The half marathon – 13.1 miles – is a great race. It’s not as physically draining as a full marathon, but you also can’t wing it like you can a 5k. To be prepared, you’ll need to train – using one of these 12 week half marathon training plans.
I took a look at a few options to see what’s out there. They run the gamut, and you can find plans for true novices as well as plans for experienced runners. Before you pick a plan, you’ll want to think about your goal – is it just to finish or are you targeting a specific time?
Comparing twelve week training plans from Hal Higdon and Runner’s World, I largely prefer the Hal Higdon ones. They will prepare you for the distance, and they aren’t overly complicated or confusing. There are a few different options, depending on how experienced you are.
If you’re looking to train hard, and you have the base to do so, you could also take a look at Jack Daniels’ or Pete Pfitzinger’s half marathon training plans. They are intense, but they will help you reach your full potential.
Hal Higdon’s 12 Week Half Marathon Training Plans
Hal Higdon’s plans are often recommended for beginners, and for good reason. They don’t have a lot of complicated workouts, and they are simple to understand.
The novice and intermediate plans start from an accessibly low base, and as long as you can run a few miles you can find a plan that’s good for you. At the same time, he offers an advanced training program that is a simple way to improve your time after you’ve managed to complete your first half.
In addition to the section below, I’ve written an entire post on the pros and cons of Hal Higdon half marathon training plans. If you’re considering a Hal plan, check it out.
Hal Higdon’s Novice Plan
The novice plan is geared towards beginners, and its focus is simply on getting you to complete the 13.1 mile distance. You can start this plan as long as you can run 4 miles.
The plan has a consistent schedule of four days running, one day cross training, and two days of rest. This seems like a good balance. It’s a time commitment, but not a crazy one.
The weekday runs slowly progress from 2-3 miles to 4-5 miles, and then they stop. Saturday’s are easy cross training days, and I imagine you’d do something like indoor cycling or bike riding. Your long run is on Sunday, and this is where the real work is done. It will progress up to 10 miles by the end.
There are also two races built in to the middle of the plan – a 5k and a 10k race – and these are good opportunities to check our fitness and get a feel for running at a faster pace over a long distance. The rest of the miles are going to be easy.
The first week’s mileage is 12 miles, and the plan climbs to 23 miles at the peak in week 11. Other than the races, there are no specific workouts.
At the end of the day, I think this achieves exactly what it sets out to do. You’re not going to finish the race quickly, and you won’t be in the best racing shape of your life. But you’ll be able to run 13.1 miles and cross the finish line comfortably.
Once you’ve finished a half marathon, you can work on getting faster and incorporating structured workouts into your training.
There’s also a Novice 2 program. It’s virtually identical to Novice 1, except that every other Wednesday has a steady state run at an increased pace. This still isn’t an intense training plan, but it’s a good alternative for someone who wants to do more than the bare minimum of finishing.
Hal Higdon’s Intermediate Training Plan
Hal Higdon’s intermediate training plan is definitely a step above the novice plan, but not by a huge amount. The plan calls for five running days, one cross training day, and one rest day per week.
It’s going to be more of a commitment than the novice plan, and it will increase your mileage somewhat more significantly. It starts off easy – 17 miles – but progresses to 34 miles at the peak in week 10.
Like Novice 2, the Intermediate 1 plan incorporates a weekly steady state run at race pace. But otherwise, the plans don’t include any workouts.
This looks to me like a great half marathon base building plan. It will take you from mediocre mileage to where you need to be to run a strong half. It won’t fully develop your speed or endurance, without many workouts, but it will prepare you for those workouts in the future.
There’s also an Intermediate 2 plan that incorporates a workout every Wednesday. These workouts alternate between 400m repeats at 5k pace and increasingly long tempo runs.
With those additions, the Intermediate 2 plan looks like a great plan for someone to get in shape for a half marathon. It starts at a low enough mileage that it’s accessible to relatively novice runners, as long they’ve spent a few months building a base. It would also be great for someone who is getting back into running, and hasn’t run a lengthy race in a while.
Over the fall, I spent twelve weeks transitioning from a base building phase to running a half marathon. My training looked somewhat similar, and this would have been a great structure for me to follow.
This is not a good choice, though, if you’re already in half marathon shape and you’re looking to improve your time. The beginning weeks are relatively low mileage, and this plan assumes you’ll be ramping up the miles over the first few weeks.
Hal Higdon’s Advanced Training Program
Now the advanced program, I like. This looks great for someone who has run a half marathon before, has an established base of running, and is looking to improve their times.
In other words, they’ll be where I will be in the spring. I’ll be starting a similar training plan come February for a half marathon in April.
This plan calls for running six days a week, and it doesn’t specifically call for any cross training. Three of those days are generally easy. The other three days include a workout, a tempo run, and a long run. The mileage starts at around 30 miles per week and it increases slowly to about 40 miles per week at the peak.
