Focus On: Half Marathon Training

Back in the fall, I set a goal for myself: I really want to walk/run the half marathon here at the end of March.

Now that we’re in January, and walking is pretty much the only physical activity I can do for the next week and a half, I still want to go for it. So today let’s talk about how to train for a half marathon.

walking with Bella

Back in the day, I was really into races and running. It was one of my favorite deployment distractions, and I looked forward to long runs and training with my friends. Races gave me something to focus on while the Pilot was away, and it was something I really enjoyed… until I injured myself.

With teaching and training, I overdid it and hurt my knee. And then I realized that I was getting a little too competitive with myself –I started to feel like every run needed to be better/faster than the last and I took the fun out of it- then I broke up with running.

The Pilot and me after a race

Since then, I’ve only really done HIIT sprint drills and Tabata– it’s been quite a while since I ventured into long distances. When I got pregnant, I stopped running all together since I was no longer doing interval training, and it was the first time that I really started to miss running. Now, especially since we’re in Tucson and have access to so many parks and trails, I can’t wait to get back into it.

A popular Focus On request is half marathon training, and since I’m hoping to do another one this spring, here we go 🙂

Please keep in mind that I’m not a hardcore runner or coach, but if you have questions, seek out the advice of an expert in your area.

What is a Half Marathon?

13.1 miles of discomfort and triumph. You can walk, run, do a walk/run combo, run with a training group, friend, or solo. Many races also offer pace groups that follow a certain pace for the entire race. If you’re interested in doing a half marathon, check out this website to find our near you.

I ran two Disney Princess half marathons (recap 1 and 2), and can’t recommend the Disney races enough. They’re extremely organized, there’s a lot to look at –Tarzan in a loin cloth- and many people cheering you on along the way.

How to Train for a Half Marathon

One thing to keep in mind is to not overdo it with the running if you’re just getting into it. Gradually add running into your schedule to avoid overtraining and injury. The best training plans include a balance of running, cross-training, flexibility, rest days and long runs. Hal Higdon is a popular resource for training plans, as well as Runner’s World Smart Coach.

Me running

Half Marathon Training Tools and Tips

-The most important tool for safe running: high quality sneaks that fit well. Go to a local running store to have your stride analyzed and receive shoe recommendations. Different shoes are better-suited for different types of feet and strides, and you’ll be surprised at how much shoes affect the running experience.

-Bonus: Garmin. I have a Garmin 305 and it helped my running immensely. It was so helpful to look down and know what my pace was and how far I’ve ran.

garmin 305

-Clothing, music, fuel:

race clothes

Never run a race in new clothing that you haven’t tested out before- I’ve tried that before and it was chafe city. Load up your iPod with your favorite power music, and make sure to practice fueling yourself along the way. Many people can’t stomach the gels or shot bloks, while other people can only drink water, some like Powerade or coconut water. You definitely need to figure out a type of fuel that works for you- 13 miles is a long way to go without carb or electrolyte replenishment.

My fave:

Honey stingers (for mile 7 or so) and Heed with water in the Camelbak

Honey Stinger Source HEED Source

My training plan for the half marathon in March is going to be a little different since I’m just getting back in the swing of things. My cardio endurance is there since I can teach classes for 2+ hours, but the mode (running) has been MIA from my life for quite a while. I’m going to add in one walk/run day each week as soon as I’m cleared for physical activity and go from there.

Have you ran a half marathon before? Any tips to share?

Hope everyone has a great day!



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  1. Leslie on January 26, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    This is always something I’ve been interested in, sounds like an awesome challenge to say that I’ve “done,” but I’ve always been too chicken. Plus, I’m not a super runner. My running excuse was not being able to find a good running bra, but now that I’ve recently found a great one, I want to get into running. Thanks for this post, it was definitely inspiring!

  2. Kelli on January 26, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    I enjoy the half marathon distance a lot! My tips would be to run the first couple of miles slower than you think you need to. With all the adrenaline going my heart is always racing, but I still stick with running in my normal comfort zone according to my HRM. Which means that I am actually running slower than normal b/c my heart is going fast even before we start, but this has always kept me from burning out. There is nothing worse than bonking at mile 10 & trying to figure out how to keep going. I try to remember that no matter how hard I go I won’t set any land speed records so I might as well have fun!
    Also, going for a walk later in the afternoon sounds really bad, & it doesn’t feel great, but I’ve found it keeps me from being very sore the next day. It really works the kinks out. That & lots of stretching, foam rolling, & water!

  3. Vanessa N on January 26, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    Not so much a training tip as a post-training trip – after your race REST! They say to take it easy every day for each mile run. I ran my first half this past June. Training went great. Race was fine (except for a side stitch that appeared at Mile 2 and lasted the whole race). I took a rest day the day after and then did a bootcamp class the day after that. In the middle of class, I felt my IT band get so so tight. It’s been 8 months since then and I still can’t run more than 3 miles without it tightening up. And that’s with PT and foam rolling. Balls!

