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How Hard Is It to Run a Half Marathon?

Amanda Wendorff

If you're considering tackling a half marathon, you might be wondering what it takes to be ready to race 13.1 miles. Competing in a half marathon is a significant challenge that requires not just physical stamina but also a solid plan for training and preparation. However, it is also a very doable and exciting goal for a beginner runner. This article will give a glimpse of just what is involved with training for and racing a half marathon, offering you the key insights and strategies needed to confidently approach your race at that distance.

In this article, we'll discuss a few things that are important to know, including:

  • The basics of a half marathon, including its distance and what races involve
  • The time commitment needed to adequately train for a half marathon
  • The first steps towards preparing for a half marathon
  • How to build a good endurance base
  • When to start a half marathon training program, and why a training program is beneficial
  • What race day is really like

If it's your first time contemplating a half marathon, you've come to the right place. We'll teach you all you need to ensure successful completion of your race.

MOTTIV app user Leighton Kuchel hits the finish chute of a race in Australia!

Getting Started: Can You Run a Half Marathon?

What Does a Half Marathon Entail?

A half marathon is a 21 kilometer, or 13.1 mile running race. Most half marathons race courses are on closed roads or bike paths, and can range in size from a couple hundred runners to several thousand runners.

For most beginner runners, a half marathon will take between 1.5 to 2.5 hours, and can incorporate a combination of running and walking. For example, many runners will cover 13.1 miles by adopting a run/walk pattern, such as running a mile, and then briskly walking for a minute.

Running a half marathon is a great goal, especially for a beginner runner, but it is definitely a challenge. Covering 13.1 miles on foot is no small feat, and training for your first half marathon requires months of preparation, determination, and a solid training plan. But if you are up for the challenge of running the half marathon distance, you will find that it is a tremendously rewarding experience.

How Much Time Will Half Marathon Training Take?

Training for a half marathon is a commitment, and the amount of time if will take you to be ready to run a half marathon will depend on a few factors, including:

  1. Your beginning fitness: The starting point of your fitness journey matters in determining how much time you'll need to prepare for a half marathon. If you're already active and can comfortably run or jog for 30 to 45 minutes, you have a solid foundation to build upon. This baseline fitness level suggests that your body is accustomed to regular exercise, making it easier to ramp up the intensity and duration of your workouts without a significant risk of injury. This can shorten the preparation time needed before you're ready to complete a half marathon. Similarly, if you've never run before, or haven't run in a long time, it will take you a lot longer to build the endurance necessary to actually be able to focus on half marathon training.
  2. Your experience with running and endurance sports: If you have experience competing in endurance sports such as cycling or swimming, or have done some running but just haven't raced before, it will likely take you less time to build up to running 13 miles. contributes significantly to your readiness for half marathon training. If you have a background in these activities, you likely have a more developed aerobic base, better muscle endurance, and a mental edge that comes from understanding how to push through discomfort. This experience allows for a more aggressive training plan, possibly shortening the time needed to prepare for a half marathon, and can help set more ambitious race day goals.
  3. Your goals for the race:  The time it will take you to train for a half marathon also depends on your goals. If your goal is simply to finish the race, your training will focus on gradually increasing your mileage to comfortably cover the 13.1 miles, without as much emphasis on speed. Conversely, if you want to run for speed or compete, you're going to be running more. You'll need more training time to incorporate more targeted workouts like speed intervals, tempo runs, and hill repeats, and to develop your speed and stamina through longer runs.

Whether you're running a half-marathon for the first time, or are a more experienced, avid runner aiming to run your fastest half marathon, we generally suggest using a 16-week training plan for a half marathon. However, before even starting those 16 weeks of training, you should be able to run for at least 30-45 minutes with minimal stopping. If you're not there yet, it's best to give yourself plenty of time to build a good base of endurance first.

If you want a more specific idea on how long you will need to prepare for a half marathon in light of your specific goals and background, try this calculator:

How Many Hours a Week Will Half Marathon Training Take?

The hours each week devoted to half marathon training will vary for each runner, but you should plan for at least 4 to 5 hours a week being devoted to training at the peak of your half marathon training.

There are many half marathon training plans available, but the plans on our app have been specifically designed by expert coaches with the understanding that life is busy, and finding a balance is key. To accommodate this, we suggest running 3 to 5 times a week, with one of those runs being a long run that can last up to 2 hours.

In addition to the running schedule, our plans emphasize the importance of strength training and mobility work. These components are crucial for a well-rounded training regimen, offering benefits that extend far beyond the running path.