The Tuesday workouts are various forms of speed and strength training. For the first few weeks, they alternate between hill sprints and 400m intervals at 5k speeds. These will help develop some speed and strength. The later weeks focus on longer intervals at 10k pace, as well as one week at half-marathon race pace. These move towards becoming race specific and are a good way to hone in on your target pace.
The Wednesday tempo runs will increase to about an hour. This will be a good gauge of your fitness. If you can’t finish that hour easily, you might be targeting the wrong pace. After all, you’ll have to maintain a pace for closer to two hours for the half marathon. You’ll run your Sunday long runs at an easy pace, and the length will range from 1:30 to 2:00.
Overall, I think this is a solid plan for an experienced runner. It has all of the elements of a good training plan for a half marathon runner. There’s a little bit of speed and strength work, a heavy focus on tempo runs, and enough volume that you will be able to run the race strong.
This is most definitely not a beginner’s plan. But after running for six months to a year, if a runner can comfortably do 25 to 30 mpw, they’ll be ready to embark on this plan. It’s more approachable than other advanced plans intended for serious athletes, but lightyears ahead of many of the intermediate plans that assume you have to build your base.
Runner’s World 12 Week Half Marathon Training Plans
Runner’s World has a collection of half marathon training plans on their website, as well. They have a bunch of different ones, targeted at different paces.
I took a look at a few of the plans, and I tried to pull out a representative sample below. They’re not bad, but overall I’d prefer the Hal Higdon plans to these.
I feel like the easy plans don’t build enough of a base, and the more advanced plans are haphazardly put together. But still, they’ll get you across the finish line.
Runner’s World Beginner Plan
This beginner’s plan is designed to take you to the half marathon distance for the first time.
It says it’s appropriate for runners who can run a long run of at least 6 miles. However, it starts quite a lot easier. The first week is only three runs, totaling 9 miles with a long run of 4 miles. At peak, you’ll be running just over 20 miles and 4 days per week.
This is a pretty minimalist plan, and it’s good for someone who can’t commit a lot of time. The bulk of the plan is 3 runs per week, and one of those is short (2-3 miles). You’d essentially be committing to two days of running at length.
The philosophy behind the plan seems to be a) an easy run (2-3 miles on Tuesday), b) a moderate run with some intensity (Thursday, 5-7 miles), and c) a long run (Sunday, progressing to 10 miles).
My main problem with this plan is that it’s mostly three days per week. I feel like that will leave you pretty under-trained by the end. I’d throw in at least one more short run of 2-3 miles throughout.
You might also look at the long run and worry. If you only run 10 miles in training, how can you complete 13.1 in a race? But it’s definitely possible. The first time I ran a half, I had never run more than 10 miles in training. For your first time, this is good enough.
Ultimately, this plan will help you get across the finish line. But I wouldn’t choose the plan unless literally your only plan is to finish.
Runner’s World Sub-2 Hour Training Plan
This sub-2 hour plan is a little more advanced, but shouldn’t be too tough for someone whose been running for at least a few months. You should be putting in at least 15-20 miles per week, and you should be able to run a 5k in 25 to 26 minutes.
The weekly mileage is mostly 20-25 miles, but there’s a peak week with 30 miles. The plan starts with four runs per week, but after a month it moves up to five runs per week. The first long run is 7 easy miles, but as long as you can complete a 10k at an easy pace you should be ready.
Otherwise, the general training philosophy of this plan is similar to the beginner’s plan. There’s a workout on Thursday and a long run on Sunday. The Thursday workouts are a mix of tempo runs, half marathon pace runs, and mile repeats. Nothing is terribly fast, and the focus is on maintaining a moderate pace for a sustained run. The long runs are all easy pace, and the longest week is a full 13 miles.
You won’t develop your speed much through this plan, but if you’re already fast enough it will help you finish the half marathon under 2 hours. This is a good choice for someone who can run a halfway decent 5k, but wants to tackle a half marathon for the first time.
Even though you run 5 days a week, this isn’t a huge time commitment. Three of the runs are usually only a couple miles, so they’re short days. The only real time commitments are Wednesdays and Sundays.
Runner’s World Sub-1:45 Training Plan
This sub-1:45 plan is the one that I’m most interested in looking at, because I’ll be training for a half marathon under 1:45 this spring.
It’s definitely a more advanced plan, and it will have you running 30-35 miles most weeks. You should be putting in 30 miles or so before you start, and you should be able to run a 46-47 minute 10k.
The plan has five runs per week, and there’s a pretty clear pattern to them:
- Intervals on Tuesday to work on speed. The distances vary a lot, from 200m to 2k, and the paces are 5k to 10k paces.
- A “steady state” run on Wednesday. It’s a long easy run, somewhat slower than marathon pace but not too easy.
- A workout on Thursday that’s either a fartlek or a threshold run at half marathon pace.
- Saturdays are a mix of easy runs and easy fartlek workouts.
