What’s a Half Marathon? Is it time to check this off your bucket list?

What is a half marathon?

Don’t be embarrassed if you’ve asked the question, “Whats a half marathon?” Every year more and more runners find themselves wanting to challenge the 5K gateway race. I personally ran 5Ks for over a decade before I even thought about running a distance over 3.1 miles.

What is a half marathon?

Half Marathon Definition:

A half marathon is a race that is exactly 13.1 miles long (21 kilometers). In the grander scheme of all races, the half marathon sits about the middle of the road for races. The most popular race distances are the following:

Km miles Race name
5K 3.1  5K
10K 6.2 10K
15K 9.3 15K
21K 13.1  Half Marathon
42K 26.2  Marathon
42K + 26.2 + Ultra Marathon

Why run a half marathon?

A half marathon is a great race to work up to after a 5K (3.1 miles) or 10K race (6.2 miles). There are few races in between a 10K and a half marathon race. 15K races do exist but are extremely scarce. A half marathon race gives you a chance to run half the distance of a marathon and experience twice the amount of fun.

When you cross the half marathon finish line you will be doing something that less than 90% of the world will never do. This is a great accomplishment and the memory will stay with you for the rest of your life. After your first half marathon race, you will probably be hooked and want to run your next race as soon as possible.

How do I train for a half marathon?

Most new runners will need to spend about 12-16 weeks training for a half marathon. If you plan on running the entire half marathon then you’ll probably need to spend about 12 weeks to train for the race. This time length can be shortened especially if you are already running distances that are about 6 miles and more.

The weekly progression to train for a half marathon starts with running about 4  times a week. One of your running days will be called a long-distance run or long run for short. The other three run days will be base mile building days. It’s unnecessary at this stage, especially for beginners, to include speed workdays. You will have at least one rest day and two strength-building days mixed in each week. Here is what the first week of a half-marathon running schedule will look like:

Half Marathon Training Schedule For Beginners – Week 1

Day of Week Activity
Mon Run 3 miles
Tue Run 3 miles
Wed Run 3 miles
Thur Strength Train
Fri Run 4 miles (long run)
Sat Rest
Sun Strength Train / Cross-Train

Is a half marathon difficult?

Ask any experienced half-marathoner or marathon runner and they’ll tell you – “No Problem!” For the first-time half-marathon runner, the task looks monumental. Any running distance proceeding a 5K (3.1 miles) run, not only tests your physical fitness levels, the longer distances start to sabotage your mental strength. As you slowly progress during your weekly half marathon training, the mental aspects of running start to rear their ugly heads. Take a look at this article that I wrote about the runner’s mindset. Taking on the mental toughness of telling yourself that you’re a runner and that you’re training to accomplish something will go a long way during training and during your last miles in the half marathon race.

What if I don’t want to run my half marathon alone? – Some races have pacers!

If you are dreading running your half marathon alone, don’t despair. The first trick to get a personal escort for your half marathon is to find out if your race has pacers. Pacers are normally volunteers that will run at a specific pace for the entire race, or their pace evens out to the average pace. The pacer will be wearing a unique shirt or they will hold up a sign that has their pace clearly written on it. Some Pacers will even tie balloons around the back of their shorts or shirt that float above them so that you can easily see your pacer if you have to stop or slow down for a few minutes.

Where there are pacers, there’s usually corrals

Most of the time when you have big races, you have pacers as well. When you have pacers you normally will get corralled into groups of average finish times. The corralling of runners per finish time allows the flow of runners to be broken up so that the course doesn’t get bottlenecked. Eventually, after the first 5 or 6 miles, the runners will start thinning out due to runners pulling back and some runners pushing forward.

Corralling usually looks something like this:

  • 1:30 finish time
  • 1:45 finish time
  • 2:00 finish time
  • 2:15 finish time
  • … all the way up to 15 minutes prior to race closure
  • 3:45 finish time

What is speedwork? Will I have to do speedwork to complete a half marathon?

Speedwork is absolutely not necessary to finish your first half marathon. If you’re around experienced runners they might use the terms speedwork, interval training, tempo runs, and fartleks (say what?). Some of the terminologies can make your head spin. In order to finish a half marathon, you will not need to do any speedwork unless you want to. For more info on speedwork see this post: Do I need to include speed work for my first half marathon?

Where and When should I race my first half marathon?

My first half marathon race was a very hilly race. The racecourse had about 7 large hills that really tested my physical fitness as a runner. The best time to race a half marathon is when the seasons are cooler such as the Spring or Fall. Racing half marathons in the Summer or Winter could be too hot or too cold depending on where you live. Most races will begin on Saturday. 

Try to find a relatively flat course to run your half marathon. When you run a hilly half marathon course and you haven’t trained for it, your energy will be depleted much sooner. Also, if you get to pick any location for your first half marathon, pick a nice scenic area or maybe even the coastline. Before you start your half marathon training make sure you check out my free half marathon checklist.

Take the first big step – signup for a half marathon!

Now that you know the answer to the question, “What is a half marathon?”, the next step is to sign up for a race and find a beginner-friendly training schedule. Click below to get a proven 12-week half marathon training schedule for beginners. I have used this same plan over and over again to run 10+ half marathons. Hundreds of other runners from around the world have used this same plan to start their half marathon training cycles.

If you’re still wondering whether or not you can run a half marathon check out this post I wrote that answers that very question: Can I Run a Half Marathon?

When training for your first half marathon you want to avoid at all costs these top 3 mistakes that first time half marathoners make.

RRCA Coach Scott Scott is a published author and RRCA certified running coach. 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 11th half marathon race. 

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

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