Given the above, the total weekly time commitment for your half marathon training could range from approximately 4 to 8 hours, depending on the intensity of your runs, the length of your strength training sessions, and how much time you dedicate to mobility work. Of course, you can probably finish a half marathon race with less training, but if you want to give yourself the best chances of getting to the finish line feeling good, we'd suggest devoting a bit more time.

Can I Run a Half Marathon As My First Race?

Yes, you can compete in a half marathon as your first running race. However, we'd generally suggest trying out a shorter distance, like a 5k or 10k first, or at least including a shorter race within your half marathon training. Running a  5k or 10k before trying out the longer races can build your confidence, give you a feeling for what a race environment is like, and provide opportunities to practice pacing and fueling.

If you're interested in preparing for a 5k or 10k, you can find training plans for those distances on our app.

Building Your Foundation: First Steps in Half Marathon Training

Build The Base

Before even starting focused half-marathon training, it's important to build a strong base.

To do this, start running slowly, gradually building mileage each week. For most new runners, it is best to start with a run-walk plan to build endurance without overtaxing your body. Keep all your running easy and at a pace where you can hold a conversation. Over time, build up the time you run without stopping, and increase your overall run time each week.

Don't forget that gradually increasing mileage and allowing for ample rest days are essential in building that base. Many running coaches advise not to increase your weekly mileage by more than 10 percent each week. Take it slow and give your body time to adapt to running.

Use a Structured Training Plan

Once you've been running multiple times a week for a while, and can run 30 to 45 minutes without stopping, it's a good idea to start on a structured half marathon training plan. There are many good plans available out there, and our MOTTIV app features training programs designed by expert coaches tailored to your fitness level.

A good, beginner-friendly training plan will help prepare you for the physical and mental demands of running 13.1 miles in a way that is time-efficient, smart, and balanced. Most good plans will include a variety of types of runs, including long runs focused on endurance, interval runs to improve speed and running economy, and sometimes hill repetitions to build strength. Many will also incorporate strength and mobility work.

Following a structured training plan will not only reduce your risk of injury by ensuring a reasonable build, but it will also give you the confidence come race day that you've done all that you need to do to successfully run your first half marathon to the best of your ability.

Prepare a Hydration and Nutrition Strategy

A big part of successfully training for a half marathon is developing an effective nutrition strategy that can be used both during your race and training sessions, and in the time before and after.  Training for and racing a half marathon requires a tremendous amount of energy, and taking in something like a sports gel or some sports drink during your race will help you to avoid running out of energy or depleting your glycogen stores.

Similarly, taking in the right amount of fluids and electrolytes, especially on hot days, will prevent the negative effects of dehydration. Early in your training cycle, start to think about, and practice, your fueling strategy. Also, take a look at your day to day nutrition, and consider whether it's optimized to fuel your body through training. Create healthy habits, and practice them frequently.

For more on effective fueling before and during a half marathon, please refer to these articles: Half Marathon Fueling and Carb Loading Before a Half Marathon.

MOTTIV app user Angel Perez is all smiles during a hot weather race!

What to Expect on Race Day

So far we've discussed the demands of training for a half marathon, but what about the actual race day?  What should you expect and how difficult is the actual race?

From the start line to the finish line, race day is an exhilarating experience, whether you are a first-time racer or an experienced runner. There's no doubt you'll feel a mix of nerves and excitement as you set out to complete your first half marathon.

If you've trained properly leading up to the event, set a reasonable finish time goal,  and pace yourself well, you may find that for most of the half marathon, it doesn't feel any more difficult than your long training runs. In fact, it may feel easier than your training, as you'll likely by energized by other runners and spectators and feeling motivated and rested. In the early miles of the race, you may feel like you could run much faster than you ever did throughout your training. Be careful to follow your plan and don't get over-excited by the whole experience!

Of course, the final miles of a half marathon will feel very hard. But if you can keep a positive mindset, dig deep, and keep pushing, soon enough you'll be celebrating at the finish line.

Wrap Up

Whether racing a half marathon is on your bucket list, or you're just a little curious about whether you're capable of completing the distance, hopefully this article has given you a glimpse of what it takes to race 13.1 miles.  Running a half marathon is an achievable goal with the right preparation. By building a strong foundation, following a structured training plan, and preparing mentally and physically for race day, you'll not only run 13.1 miles successfully but also discover what you're truly capable of.

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Amanda Wendorff

| Author

Amanda Wendorff is a professional triathlete, focusing on the 70.3 and 140.6 Ironman distances. In the last several years she’s competed in multiple gravel bike races. Top Achievements: Top 3 Ironman Ireland and Ironman 70.3 Coquimbo, Multiple time top-5 finisher, 3rd Overall at Moran 166 Gravel Race in Michigan, Age group podium at Gravel Worlds, Big Sugar, and Ned Gravel in first year of gravel racing.

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