If you want to run a half marathon (13.1 miles or 21.2 kilometres), you'll need a high level of specific fitness. For most people, the biggest issue is building up enough stamina to cover that distance. More experienced runners will be looking to run a strong, sustained speed for the whole course.
For all runners, the best way to do this is to start with the 5k, and build up to covering 10k comfortably - this will help you evaluate your fitness levels. A note for 'charity runners': it may be a one-off event, but you could be putting yourself at risk if you don't undertake serious preparation for a challenge like this. Do take time to build up your stamina.
Making your plan
A half marathon is a long way - you'll need to be dedicated. You should be running regularly, at least four times each week, and one of those runs should be a reasonable distance - over 10k. Focus on building up the distance of that run by 5 minutes each week. Don't panic if you have a week that 'doesn't work' - no one's perfect. Always have a structure to your run, one that you're comfortable with such as 5 minutes running followed by 1 minute walking. Over time, you'll find your fitness levels improve and so will the amount of time you can spend running.
Gradually build your long run up until you're active for 1 hour 45 minutes at a time. The more comfortably you can run, the easier it will be to improve your time as you become more experienced. Remember, a run that's helping you improve your stamina is one that's at an easy or steady pace - you should be able to speak at least a sentence or two at a time.
The half marathon is primarily a test of endurance - but don't underestimate the value of including faster running in your training. It'll boost your fitness and help you run more efficiently at the slower paces.
'Speed' training involves running quickly for relatively short periods and then walking, jogging, or standing during a recovery period. 'Tempo' running involves running at a fast, controlled pace, but neither session is 'flat out'. The energy used to recover from a flat out pace stops you feeling the full benefit of the effort involved. Try to build a number of speed and tempo sessions into your half marathon training. The aim is to finish these sessions feeling as though you've worked really hard - but could still do a little more. Remember to vary your sessions - this will help keep you focused and motivated - and don't forget to warm up and down before each run.
Half marathon sessions
Try including these sessions in your long run. Remember to stay controlled and monitor your speed - a competent athlete can regulate pace to cover the same ground in a consistent time.
- Intermediate level speed sessions. Start with a 5 minute jog, then run 8 x 3 minute sessions, breaking each with a 90 seconds walk/jog rest interval.
- Run for sessions of 4 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute, 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 4 minutes - breaking each phase with a 2 minute walk/jog rest interval.
- Run 3 x (6 minutes fast but controlled running, 1 minute rest, 2 minutes running at a faster pace) taking 3 minutes walk/jog rest intervals in-between each set.
- Run for sessions of 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 4 minutes, 5 minutes, 6 minutes - all with a 2 minutes rest interval in-between. Start sensibly - the sessions get longer and longer - and don't forget to warm down.
- Intermediate level tempo sessions. Start with a 5 minute jog, then run 3 x 8 minutes at tempo, 2 minutes rest in between each set, 5 x 5 minutes at tempo, 90 seconds rest in between each set.
- Run 10 minutes at tempo, 2 minutes rest, 5 minutes at tempo, 2 minutes rest, 10 minutes at tempo. Keep it controlled and remember the 10 minutes tempo at the end of the session.
- Finish with 22 minutes at constant controlled speed. Don't go off too fast.
- Warm down.
Read more about preparing for race day, and find out how stretching plays a vital part in your warm up and down.