  4. Steph on January 26, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Thanks for posting about this Gina, you read my mind! After starting a more regular work out routine over the last few months, I’ve really become interested in trying out a 1/2 or full marathon. Your post was definitely a good motivator! Also, although I don’t have a gym membership right now, I am using a lot of your WSU from last year. It’s been great to keep things interesting! Lastly, thank you again for your advice last year on Tucson, the BF and I had an amazing time hiking Sabino, having lunch at Loews Ventana Canyon and the Tuscon Country Club, among other things. You are lucky to live in such a beautiful place! Anyway, thank you, and best wishes to you and your new family. Your girl is just perfect. I read your blog daily but need to be better about commenting. Funny, I’m shy even on the internet I guess. Take care!

    • Fitnessista on January 26, 2012 at 5:04 pm

      i’m so glad you had a wonderful trip <3

  5. KellyB @ Dream. Strive. Succeed. on January 26, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    I branched out to the half-marathon distance in 2011 after discovering that I really love the challenge of longer races. Of course, races are longer for me anyway, because I’m a 12+minute per mile pace runner, but still. I adore the 10-mile distance, and I can do the half pretty well. I set my sights on a marathon this year, and I’m now training for Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN, in June.

    I have friends who are doing their first marathons this year, and one of them is using Higdon. It seems like a great plan, but since I’m so slow, I decided on Jeff Galloway’s run/walk plan ( It’s 30 weeks of training to Higdon’s 18. Over the 30 weeks, you end up doing fewer miles than Higdon each week, but Higdon goes through 20 miles in training. Galloway goes through 26.

    I feel that I benefit from the mental boost of knowing I just about completed the race distance in training. It worked so well for the half-marathon last year that I did the same thing 2 weeks before my first duathlon in 2011 – I did a training run/bike/run that was the same distance as the race would be. I loved starting the race knowing I could do the distance. That meant I was just challenged to see if I could beat my training pace, which I did, by 5 minutes.

    I do 1 min run/1 min walk intervals now in marathon training, and I’m likely to stick with that for the marathon. It seems to be working well for me, so I wanted to mention Galloway. He also has plans for those, like me, who just want to finish the race, as well as plans for those who want to achieve a particular time goal. He has also written books on the half and full races as well as general run/walk books, and they’re all spectactular.

    (I’m not affiliated w/ Galloway in any way except as a satisfied customer, since his method has worked for me!)

  6. kaila@ healthy helper blog! on January 26, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    I plan on doing my first half this year! So this just got me even more excited!!!

  7. danielle on January 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    Thanks for this post! I have just started to get into running and going to do a 5K.Your advice will definitely help!

  8. Brooke @ sweats & sweets on January 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    Loved this! I’m running my first half marathon in October and I can’t wait!

  9. Christine @ BookishlyB on January 26, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    I’ve run 10, with #11 next weekend! I’m not fast, but consistent. My biggest piece of advise is SIGN UP! Plopping down the cash is really motivating to train.

  10. Linz @ ItzLinz on January 26, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    My advice? DON’T GIVE UP! Anyone can do it. It takes determination, perseverance, and motivation, but it is totally worth it. After all, once you finish (no matter your time) you join the “club” and are able to say, “I ran a half-marathon!”

  11. Petitchat on January 26, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    I’ve never tried any sort of gels on long runs. Im going to run either my first half or full in may and I’ve been curious about them. I’ve gone on 2 hour long runs without using them, I’m curious as to how it will settle in my stomach and if it’ll help me.
    And good luck with your half marathon 🙂 Injuries suck but don’t let them stop you

  12. Anna @ The Guiltless Life on January 26, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    I hear you on adding running back in gradually. For me one of the most disheartening things about getting back into a running routine is how quickly you can lose your ability to go as far or as fast, but the fact is it also comes BACK really quickly too. It’s just getting over that mental roadblock of wanting to give up because you’ve deteriorated so much.

    Also, I too hurt my knee and the last time I ran was a 10K last April. My knee was fine in it but I hadn’t trained much in terms of running, just TONS of knee strengthening exercises my physio gave me. I would love one day to run a half (I don’t have any aspirations to run a full; I am not yet that much of a masochist lol, though I hugely admire people who can do them! Running has never been my forte, so for me I feel a half would be a fabulous accomplishment) but I think I’m going to take it really slow to get there!

