Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Half Marathon Training Plans (But Were Afraid to Ask)
If you are here, it’s probably because you are going to run the United Airlines NYC Half. Congratulations! If this is your first half marathon, you are probably anxiously looking for a training plan. Here are some tips and useful resources to help you going through the many training plans available online.
Before looking at each plan, here are some tips:
Try to plan at least 3 workouts per week. Two short runs during the weekdays and one long run in the weekend should be the baseline of you training plan.
Progressively increase the mileage/time of your runs and decrease it when you reach the peak week, which is generally two weeks before race day.
You don’t have to train at your “race pace”: most of your workouts will be performed at a slower pace, not at your maximum effort, and it is ok! You will train at your race pace during your speed workouts (such as intervals).
Don’t train more than necessary. Rest days are as important as workout days. Take a rest day after your long runs and avoid training more than two days in a row.
One day of cross training per week (a cardio workout such as biking, swimming, elliptical, deep water running, …) is recommended. It helps your general fitness without overstressing your legs.
Strength training (lifting weights) and resistance training (using the resistance of your own body weight) help you to get stronger (and run better!). Pilates and yoga are perfect activities for runners and great for everybody in general.
Start stretching and foam rolling regularly (you will thank us later!).
If it’s hard for you to stay motivated, find a running buddy (it’s more fun!).
And most important, always listen to your body and check in with your doctor if there is any underlying condition that prevents you from running a half marathon.
NYRR offers a number of free training plans on its website. If this is your first marathon, we suggest the Beginner guide. It’s a 10-week plan which includes four runs per week plus one “Flex Day” in which you can choose between a short run at an easy pace, a cross training activity or rest. You can find more details on each type of runs in NYYR guide.
The idea behind NYRR Virtual training is the same of the free training guides. It’s a 10-week plan which includes three-five runs per week plus one “Flex Day”. The great advantage of the virtual plan is that it is based on your fitness level. You select the number of workouts per week, your most recent race results, your current mileage and average pace and it will create your own training plan (mileage per week, pace and goal time for the race). The plan will adjust itself as soon as you upload your first workouts. A plus: it is Strava compatible, you can upload your runs from Strava to keep track of your progress.
This Runner’s World free plan is ideal for beginners. If you have never run more than a 10K this is a good starting point to build your endurance for the half marathon. It starts with three runs per week and gets to four during the last weeks. Some cross-training and strength training sessions are recommended throughout the plan. The maximum mileage reached per week is 22 miles and the longest weekend run is 10 miles. This is a great choice if your goal for this half marathon is to cross the finish line, without any ambition on your finish time. Here is the first week of training:
This free training plan designed by Nike might be ideal for more experienced runners but it is a useful reference guide to understand different type of running workouts and can be used as running glossary in general. It’s a 14-week plan with 5 workouts per week.
If you have already spent money for a Garmin watch you will be happy to know that you have access to free training plans from your Garmin Connect. If you log in from your browser you can find the different options under “Training” and then “Training Plans”. The Standard Plans are available for all Garmin devices. There are two beginner plans, one based on the heart rate zones and one based on the pace.
You can start the plan even if you have less than 16 weeks before the race day (just select “Finish Time” and choose your race date). Once you choose, all the workouts will be automatically upload in your Garmin calendar (browser and App). Here is an example of one week of training:
Garmin Coach is an interactive version of the Garmin Standard Plans. Similar to NYRR Virtual Training, the plan will adjust itself based on your fitness level and the workouts you upload. Unfortunately, there is just an intermediate option and it is available on the most recent Garmin watches only (like Forerunner 45/245, vivoactive series 3 and vivoactive 4).
If you subscribed for Strava’s premium version (Strava Summit) you have access to free training plans created by McMillan Running. Simply go to “Training” and “Training Plans”. The plan will be based on how many times you are going to run every week and it will give you a goal time per each workout instead of the miles to run. The plan didn't differentiate between beginner and advanced so probably it is not the best choice for true beginner.