Do I need to include speed work for my first half marathon?

Should you include speed work?

In one of my previous posts, I covered Base Miles which is the foundation on which you must build to complete a half marathon. While speedwork is important to help you achieve a faster overall chip time. The real workhorse in running long distances especially half marathons, marathons, and ultras is your overall aerobic ability. Before you start throwing the punches and letting me know that speedwork does help increase your ability to sustain faster speeds over longer periods of time, hear me out.

My goal is to help new runners achieve their goal of finishing a half marathon. Training for a half marathon requires dedication, time, and focus. The quickest path to finish a half marathon has nothing to do with speed work for new runners. I would much rather a new runner focus on completing the base miles at easy to moderate paces. The more miles that a new runner logs per week, the more their aerobic volume/capacity increases. This increase in aerobic fitness plus one long run each week will get the runner to the finish line after roughly 10-14 weeks of training depending on their fitness level.


Knowing what I know now if a running coach would have put hill sprint intervals, mountain intervals, or some type of tempo running into my training schedule I don’t think I would have made it to my first half marathon finish line. But wait for a second, I want to run my half marathon at my best pace, you say. I know you do, so did I.

The goal of the first half marathon is to finish the race injury-free. After you have completed your first race you should then look at increasing your speed by including weekly speedwork. The easiest way to increase your speed is to include strides once a week.

Preparing yourself for a first half marathon isn’t simply physical it’s also mentally challenging. I wrote a great article titled You Vs. You – who will win, which I highly recommend new runners read.

How do I run my half marathon at my best pace

You need to determine your projected or estimated half marathon running pace. This is a simple formula that takes the average of your last 3 5k chip times. You will then have an estimated half marathon pace based on your current fitness level. I have a free half marathon pace predictor you can get by clicking here.

After you get your average pace predictor you want to run your mid-week or longest base mile run at or near your predicted half marathon pace. The days prior to and after this near half marathon pace can be run at an easy or medium pace. An easy pace is simply being able to have a conversation with someone and speak close to full sentences. A medium pace you could still have a conversation with someone but you would speak in shorter sentences and there might be a pause between conversation to breathe.

If this is your first half marathon DO NOT run your long run at half marathon pace unless you are in elite uber fitness shape. This is a quick way to derail your efforts in a half marathon training cycle. Your long run is going to help build your overall aerobic capacity and allow your glycogen stores to increase while making your body more efficient at burning your stored energy.

When to include speedwork?

If you’ve already been running a while, and are used to logging 20+ miles a week then including speedwork would be ok. I discourage new runners from working on speedwork in order to complete a half marathon. Obviously, if your old school runner is getting back into the game then you are already mentally used to the physical and mental stress that speedwork involves. Also, the recovery time required for speedwork for a new beginner could be extended by a day or so which could interrupt your training schedule.

Negative Splits might be the key to a faster half marathon?

If you’re new to the running world, splits can seem a little confusing to grasp at first sight. It turns out that they aren’t that hard to figure out. Negative splits pacing for a half marathon race is simply running the first half of the race slower than the last half of the race. For a detailed explanation of positive, even, and negative splits check out this post – can negative splits help me run a faster half marathon?

In this post, you can play around with a calculator that lets you adjust your pacing to find a negative split racing strategy that will work for you.


If you don’t plan on running the entire half marathon or you simply plan on walking the entire race I have FREE training schedules that show you how to train on a weekly basis. To access these free training schedules click here

What if I need more help

My FREE training schedules are more than enough to get you to the finish line injury-free. If you need more help you can purchase one of my guides here: Resource Guides.

Coach Scott is a published author and RRCA certified running coach (Level 2). He has published over 20 books including, Beginner's Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon International #1 bestseller. Scott specializes in helping new runners become injury-free race finishers. He recently completed his 14th half marathon race. 

 To sign up for a FREE half marathon training schedule, log sheet, and pace predictor CLICK HERE.

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12-Week Half Marathon Training Plan based on your current fitness level!