  13. Talia @ Bite Size Wellness on January 26, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    I love that you put clothing fuel on the list! Gym wardrobe is just as important as training. Haha.
    I did run a half marathon once and I if I did it again I would give myself a run break. All I did all the time was run, run, run and for someone with gym ADD I greatly missed my yoga, spin and kickboxing classes. Sway from the training calendar when possible without hindering your running goals. In the end, I am glad I did it but I think long distance running is not my thing…maybe one day I will try again.

  14. Laura @ Backstage Balance on January 26, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    I love the 13.1 distance! My best advice is to not be afraid to fuel / hydrate on training runs. I like to take in fuel every 45-50 minutes on long runs (one gel pack or half a honey stingers gummies pack / Clif Shot Blok pack).
    Fair warning, once you’ve done your 11 or 12 mile long run, you will immediately become hooked and want to start training for a full marathon… marathon fever is real!

    • Fitnessista on January 26, 2012 at 6:57 pm

      Haha that never happened over here- 13 was good for me 🙂

  15. Paula @ lipstick and lunges on January 26, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    That is amazing! What an awesome goal to set so soon after a baby. We’ll be cheering you on!

  16. Sara on January 26, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    If there was one thing I’d change about my body it is that I’d make it more suitable for running. I have a slight imbalance in my ankle flexibility (horse riding accident when I was 10) which does not bother me with any exercise except road running. It only takes a week or so and I’m creaky and achey in the right knee and hip. I could get very upset about it, to the point of consoling myself with a box of soft-centre chocolates. I’d just love to be a runner.

    • Ashley Y on January 28, 2012 at 5:38 pm

      I have a very similar situation. I fell off my horse almost 10 years ago and broke 3 bones in my ankle. One of the bones shattered completely. I have only been able to complete a 5k, because I have a lot of right ankle, knee, and hip pain when I run consistently. I would love to be a runner and still try every once in a while. It is a tough situation to be in so I completely understand how you feel.

  17. Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin on January 26, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    I’ve never done a half marathon, but I hope to someday! I think I want to tackle a 10K this summer and then go from there. 😀

  18. Sarah on January 26, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    You could try the three-day a week running plan? It’s developed through professors at Furman University. You cross-train on your non-running days, and of course have rest days built in.

    I hurt my knee training for a marathon last year, but I really enjoy running/races. It helps keep me motivated. However, I don’t want to hurt myself. This plan came highly recommended by friends and PT’s.

    Here’s the gist of the three-day a week running plan:

    *I’m taking my easy run totally easy though.

  19. Amanda on January 26, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Go Gina go! I was looking at half marathons for the spring! So glad you did this post!

  20. Laura Jane @ Recovering Chocoholic on January 26, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    Sounds like a great goal! I’m toying with the idea of running/walking a half in May. I’ve done two half’s in the past, and they were a blast.

  21. Moni'sMeals on January 26, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Great tips everyone! Great post Gina.


  22. Jenny on January 26, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Good luck!! I have completed 2 half marathons and found out I was pregnant while training for my first full marathon. I deferred to walking the half with my 7 month pregnant belly. I am so excited as the training has kept me in shape and kept my competative edge indulged. I hope you feel well as you get back to exercising!

  23. Sable@SquatLikeALady on January 26, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    Good luck Gina!!! 🙂 I am really excited to follow you on this journey! 🙂 When do you get the okay to return to moderate (and then strenuous, I guess?) physical activity?

    • Fitnessista on January 26, 2012 at 8:26 pm

      Hopefully a week from tomorrow

  24. jana @ newly wife healthy life on January 26, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    I have only ran one half marathon in my life, and I have to say it was very hard for me! Running does not come natural for me so I can run and run and run, but still have a hard time with my endurance. I always say though I would love to run a disney half sometime in my lifetime! 🙂

  25. Brooke on January 26, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    How is tabata different from HIIT? I’ve done several HIIT workouts, but when I look at some tabata stuff, it looks very similar. No?

    • Fitnessista on January 26, 2012 at 10:04 pm

      tabata is a form of hiit training- i linked to posts on each one that explain the differences 🙂

  26. Emily @LivingLongfellow on January 26, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    Never ran a half, but did a full and ran in college. My best tip would be, don’t try any new foods or drinks on race day. Do at least one long run with your race fuel you plan to use.

  27. Lu on January 26, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    I just recently walked/ran a half marathon after having broken my toe. It’s completely doable. Best of luck.

  28. Kevin Asuncion on January 26, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    Have you ever read a book called Chi Running? I used to hate running and have never even thought of running anything beyond a few miles if at all. I always chalked it up as “I’m just not a runner,” but after reading Chi Running I realized my mechanics were just all wrong and I wasn’t using my body and my environment to my advantage to run better and more efficiently. Granted I’m still not running that often or for that long, but I’m enjoying it a lot more. So for those who are looking to get more into running whether it’s doing a 5k, half, full or ultra, I’d probably take a look at a book about running mechanics, you might learn, like myself, that running isn’t half bad when you understand better how you are supposed to run.

