How to Train for a Half Marathon for Beginners (Plus, a 12-Week Plan)

Thanks to this half marathon training plan for beginners, you can finally check "run 13.1 miles" off your bucket list.

Photo: Getty Images / Oleg Breslavtsev

For new and regular runners alike, training for a half marathon offers an enticing — but attainable — challenge. To those wondering "how long is a half marathon?", it's 13.1 miles. That's long enough that your half-marathon training plan requires commitment, but short enough that the training doesn't have to take over your entire life (unlike, say, the marathon).

If you're new to running, don't let nervousness about half-marathon training stop you from signing up for your goal race. Here, learn everything you need to know about how to train for a half marathon, including a 12-week half-marathon training plan designed by Kayla Jeter, C.P.T., an RRCA-certified running coach, NASM-certified personal trainer, and certified functional strength coach. This half-marathon training plan also covers how to find your half-marathon pace and what your weekly half-marathon training schedule should include.

Who Should Use This 12-Week Half Marathon Training Plan?

As far as how long it takes to train for a half marathon, it depends on your goals and what you want out of the experience, says Kayla Jeter, C.P.T., an RRCA-certified running coach, NASM-certified personal trainer, and certified functional strength coach. "For your beginner runner, who's looking for a fun, recreational vibe, a 12-week half-marathon training plan is ideal," she explains. "This half marathon training plan gives you enough time to build up your mileage in a way that feels safe and leaves you wanting to run a race again." Runners with a consistent running routine or those chasing a performance goal, on the other hand, might benefit from a shorter half-marathon training schedule.

How to Train for a Half Marathon

Before you even lace up your running shoes, training for a half marathon means understanding a few running fundamentals and the basics of a typical half-marathon training schedule. Here, Jeter explains everything you need to know about what's included in your 12-week half-marathon training plan.

Speed runs

In speed runs, you'll alternate going fast for short intervals (think: anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes or 100m to 800m) and recovering in a jog or walk. Speed work can also include longer tempo intervals, in which you run for longer durations (think: 10 to 40 minutes) at a push pace that's slightly out of your comfort zone. "You're pushing the anaerobic part of your body and practicing jacking your heart rate up, then bringing it down," adds Jeter. (Anaerobic training refers to exercises that can only be performed for a short period of time, and they're fueled by glycogen, aka sugar that's stored in your muscles.) Don't forget a dedicated running warm-up and cooldown during speed runs, BTW; these few minutes will help your heart and muscles safely adjust to the work you're doing.

You might think of speed runs as something only elite runners do, but they're beneficial for beginners, too. "Speed runs build that base of strength and endurance by helping you practice going fast in a controlled setting," explains Jeter. "They're a great way to increase confidence." And if you get bored easily while running, you might love the variety speed work offers as you switch up your pace at regular intervals.

Easy runs

Easy runs are done at a conversational pace and are used as recovery runs in this 12-week half-marathon training program. "Even elite runners do slow recovery runs, because they have so much value," says Jeter. One of the biggest benefits of the easy run is that it increases the time you spend on your feet during your run, which mimics your race day experience and helps your body (specifically, your joints and muscles) adapt to the stress of a half marathon. Focus on maintaining good running form during your easy runs, which may be surprisingly hard, says Jeter. "Most people's running mechanics naturally level out to proper form while sprinting, but you want to have that good form even when you're running slower" — as you will be during your half marathon.

Long runs

Long runs, done on a weekly basis, help you gradually accumulate mileage until you're almost at that 13.1-mile mark. This is the most important run of your week, stresses Jeter. "Whether you're focusing on pace or completion, the long run is meant to be the endurance run that puts together all of the training you've done that week." It's also a good opportunity to simulate race-day conditions, so use the long run as a chance to practice fueling for your half marathon.

Cross training

Yes, your half-marathon training plan will include days without any running at all. Cross training refers to any non-running activity that complements your running workouts, and in your 12-week half-marathon training plan, cross training will mostly mean strength training (although it may also include low-intensity steady-state cardio, such as swimming, cycling, or rowing). "Strength training at least two times a week is so important to building the foundational base of a runner," says Jeter. But you don't have to spend hours in the gym deadlifting twice your body weight; instead, focus on exercises that translate directly to running, such as bodyweight squats, planks, lunges, and more. "Strength training should complement but not take away from — or take energy away from — your running," says Jeter. Read: Don't lift to the point where you're too sore for your long run.


This 12-week half-marathon training plan includes one recovery day per week, on which Jeter recommends doing some form of light, low-intensity activity (think: a relaxing walk, a yoga flow, or a mobility routine). While it might be tempting to completely crash on the couch on your recovery day (especially as your weekly mileage climbs), try to get some movement in. "For new runners especially, recovery days help build the habit of doing something active," explains Jeter. "They help you adopt the lifestyle of being the athlete you are." (And once race day hits, make sure you plan your half-marathon recovery strategically, too.)

How to Find Your Half-Marathon Pace

If you're a beginner runner or new to the half-marathon distance, a big part of your training will be learning how to find your half-marathon pace. Unlike a shorter race, such as the 5K, the half-marathon requires a slightly slower pace that you can hold for a longer duration of time.

Think about pace in terms of rate of perceived exertion (RPE) on a scale of 1 to 10, in which 1 is a walk and 10 is an all-out sprint, says Jeter. "The majority of your runs should be around 3-5 on the scale," she explains. "Your long run stays around a 3." Use this pace chart to help ID your pace when completing the workouts in the half marathon training plan for beginners.

Half Marathon Training Plan schedule for beginners
Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

Best Advice for Training for a Half Marathon

The idea of training for a half marathon for 12 weeks might be intimidating, no matter how much running you've done in the past. The secret to overcoming this anxiety? "Every week, start with an athlete's mindset and ask yourself what your performance is focused on this week," advises Jeter. "Identify your why to keep you locked in." And if 12 weeks feels like forever, break it down into four-week chunks. Your first four weeks of half-marathon training, in particular, are focused on building strength and getting comfortable with higher mileage.

Inevitably, you'll run into roadblocks that force you to alter your half-marathon training. If that happens, "protect the long run at all costs," stresses Jeter. "If you can't do your long run all in one go because of scheduling, split it into two runs on the same day to get the same mileage." For example, if you have a 10-mile run on the schedule but you don't have enough time to do it all, split it into two five-mile runs (or whatever makes sense for your schedule). You can also adjust your schedule to fit your needs; if your long run doesn't work on the day you usually do it, switch it to another day in your weekly training plan. Remember, this is your half-marathon training plan, so do what makes sense for your needs and goals.

Finally, know that your consistency and sticking to your training schedule will pay off on race day. "Consistency is cumulative," says Jeter. "Come race day, if you've done all the preparation, the excitement and anxiety you'll naturally feel will be less about whether you're prepared, and more about the excitement of achieving your goal."

12-Week Half Marathon Training Plan for Beginners

A couple of notes from Coach Kayla on this 12-week half-marathon training plan for beginners. First, know that recovery runs are optional — if your body is craving something different, honor those needs. And for your speed runs, remember that "goal pace is individual," says Jeter (it's the equivalent to the pace at which you hope to run your half marathon). "If unknown, I suggest running at threshold RPE 6-7/10," she notes.

Ready to train? Here's your 12-week half marathon training plan for beginners, as designed by Coach Kayla Jeter.

12 week half marathon training plan
12 Week Training Plan
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