Train for a Half Marathon in only 3 days per week
Beginners - Intermediate - Advanced Runners Welcome
Everyone has a hectic life (whether it’s kids, work or school) and it might seem impossible to fit in a large training plan for something like a half marathon, but it is really not that difficult if you just make it a priority and don’t over train. I have run for 25+ years and have used this training plan on multiple occasions for half marathons. Many novice and intermediate runners think it is 100% necessary to run every day to build strength and endurance, but the reality is that your muscles need time to recover from a work out and be ready for the next run. For those of us over the age of 40, recovery time becomes even more important as muscles take just a bit longer to get the soreness out so rest days are not only a luxury, but a necessity. Chart A below, shows the simple half marathon training plan that I will explain in this article. Just note that this kind of plan is for novice runners and might not have you breaking world records, but it will do these main things below.
Simple Half Marathon Training Plan Goals
1) Get you to the finish line
2) Build strength and speed
3) Build endurance
4) Help you avoid injury
I’m sure you’ve noticed one major difference in my training plan is that you will only be running 3 days per week. This is both a blessing and a burden at the same time. “Less is more” is great when you are trying to minimize the total number of days you will be training as you don’t have to schedule in the normal 4-6 days shown on other training plans. The burden comes in that you need to get in all 3 days each week without skipping them. You can push a workout by a day, but you definitely cannot skip it as this will set you back by a few days as your body needs to gradually build up to running the half marathon distance.
Let’s start with Mondays; this is the simplest day to describe. Run 3 miles at an easy pace. It’s pretty simple, right? In the early weeks of this training plan, Mondays are just another day that will help make sure your muscles stretch out, your lungs oxygenate properly and your legs are up to the task when you start doing endurance runs (on Saturdays). We start with the assumption that you can already run 3 miles at an easy pace. If you are not quite there yet, please see my learning to run article about learning to run and you will be able to move up from those beginning plans to the Simple Half Marathon plan in just a few weeks. If you are ready, just hop right in there and start jogging away the miles and your body will respond accordingly by making you a stronger runner.
In weeks 1-3, Wednesday is just another day to get your 3 miles in. Starting in Week 4, Wednesday becomes a different type of workout – Interval Training or Speed work. Interval workouts build strength in the legs, increase turnover rate, increase lactate threshold and increase VO2 max. If you are not familiar with this type of workout you can see read my Infobarrel article on interval training.
When performing speed work, it is best to follow this format: warmup, speed work, cool down. For the warmup you will run 2 miles at an extremely easy pace. As a rule of thumb I tell people to add 2 minutes per mile to their easy pace. For example, if your easy pace is 8 minutes per mile, you should jog the warm up at a 10 minute per mile pace. If your easy pace is 11 minutes per mile, you should jog the warm up at a 13 minute per mile pace. The warm up is not supposed to wear you out, rather it will make sure all muscles are ready for the speed work. Two miles might seem excessive as a warm up, but it will take about 20 minutes to make sure that your muscles are stretched out well & warmed up when getting ready to run the intervals.
The speed work intervals you will be training at is a 1/4 mile distance and they are best performed on a local 1/4 mile track. You can to find a local park, middle school or high school with an open track so you can do this training once per week. As a reminder, interval workouts will increase muscle strength because these workouts require you to run faster than you normally run. Running faster will build muscles that you don’t usually use at a slower pace and please refer to my Infobarrel article for the specifics on how to run this type of workout.
Lastly, after you have performed the intervals shown for each specific week take a 5-10 minute break and then jog/walk a 1 mile cool down. This will make sure your legs don’t cramp up from inactivity.
The long run is also very important; this is where you will build up endurance by running 1 extra mile each week. For people who have not run farther than 3-4 miles at 1 time, it looks overwhelming to think that you will be running 9 to 13 miles at one time. Your body is an amazing machine and can adapt to amazing circumstances. My key to telling first time half-marathoners about running this kind of long distance is to just slow down the pace and you will easily be able to run 1 extra mile each week. For example, my easy pace for running 3-5 miles is about 8:30 per mile, so when I go out to do a long run I ease into the run at about 11 minutes per mile and eventually come down to about 9:30 per mile. This is an easy pace for me and it ensures that I can finish the run and that I don’t over exert myself. The long run is about building up mental, muscular and cardiovascular endurance, not about pushing yourself to run faster each week. The last thing to note is that you will taper running distance in the last week of training to make sure your body is well rested for the half marathon. Running faster will occur naturally when your body becomes rested and stronger and especially when you taper training before the real half marathon.
The last thing to note is that you should stay properly hydrated during all training. It is easy to overlook something simple like hydration but it is wise to carry water with you at all times, especially on your long runs. This simple half marathon training plan has worked for me on multiple occasions and if you are a busy person, it can work for you too in any race from 10 – 13.1 miles. Good luck and keep on running!