How To Train For A Half Marathon In 6 Months
A common question many runners ask is how to train for a half marathon in 6 months.
I will say that 6 months to train for a half marathon is more then sufficient time to prepare well.
The biggest hurdle you will have to face when preparing for half marathon in this time frame is timing.
My wife and I were just discussing this the other night regarding timing.
In 2011, I was preparing to earn the 2012 USA Olympic Marathon trials standard time of 2:19:00.
My personal best for the marathon is 2:19:35.
What is 35 seconds right?
I had a great building up leading into the 2011 Monumental Indianapolis Marathon but made a fatal mistake in my timing leading into the race.
I had done a 20-miler 6 weeks out in 1:50:02, to date, the fastest long run I have ever done in training, averaging 5:30 per mile pace at a heart rate of 160-63BPM.
What I should have done is started to taper two to three days after that effort, found a marathon and competed in 2 to 3 weeks after that workout had been done.
I didn’t run Monumental until 6 weeks after that long-run effort and came up short placing 5th in 2:26:42 which would have been faster had I not had an emerceny porta-john stop at mile 10.
It was my second fastest marathon I had ever run and more then likely would have been a 2:22-23 effort.
6 Months Is Plenty Of Time
If you have a half marathon in mind 6 months from now my advice to you would be to plan it out accordingly and don’t be in a rush to get into fitness.
6 months is plenty of time to get ready for any half marathon.
I would spend 2 months focusing on laying a strong foundation of mileage with some light strides thrown in every two to three days.
No speed, no hard tempos, no speed work.
This should be the last of your focus 2 months into a 6 month half marathon training block.
Remember, timing is everything and you do not want to get too fit, too early.
If you want to know how to train for a half marathon in 6 months I would advise breaking the training block up into 3, 2-month segments.
2 months – easy, aerobic base build up
2 months – moderate anerobic training, shorter tempo efforts, light to moderate speed work with more rest
2 months – half marathon specific training, faster speed sessions with less rest, short anaerobic work at much faster then goal half marathon pace and taper
First 2 Months
Focus on getting your mileage built up during those first two months.
Don’t worry about pace just focus on building a consistent base of mileage and continuing for 8 weeks.
Build up to 40 to 100 miles per week depending on your experience and ability level.
Remember, quality over quantity later in the cycle, quantity and easy mileage early.
During the first 2 months of this 6 month half marathon build up your focus isn’t going to be so much on quality as it will be in the following 4 months of training.
Quantity is fine the first 2 months but you will need to focus from easy higher mileage the first 2 months to more specific half marathon training the last 4 months.
If you want to know how I would answer how to train for a half marathon in 6 months I would focus on foundation first, specific training and speed second.
You cannot build into any half marathon training section of training without first strengthening the joints, ligaments and muscles of the body.
Timing is important.
Do not make the mistake I made of getting too fit too early.
Plan your work and work your plan.
Second 2-Month Session
Here is where you will move away from focusing specifically on each mileage into longer sustained efforts.
Workouts I would focus on during this section of the 6 month half marathon training cycle would be as follows:
Long runs at a heart rate of 160BPM varying in distance.
This averages out to around 85 to 88% of your max heart rate and is quality running and may be new to the way you conduct your long runs but I can promise you this.
You will get half marathon results from doing this.
Increasing the pace of my long runs is the single biggest reason I dropped my marathon PR from 2:40:02 to 2:19:35.
Do not focus on jumping in with both feet during these runs and do not try to do the run in its entirety at this effort or you might get shot down.
If you have a long run of, say 10-15 miles in length, focus on running the first 5 miles easy with the last 5 miles at 160 heart rate.
If you do not have a heart rate monitor and normally do not train with a heart rate monitor the run should feel comfortably hard.
It should not feel as a leisurely effort.
The best half marathon and marathon runners know one thing and one thing well.
Maintaining pace and the only way to minimize slowing down in races is to focus on stressing the lactic acid clearing capability of the body.
You want to teach the body to clear lactic acid faster then it is building up.
The only way to train the body to do this is high level running coupled with a proper focus on recovery.
It is not a contest of how many miles you can run each week but how you plan your workouts.
The only way to do that is by way of holding longer, sustained efforts at higher efforts.
These forms of workouts should not be done until you have first laid a strong foundation of mileage and have some form of overall aerobic fitness.
As you move along the next 2 months of training you will lengthen the time you spend at this heart rate (if doing long run workouts).
If you started off doing your long run with the first 5 miles of a 10-15 mile run easy three to 4 weeks from that date you should be doing 8 to 10 miles of that same run at the same effort.
It should also feel more in control and not as labored as it did in the beginning of the training.
Remember, it is all about progression.
The body will always react but on a physiological level it takes approximately 21 days for the body to adapt to any stress you place upon it.
What does this mean?
The workouts you do today you will not truly adapt to until 3 weeks down the line.
The key is to continue to put in the work and be patient.
Other forms of workouts I would include in the second, 2-month block would be longer, moderate paced fartlerk runs varying in distance.
It could be workouts like 10x2minutes at 165BPM followed by 2 minutes at 150BPM or 3×5 minutes at 165BPM followed by 3 minutes at 140BPM.
