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You are not going to read here great nutrition recommendations. You are not going to read here about clinically proven best exercise practices either.

However you will be reading here a beginner runner’s training plan in preparation to run a Half Marathon race for the first time ever. I have to warn you, that my training plan has been put together based on the followings:

  • intensive Google research;
  • fine tuning plan based on given personal circumstances;
  • adjusting as needed due to previously unforeseen and/or miscalculated event(s).

As a result, after started taking running seriously in December 2011, 20 lbs less and 9 months later I was able to finish my first Half Marathon race in less than 1 hour 55 minutes. Not a bad start, but more importantly through the months of training I reached the point when I was already certain that unless an unexpected injury comes up, I will be able to finish the race with a not too bad time.

Before all the details, if you are just looking for a training plan for reference, here is mine:

What I have been through lately…

And here are the sweaty details…

Step 1: Define your goal

Define when you want to have your first Half Marathon and how. Are you targeting to run the whole distance or you will be just happy to get to finish line any way you can (running all the way, walking, walking/running, etc.)? Do you have a target time? Do you want to finish in less than 4 hours? 3 hours? 2 hours? etc.

My goal was to run the whole distance and finish within 2 hours.

Step 2: Check for reference

There are tons of training plans, blog posts, books, article, movie clips, etc. out there that can give you an idea of what you are about to achieve and how others did it.

In my case, of course I started an internet search for training plans. I wanted to see what is out there and what other people have used already successfully. I found quite a few training plans and most of the training plans for beginners who were targeting their first Half Marathon were mostly very similar. Or it is possible that I was not looking very hard enough. Either way, after some search online, I ended up picking the Beginner Half Marathon Program from coolrunning.com. I chose this plan to be my starting point, and then I started to customize it.

Training plan from coolrunning.com in my table ready to customize

Step 3: Customize the training plan for yourself

Every person’s body is different and every person’s circumstances, personal schedules are different. So make sure that your training plan accommodates all your needs. As a starting point, I recommend that you list all your unique circumstances as your brand new training plan will have to accommodate those; otherwise you will always deviate from your schedule.

For your reference here is a list of my unique circumstances that I had to consider:

  • Rest days to be on Mondays and Fridays (I had a long commute early Monday mornings and Friday evenings)
  • Longest training runs of the week to be on Sunday morning (the race I was training for was from 7AM on Sunday morning)
  • Minimize the time I spend away from the family (I had a weird schedule and that did not allow me to spend much time with the family, so the already given short family time I did not want to reduce further by spending hours away for running)
  • I wanted to make sure I have races included in the schedule to get some experience running in a crowd
  • I wanted to make sure that I can verify that I can really run the Half Marathon’s 13.1 miles distance prior to the race
  • I had to get stronger and more durable – at the time I started to prepare my own training plan, I was running 4.31 miles more frequently with a 9:06/mile pace and run a 10k distance for practice only once

Original plan vs. my plan as executed

Step 4: Look for your training ground

Search for one or more than one locations for your training. You can have your own training course for short runs and another one for longer runs.

After accommodating all my special circumstances, I recognized, how lucky I was: where I lived at the that time was a hilly area and I was able to define an approximately 1.4 mile long lap in the neighborhood, that had two steep climbs and one steep decline. When running several miles or 4-5-6 or more laps that helps a lot with improving your strength. Especially when you are at mile 10 and you still have that steep climb ahead of you. It will help you to learn how to overcome temporary challenges. In retrospect it was a great coincidence that I happened to live there at that time. I also intentionally tried to run in a way to minimize how much those steep climbs slowed me down, minimize the time and tempo I lost while running uphill.

Step 5: Execute your training plan

There are always going to be days, which you did not foresee previously and will cause you to skip a training run here or there or days when you just felt too exhausted to run. In my personal opinion such unique instances are nothing to worry about. Skipping one training run is not the end of the world and the extra rest in many cases made me stronger. At least that is how I felt when I run again after the longer than planned break. One thing I kept in mind was that I tried to never skip my Sunday morning training run (that is where I made one mistake that I would like you to avoid so here is one example what not to do when training for your first Half Marathon)

Also make sure that you are prepared to follow your training plan if there are visitors, family events, you have to travel, etc. That is how running early in the morning helps me the best: there is not much going on at 5AM/6AM, so likely your phone is not going to ring and you will not receive too many non-spam emails, there are not too many family members/visitors awake and to have such an early appointment is also very unlikely. So unless your work starts at 6AM, you should be fine. But for you some other time might work better. I tried for a few months running late afternoon/early evening, after work. But it always had the risk of something unexpected coming up in the office, getting too tired before I can run, etc. For my training one of the best decisions I made was to switch to the early morning runs. I recommend that you figure out what works the best as soon as possible.

