’t been running before, allow yourself plenty of time to build up a base of 10-15 miles (15-20 km) per week with your longest run being at least around the 3-4 mile (5-6 km) mark.
Though you’ll read plenty of stories of people that went successfully from overweight couch potato to half marathon finisher in 3 months, the truth is these people take a huge injury risk. If you’re not a runner, allow yourself anywhere between 6-12 months to get in the shape required to finish.
What is my goal for the half marathon?
This largely depends on your fitness level before you start your training. If you have not or barely been exercising before, your goal should be to finish. A half marathon is a big challenge and an even bigger accomplishment if you finish it, so take pride in going the whole distance without worrying about beating a certain time.
However, if you have been running before or are in good shape from another sport or activity, just finishing might not be enough of a challenge to keep you going with your training. Motivate yourself in that case by setting a realistic timegoal.
Depending on your start point, you might want to add extra training weeks to work on your endurance (if finishing is your goal) or add extra weeks with speed training (if you have a time goal)
What kind of training program will I use?
The most common training program for half marathons have a 12-week timespan. Some programs, that allow for extra mileage building or speed training, will be 16 weeks. Have a look at some that might be suitable for you and factor in how much time you need. Hint: building gradually, whether it be speed or distance, diminishes your injury risk. So if you are injury prone, getting a 16 week program or adapting a 12 week program may be a wise decision for you.
Doing the math: taking your answers and calculating training length.
So let’s say you have chosen a 16 week training program that starts with a long run of 6 miles, and you can currently run 3 miles. You want to build up slowly since you haven’t been exercising much and want to avoid injuries. A general rule of thumb is to increase distance by roughly 10% 2 out of 3 weeks, and taking it easy the third:
Long run distances
Week 1: 3 miles
Week 2: 3,5 miles
Week 3: 3 miles
Week 4: 3,5 miles
Week 5: 4 miles
Week 6: 3 miles
Week 7: 4 miles
Week 8: 4,5 miles
Week 9: 3 miles
Week 10: 4,5 miles
Week 11: 5 miles
Week 12: 3 miles
Week 13: Start training program
Week 24: Run half marathon
This schedule is meant as a guideline, which you can adapt to suit your needs. People that already have a solid mileage might not have to do as much building, and people that are injury-prone might want to slow it down even more and build mileage over a longer period before getting started on the training schedule.
Always consult a medical professional before commencing training. This article is meant for education and informational purposes only.