Running a half marathon

Our essential half marathon guide

Here's our half marathon guide for those wanting to tackle the 13.1 mile run distance. We'll show you how to get started for a half marathon, what you should wear for half marathon training, what you should eat or drink, how much training you should do for a half marathon and what will happen on race day. We'll also let you know how long it might take you to complete a half amrathon and the time you may get on race day.

Running a half marathon: How do I get started for a half marathon?

To help guide you through the half marathon maze, simply follow the three-step checklist below to get off the mark:

Half marathon training guide

Step 1. Check that it’s safe for you to begin exercising

If you’ve not exercised for some time, have a check-up with your doctor before you begin.

Step 2. Evaluate your fitness levels.

You need to know where you are before you can progress – so sit down and honestly assess where your running and general fitness levels currently are.

Step 3. Select a training plan

Trying to prepare for a half marathon without a training plan is like trying to find your way to a new town without a map and signposts. To take you on your journey to half marathon success, you need to follow a structured training plan that is right for your fitness levels and will take you safely towards your marathon goal.

Running a half marathon: What should I wear for my half marathon training?

To start your half marahton training, basic shorts and a t-shirt and/or sweatshirt is pretty much all you need. There is an excellent range of running-specific gear available that will keep you dry, will help you to avoid any chafing problems and will be light and comfortable to wear – but to begin with you’ll probably find that you already own enough gear to get you started. However, one area of kit where you shouldn’t compromise is on training shoes – and it is certainly worth investing in a proper pair of running-specific trainers. Seek out a specialist retailer who can give you advice and, if necessary, assess your gait, so that you can find the most suitable shoe for your running style. Remember that a good pair of running shoes is an investment in comfort and injury prevention, and will repay you again and again long after your initial outlay.

Running a half marathon: What should I eat and drink during my training?

Correct nutrition and hydration is an essential part of both your half marathon preparation and during the race itself. Without the correct fuel – and enough of it! – you will be unable to complete the longer runs, and so paying close attention to your diet is key. As a runner, you need to be consuming plenty of ‘slow-release’ carbohydrate to provide you with energy – which means food choices such as pasta are ideal. As a rule of thumb, you typically burn at least 100 calories per mile on top of your general daily calorie requirements – so it is important that your body is supplied with enough of the correct type of fuel. Also, don’t neglect your fluid intake, because your fluid requirements will increase both for storing fuel in your muscles and because you will lose more fluid through sweating.

Running a half marathon: How much training do I need to do for a half marathon?

Up to a point, the more training that you are able to complete, the better. However, you should always remember that the most important component of any training plan is rest – so a correct training plan should balance building up your half-marathon-specific fitness with sufficient recovery. Use the ‘training time vs finishing time’ guide below to help you gauge how much time you need to commit per week. Your half marathon training plan should consist of a careful blend of long runs, recovery sessions and faster-paced training as you build your half-marathon-specific endurance – so that you will be able to run for two hours or longer.

  • Training for less than four hours per week = Your target half marathon finishing time should be between two and three hours.
  • Training for four to five hours per week = Your target half marathon finishing time should be two to two and a half hours.
  • Training for five to six hours per week = Your target half marathon finishing time should be under two hours.

stop watch and what time you will get when running a half marathon

Running a half marathon: How long will a half marathon take me?

Depending upon the weather conditions on race day and any unpredictable events that occur, your half marathon may be faster or slower than your target time – so the above finishing times are just a guide. It is also important to remember that you will actually be out on the road for longer than your target time. It can take several minutes to cross the start line at mass-participation half marathons such as the Great North Run – but with modern computerized timing systems, the organisers are able to record your personal time from crossing the start line to crossing the finishing line. More and more races are issuing runners with their own personal timing chip that you fix to your shoe. At the start and finish lines, as well as at various points around the course, you will cross special mats that register your time as you pass over them – which will provide you with an exact time for your own half marathon race.

Running a half marathon: What happens on half marathon race day?

The day of your race will be a fantastic experience that you will never forget. In addition to running your race, the build up and culmination of all your training makes everything worthwhile. You need to rise early so that you can top up your energy stores before heading for the start. At larger events, there can be as many as 30,000 runners – which will make for an amazing atmosphere! Everyone will line up in positions according to their expected finishing time – indicated by placards by the side of the road – and then the start gun will fire and you’ll be off!

En route there will be drinks stations where you can top up with water and/or energy replacement drinks. Running in a huge field is very exciting but can take a little getting used to – so entering a lead-in race such as a 10k event will give you very useful race experience before you do a half marathon. Pace judgment is very important during your race, and your training plan will help you to prepare for running at an even consistent pace. Also, each mile or kilometer will be clearly marked so that you can check your progress. There are usually big crowds at the finish, and crossing the line and achieving your goal is a memory that will stay with you forever!

Once you have finished, you will receive your medal, food and drink, and often a goody bag with a souvenir race t-shirt and other products. A few days after your race you can expect to receive the race results and often a selection of photographs taken around the course of you in action – which will be excellent mementoes!

Running a half marathon: Can I do it?

The answer to that question is an unequivocal YES! There are literally dozens of half marathon races staged each year, and fields vary from a few hundred runners to many, many thousands – demonstrating that it is a race distance that is accessible to all. Going from non-runner to half marathon finisher is always a real success story – and one that is genuinely achievable by following a correctly structured training plan that will help you towards your half marathon goal. And as well as achieving your goal, there is a great spin-off benefit too: improved health and fitness! So, if you’re considering taking the half marathon plunge, then do it. It’ll be a fantastic experience that you’ll never forget!

If you fancy taking on a half marathon then check out our half marathon charity run listings and find an event to take part in.

Comments (3)

  • veggieberger 'I have entered my first Half Marathon and I often doubt my ability & ask myself if can I do it? now I know the answer YES! :-)'

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  • cjthomas 'I'm booked into the Chester Half Marathon. did too much too soon though and hurt my achilles so don't try and run before you can walk if you'll pardon the pun!'

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  • torquaygary 'I am running the Torbay Half Marathon on the 24th June cant wait, look like a great race. Anyone else on here run it before ?'

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