It’s common to experience some anxiety over your first 13.1. To help you proceed calmly and successfully, we tapped experts in the Runner's World Challenge to provide a training plan that gradually builds your endurance and confidence over 10 weeks. We also asked experienced coaches with years of guiding newbies to the finish line to answer your training concerns. Chill. You're in good hands.
Q: When am I ready for a half?
A: If you've been running three miles three or four times a week for six months, you're ready to start training for a half. This "base" means your legs are strong enough to begin increasing mileage.
Not sure if half-marathon training is for you? Try this two-week jumpstart plan and find out!
Q: How do I follow the half-marathon training plan?
A: As closely as possible. However, you can rearrange weekly runs to suit your schedule. Just allow for proper recovery time the day after long runs and tempo runs—rest or do light cross-training, says James Staten, a San Francisco-area Team in Training coach. (Search: How does cross-training make me a stronger runner?)
Q: I like walk breaks. Is that okay, and how should I do them?
A: Sure. Start by taking walk breaks from the beginning of every run, rather than waiting until you're tired. Experiment with different run/walk ratios—like running two minutes, walking one minute. Increase your run time as you get stronger.
Q: How fast should I run?
A: With our training plan, you'll do easy runs, long runs, and tempo runs. If you've run a race in the past six months, you can find out how slow or fast to do each by plugging your time into a calculator at runnersworld.com/trainingcalculator. If you haven't raced, run a mile as fast as you can. Plug your time into the calculator. Click on "Training Paces" to determine how fast to run all workouts in our plan.
Q: What if I need more than one day of rest after a long run?
A: Take it! Do some strength training and stretching on that second day off, says Lori McGee-Koch, head running coach for Chicago Endurance Sports. But a few simple adjustments to your long run may banish that fatigue. "Slow down by 30 seconds per mile, take in more protein afterward, or drink more before and during long runs," says McGee-Koch.
Q: How can I distinguish between pain I can ignore and pain I should worry about?
A: "If it's an ache that subsides within 10 minutes of a run and disappears after a day or two, you're probably okay," says Staten. But if it's a sharp pain that forces you to change your form, call it a day. If it persists for a couple days, see a doc.
Q: Is a 10:00 mile pace on the treadmill the same effort as 10:00 pace outdoors?
A: No. "There's no wind resistance indoors," says McGee-Koch. "And treadmills are smoother and demand less effort than outdoor surfaces, so it makes running easier." Set the 'mill to a 1.0 to 1.5 percent incline to equalize the effort.
Video: Reaching the finish
Q: Uh-oh. I couldn't get my workout in today—now what?
A: Don't worry. Enjoy your extra rest day and just continue with your schedule as planned, says McGee-Koch. If you try to cram a missed run into your week, you might interfere with precious recovery time, which could lead to injury. If you missed a long run, simply do the distance that you missed the following week.
Q: I missed a whole week of training—should I just give up?
A: No way! "Runners need occasional breaks to recover, so a skipped week can be an essential part of your training," says McGee-Koch. The week you resume running, scale back speedwork and long run mileage by 10 percent. The following week, do your normal training. If your break was due to injury, however, you need to reduce your weekly mileage for up to three weeks before getting back on track, and may need to target a later race.
Q: I don't feel like I'm getting any better--what should I do?
A: Don't despair—it takes time to improve as a runner. Believe it or not, you are getting better every day as each run slowly builds your strength and fitness. But it can be easier to take heart if you set small, manageable steps toward your bigger goals, says John Gorvin, PsyD, a Boston-area sports psychologist and running coach (runhard.org). If you're gunning to run 13.1 without stopping, aim to run one mile farther or 15 minutes longer on your long run. If your target is a time goal, aim to shave a second or two off your regular loop.
Q: My friend keeps a running log—should I?
A: Yes. It's a great idea to track distance, pace, weather, how you felt, and what you ate and drank before and during a run. It will allow you to go back and see how you coped with different workouts, weather, and fueling strategies, so you can make necessary adjustments, says Gorvin.
Use this quiz to decide which half-marathon training program is best for you
Q: Can I race in the shoes I buy at the expo?
A: Please, no! You need to test your shoes on long runs, says Gorvin. Wear your chosen pair for a month and on at least two long runs (one of 10-plus miles).
Have a running question that's not answered here? Check out The Complete Book of Running for more race-day strategies and running advice