Set an “A” goal. Estimate what race time you want to make your “A” goal: the goal you can achieve if everything, from training to weather conditions on race day, goes your way. Many race-time predictors exist online to help you calculate a time you’re capable of based on previous races of various distances. You may want to aim for a slightly faster time than what the predictor gives you, but be ready to work.
Set a “B” and “C” goal, too. Since not everything can always align perfectly, it’s good to have a B goal that will be easier to attain than the A goal. The B goal should be something you can likely achieve with decent training. And since things can go wrong on race day, it’s also a good idea to set a C goal—a time you can achieve even on your worst days. The point of having B and C goals is to allow you to feel like you’ve accomplished a goal, even if the day doesn’t unfold perfectly.
Add mileage to your long run. Runners training to race a half-marathon will want their long runs leading up to the race to exceed 13 miles. Those aiming to break 2 hours, 30 minutes or slower may only need to run 13 miles once, a couple of weeks out from race day. Those aiming to run closer to 1:30 will benefit from their long run reaching 15 miles a couple of weeks before the race. For either runner, gradually adding on to the long run will help prevent injuries.
Add mileage to your week. Racers aiming to run around 2:30 will benefit from running into the high 30s (miles per week) in the peak of their build-up training. Runners looking to run in the 1:20 to 1:45 range will benefit from higher mileage, somewhere in the 45 to 55 miles-per-week range during the peak of their build-up. Gradually increase weekly mileage to stay healthy.
Add speedwork/track work/hills. Runners aiming to hit, and hold, a certain pace during a race need to practice both pacing themselves and pushing harder than race pace to build their cardiovascular systems. Adding a session of speedwork at the track, tempo runs, or hill workouts will effectively tax the system.
Vary your paces. Allowing your body time to recover from the hard workouts and the long runs by running easy (easier than you might think, like, 55-75% of your 5K race pace) on your “maintenance runs”—the two or three other runs a week, which will vary in mileage, aside from your three main workouts—gives greater gains than pushing one pace all the time. During your long run, or during certain workouts, it’s also a good idea to run your A-goal race pace for a few miles to learn what that pace feels like and train your body how to hold that pace.
More Training Strategies for Everyone
Racing a half-marathon successfully requires more than following a training program. Here are a few additional strategies that can help set you up for success.
Add strength training and mobility. Both strength training and mobility (stretching and rolling) make you stronger and can help prevent injuries.
Train your gut. The half-marathon distance requires fueling and hydrating. Your weekly long run is a good time to experiment with ingesting fuel and hydration. Pay attention to how certain fuels and amounts of fluids make you feel, both during your run and after.
Do a dress rehearsal. Train in the shoes, apparel, and accessories you plan on wearing on race day. If something irritates you during training, swap it out for a better option.
Stay healthy. Even runners following carefully laid-out training plans suffer from injuries. It’s best to listen to your body and back off if you feel pain beyond muscle soreness. It’s better to show up at race day healthy and slightly undertrained than slightly injured after following a training plan to the letter.