Step 6: Develop your own race day routine

One key to reduce the race day anxiety is to have a “race day routine” practiced all over again. Wear the same clothes, dress up, snack at the same time, potty at the same time, tie your shoes in the same way and all other necessary preparation steps repeated in the same sequence and same manner on every Sunday morning. Also starting your Sunday morning run at the same time as the race will begin helps a lot, too. Just imagine if you always wake up at 10AM on Sundays and go running at 2PM, how significant of a change that is going to be for your body on race day, when the race begins at 7AM and you will have to start driving to the race at 5AM. Will it mean that your Saturday night partying will have to be cut shorter or skipped completely? Only you can answer this question…

Other important details:

Know your limits:

This is extremely important!!! If you are well aware of your physical limitations, then you minimize chances for unwanted surprises. By the time you will have your first Half Marathon race, you should know clearly where through the 13.1 miles you must have a drink to keep yourself going. You should know if you need to carry snack and it you will be able to hold off on the restroom break until you reach the finish line.

In my case, intentionally I trained on a similar course with running multiple laps whenever I increased the distance. This way if anything went wrong, I knew I could still make it home. This gave me the opportunity to train always without taking any refreshments through my training runs. That was very helpful to understand that my physical limit prior to my first Half Marathon was somewhere between 13 and 14 miles. Considering not taking a drop of any kind of drink, not taking any bite of any snack while running continuously for two hours.

For this reason I always wondered why lot of training plans that I could find online for the beginner Half Marathon training plan had no runs that would match the 13.1 miles and one or two runs longer than 10 miles. As those training plans suggest, you would go to your first Half Marathon race without really knowing that you can finish it. I think that is not good, but those plans at least certainly assure that you will have a good chance to get through the race without a need to interact with the medical staff. That goes back to Step 1: Define your goal

Important remark here: I had quite a bit of time prior to the race day, so I defined before my 12 weeks training plan started a 6 weeks long pre-training. For this 6 weeks pre-training, my goal was to be able to run a 10k distance (6.2 miles) with high confidence and at a stable pace. By the time I started my 12 weeks long training plan, I was already regularly running 15-20 miles every week and have been running regularly for 6 months already.

Half Marathon pre-training ramp up plan

Running gear:

It is very important to keep track of the wear of your running shoes. Here is my experience with when to replace the running shoes. Other running gear, such as socks, the right shirt (I discovered that certain shirts that I have will cause my nipples bleeding if I run in them more than 8 miles… you never know, I guess) and pants, also your time tracking device. Make sure you get really familiar with it, how to use it, how to record lap time. You do not want to waste your energy on race day trying to figure out in the middle of the crowd how to use certain features. That would be unnecessary stress.

Get the right running gear – shirt can cause bleeding nipple

Lose weight (if applicable):

I cannot give you any advice on what to eat and what not to eat. One thing I do know, though: not eating through most of the day and stuff your belly full in the evenings is definitely not healthy. Sure eating with moderation, eating regularly is already a good direction. Eliminating completely or at least minimizing to the level of eating fast food every once in a while is another good step to the right direction.

In my case I was able to lose more than 23 lbs since I started running regularly and made the above mentioned very few basic changes. If I think about going out running with a 20 lbs backpack on my back, sure that would not be easy. Just imagine, even if you do not get stronger at all (which is not true, because you will), but just running with the same effort and losing 10 lbs will make it less stress on your joints, less weight to carry through the whole distance, more energy reserved for the second half of the race.

In case you need some motivation to start losing weight, here is a story about how to gain 8 lbs in 48 hours.

Do not give up:

Besides all the above, training for your first Half Marathon is really nothing more than your willingness to get through the training and get it done.

In case you have any other suggestions, ideas that can help other fellow runners who attempt to run a Half Marathon, please share it here.

Have a happy training!