- Sundays are either traditional long runs or shorter races and time trials. You will run a couple long runs at or over 13 miles.
Overall, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this plan. The mileage is decent. But I’m not sure if the workouts are the best way to prepare for a half.
The Tuesday speed work days don’t have any rhyme or reason to them. It’s almost like someone picked a bunch of intervals out of a hat for variety. Only two of the twelve weeks have these intervals at 10k pace, which would be more race specific than 5k. I feel like a few weeks early on should be fast intervals – like Jack Daniels’ repetitions – followed by some 5k pace intervals, followed by some 10k paced intervals.
The Thursday workouts, too, seem a bit off. There’s a variety of fartlek and threshold workouts, with one or two weeks of hills. After the first few weeks, I think you should dedicate at least one workout per week to threshold running. And the pace indicated for these 3 or 4 mile threshold runs is 1/2 marathon pace. That seems a bit slow to me.
The one thing I do like about this plan, though, is that it incorporates several tests throughout to make sure you’re on pace. There’s a 10k at half marathon pace, a second 10k race at a faster pace, and a 10 mile run at half marathon pace, and a half marathon trial at slower than target pace. That’s a lot of opportunities to make sure you’re on target.
All things considered, if you come into this plan with the appropriate speed and fitness you’ll probably be fine. You’ll have enough checks along the way to know if you’re on pace. But I’m just not sure if it’s the most efficient mix of workouts over 12 weeks to maximize your half marathon potential.
Pete Pfitzinger’s 12 Week Half Marathon Training Plans
To switch gears a bit, take a look at Pete Pfitzinger’s training plans. He has a series of 12 week half marathon plans in his book Faster Road Racing: 5k to Half Marathons.
To complete these plans, you’ll need a strong base. They are quite advanced. The “easiest” plan starts at 31 miles, and the highest volume plan is for 80-100 miles per week.
What I find interesting about the basic plan, though, is that it only has runs on four days. Over those four days, you’re packing in 30-40 miles. It’s a lot of running, but without committing to six or seven days a week.
These plans focus on a) the long run, b) a lot of lactate threshold work, and c) a sprinkling of intervals for speed.
The 46 to 63 mile plan is similar, but it increases the number of running days from four to five. There’s still really one focus workout and one long run per week, and the rest are easy runs with some strides or speed work mixed in.
The 61 to 84 mile plan increases to six runs per week, and the 81 to 100 mile plan maxes out at seven runs per week.
These are some high volume plans, but with the emphasis on lactate threshold and endurance work, you’ll be prepared to complete a strong race.
I wonder if these plans might be a little light on the speed work – something Jack Daniels incorporates into the early phase of his plan – but depending on what else you’ve done recently that may not be necessary. For this reason, it may be wise to do a full training plan or a short training cycle focused on speed before beginning this plan.
Jack Daniels 12 Week Half Marathon Training Plan
Jack Daniels doesn’t have a specific 12 week half marathon training plan. But if you read his book, Running Formula, you can piece together your own plan.
If you’re not familiar with his book, here’s an overview of his training philosophy. A full Jack Daniels plan would be about 18 weeks – after a base building phase – but you can cut that down to three four-week phases leading up to your goal race.
Note that these plans are intended for serious runners, and you should be running at least 40-50 miles per week. You’ll be running six to seven days a week, with three workouts and the rest easy runs.
For the first four weeks, the focus is on speed and tempo. One workout is repetition training – short intervals at mile pace (or faster) with long recovery. The second workout is cruise intervals at threshold pace, with a short speed workout afterwards. The third workout is a long run, sometimes at an easy pace and sometimes with a few miles at marathon pace.
For the next four weeks, the focus moves from repetition training to interval training. One workout will be longer intervals at or slightly faster than 5k pace with short recovery jogs. The second workout will still be cruise intervals at threshold pace, occasionally with short repetition workouts afterwards. The third workout is again a long run, occasionally with miles at marathon pace.
The final four weeks lead up to your goal race. There are only two workouts instead of three. The focus moves strictly to threshold pace, with a little sprinkling of other stuff mixed in. The workouts are mostly a) cruise intervals and b) long runs with threshold and/or marathon paced miles mixed in.
This is an intense plan, and if you can complete it I have no doubt you’ll be in great shape for your goal race. But this is definitely not the plan for you, unless you’ve been running for a while and have a few races under your belt.
What Are Your Half Marathon Training Goals?
What are you hoping to achieve, and which one of these plans is going to help you out? Leave a comment below, and let me know.
If you’re a true beginner, the Hal Higdon plans are great. And if you’ve completed a race or two, the advanced Hal Higdon plan will help you improve your time.
I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do this spring. But I’ll choosing from the advanced Hal Higdon plan, a version of the Pfitz plan, and a version of the Jack Daniels plan.
They all have their merits, and I think any one of them would help get me closer to my goal.