The key is to vary the distance and pace, get out of the easy, relaxed mindset and challenge yourself.
You want race pace to feel comfortable and in order for that to occur you cannot run easy every day.
One other point I would like to bring up as it pertains to the long run mentioned above is to alternate one harder long run followed by an easy, recovery long run the following week.
You should not be doing harder paced long runs every week.
Quick way to get fit too early.
Don’t be that guy or gal.
It happens, trust me, but you can learn from past mistakes as I had to do.
If you want to know how to train for a half marathon in 6 months the key is to plan your work and work your plan.
It doesn’t mean jumping straight into doing repeat 1-mile and 2-mile repeats on the track the first week into your half marathon training block.
You will find yourself sucking wind 200m into it and walking by 1200m.
You first focus on laying the foundation and getting your body tuned to the mileage and prepared to start introducing harder efforts and then close the last 2 months with aggression and taper.
During the second, 2-month session of the overal 6-month build up I would also implement some track workouts into the block.
These will be more focused on half marathon specific training and this will be followed into the last 2-month session only there we will focus on some increased aggression and work leg speed.
Workouts I would include as it pertains to track work during the second, 2-month session would be as follows:
4-6x1mile at 10 seconds per mile faster then goal half-marathon race pace
3x2mile at 10-20 seconds per mile faster then goal half marathon race pace
2×3 mile at goal half marathon race pace
12-16x400m at 20 seconds per mile faster then goal half marathon race pace with full recovery between sets.
Road session workouts I would focus on during the second, 2-month block would be as follows:
3-4x1K at 165BPM followed by 1K at 140BPM
2×6 miles at 165BPM
2x5K at 10 seconds slower then goal half marathon pace or at around 165BPM if wearing a heart rate monitor
The second and third 2-month sessions of this 6 month half marathon training build up will be similar in terms of workouts but there will be a difference.
Less recovery between sets if doing track workouts, longer sustained efforts for the long run meaning if you were going 5 to 8 miles at 160BPM early on you will be at 12-15 miles at the same effort now.
Track sessions will be at a more aggressive effort with less recovery and the emphasis on easy, recovery runs will and should be emphasized to recover properly between efforts.
The last 2 month session of the 6 month block will be tough.
You will be focusing more on aerobic capacity type effort meaning sprints, runs consisting of heart rates between 170-76BPM or tempo runs.
Highly challenging and taxing workouts to say the least.
If you want to become dangerous at the half marathon distance you want to minimize slowing down in the race less then your competitors.
I promise you if you set up and time these three, 2-month blocks correctly, do these types of workouts you are going to kill it on the roads.
You should taper 10 days out from your goal half marathon.
Several runners find 3 weeks out as best and you have to follow your own schedule and what works best for you.
This article on how to train for a half marathon in 6 months is just to give you some gold nuggets and suggest what someone at my capability would do.
These are the same types of workouts I was doing prior to running 1:07:06 at the Philadelphia Rock and Roll Half Marathon in 2007.
I also ran a 1:08:44 to place 2nd overall at the 2011 Germantown Half Marathon in 2011 using the exact same set up.
They were the reason I went through the first half marathon of my marathon PR (2:19:35) in just three seconds slower then my half marathon best crossing the half in 1:07:09.
The workouts mentioned above work.
The trick is timing and conducting your training in such a way that you don’t become too anaerobically fit with too many weeks until the big dance.
I have found that 10-days out is where I perform best but everyone is different and you have to follow what your body is telling you first and foremost.
Track and road workouts I would so during the last 2-month training block of a 6 month half marathon training cycle are as follows:
6x1mile on the track at 5K race pace – for me, this is 4:50-53 per rep with 2 minutes rest.
I would focus on 3 minutes to full rest during the first and second 2-month segments and less rest and somewhat faster effort during the latter training block
Remember, no rest in a race so you want to practice teaching the body to handle the build up of lactic acid and functioning on all cyclinders despite not having much rest.
16x1K on the road with 1K at 168-72BPM (tempo effort) followed by 1K at 135-40BPM
That is 10-miles of hard sustained effort and when I am fit I usually hit this in or around 53-55 minutes including the easier 1K efforts.
12-20x200m repeats at 3K goal pace which for me is right around 32-34 seconds or 4:08-4:16 mile pace
You can adjust times according to your own standards.
The Last 10 Days
There is very little you can do in the last 10 days of a 6 month half marathon training block to really make any major difference in your fitness.
You have already done all the work.
The last 10 days is just maintenance work.
I always do a 5K effort on the road at goal half marathon race pace three days out from a major half marathon just to remind myself of what I am about to do.
You want ensure you get plenty of rest, let go of any undue stress you are carrying and remain confident in what you have done these past 6 months.
Focus on what you can control these next few days, hydration, sleep, proper nutrition.
Worrying about if you are fit enough, if you are going to maintain pace or what the other runners may or may not do is a complete waste of your time.
Take full confidence in what you have done and know that the workouts mentioned above will clearly have answered the question how to train for a half marathon in 6 months.
There is trained and there is untrained.
Which one do you want to be come race day?
I already know you will be the highly prepared, razor sharp, ready athlete.
The question is will your competition be prepared to handle what you are about to deliver?