  29. jacki on January 27, 2012 at 3:24 am

    Ran my first 1/2 in August (I’m 47). I ran for a lot of years but a back injury 15 years ago made me quit running for a long time. My biggest tip is DON’T FORGET THE IMPORTANCE OF STRETCHING. I started training in January since I hadn’t run in years and the running was going well. In June my right hip started hurting when I ran, then even when I wasn’t running. I found out the morning of the 1/2 that my right leg was an inch shorter than the left. (My cousin is a PT and had me lay down on Michigan Ave to try and adjust me). Turns out the muscles in my upper right leg were tightening too much and pulling my body to the right. I made it through the race but in the month after, the tightness on the one side triggered a relapse on the old back injury. Now better than 5 months later, I can still only run about 5 minutes at a time. Be smart girls, stretch out!

  30. Liz @ Southern Charm on January 27, 2012 at 10:52 am

    Love this post and your tip about overtraining!

    My first schedule had me running too much and that’s all I was doing. My hips were killing me. About a week ago, I came across a schedule that is different and incorporates other kinds of training. I have not had hip pain at all and I’m running a longer distance on my long run days. So yes, basically I 100% agree with your advice … from experience!

  31. Dawn on January 27, 2012 at 10:55 am

    I have run 4 half marathons and one full marathon.
    Advice for race day: run your own race….don’t get sucked into the hype and go out too fast. If you do, you’ll end up paying for it later in the race.

  32. Tiffany on January 27, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    I love the half-marathon distance. Since I was pregnant basically all of 2011, my last races were in 2010 I’m which I ran 3 within a 5 month time period. I’m back into training now but don’t plan to run my next until September of this year. There is one in our town in March, but I think that is too soon to be fully ready for it after giving birth in November. I want to be able to run it, not have to do any walking spurts. Good luck on your training!!!

  33. Mama Laughlin on January 27, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Love this post! Great info!
    I haven’t commented since you had Livi because I know you are flooded with comments and stuff, and frankly, I have had my hands full with 2 kids!
    But she is precious and I love all the updating you are doing!
    You look GREAT, your baby is beautiful and I know you will enjoy every second of motherhood.
    Okay, maybe not EVERY second (like when she gets older and starts throwing fits) but you get my drift.
    Anyway, I’m running my first 1/2 in April. I am so excited about it!
    Right after I had the 2nd in November I started out with the couch to 5k program to build up to 3 miles again since all I did was interval running (not training) while pregnant. Once I finished the c25k I started up Hal’s 1/2 Training Novice 1, starting with 3 miles.
    I am on week 3 of it and I am really enjoying it! I have never ran any race other than a 5k in 2010 after I had my first son, so a 1/2 is a little intimidating to me.
    I will be 5 months postpartum when I run it and I will just be happy with finishing!
    Anyway, love the info you gave and good luck to you, I’m sure you’ll do great!

  34. Meg on January 28, 2012 at 11:39 am

    I did a 1/2 marathon when my Dad was sick with Cancer. It was invigorating running for him and gave me motivation. When he passed away my love for running also diminished too. I am trying to get back into but I am having a hard time. I am hoping you can be my inspiration. 🙂

    • Fitnessista on January 29, 2012 at 3:59 pm

      i’m so sorry to hear about your dad- that breaks my heart. sending love to you, and we can definitely be virtual training buddies <3

  35. Lindsay on January 28, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    I just read this article and thought it was very interesting. What do you think?

    • Fitnessista on January 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm

      i thought that was very interesting and definitely agree with the point they made about steady state cardio- it’s so important to add in intervals and varying intensities into a workout routine, or you’re just setting your body to get used to it and can damage metabolism.

  36. Leng on January 28, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    Love Garmin! It’s great with running & cycling. Can’t live without it now.

  37. Nicole on January 30, 2012 at 10:35 am

    I’m running my first half in May and this is helping me feel a little less intimidated by the 13.1 miles!

  38. Dina on February 2, 2012 at 9:30 am

    I think it’s important to watch your pace on your training runs. This took me a long to learn as a new runner. Long runs should be run slow and easy runs should be run at a comfortable pace. It defeats the purpose of training if you race every run.

    Good luck with your half!

  39. Stephanie on June 2, 2013 at 12:36 am

    Do you have any tips for first time half marathon runners? I am having trouble picking what my goal should be for the race; should I focus on a certain time goal? Finishing? Enjoying it?

    • Fitnessista on June 2, 2013 at 12:46 am

      focusing on finishing! from there, you can assess how you felt and how you trained to set up a time goal for your next half

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