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. This Fit Chick on January 26, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    great tips! i ran my first half mary last october! got a garmin too, which really helped with my training!

  2. Racheal @ Running with Racheal on January 26, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Thanks Gina! Because of your great experience, I am running my first half marathon at the Disney Princess this Feb! Can’t believe it is in a month. Yikes!

    Also, if you don’t have a Garmin, I love the RunStar Ap on my phone. The GPS is pretty reliable and it tells me my pace / distance in my headphones after every mile.

  3. Kenda on January 26, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    I am looking at either a Garmin or a MOTOACTV for training! I am running my first half in April, this has been a diagnostic month for me but the real training starts next week!! Thanks for this post!

  4. Sarah on January 26, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Yeah…I’m so glad you’re doing this! I just signed up for my first half in June!

  5. Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat on January 26, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    Great tips Gina! I’m so pumped – I’m doing the Lululemon Sea Wheeze half marathon on August 11th in Vancouver, and I can’t wait to start training for it! This will be my 3rd half marathon and I find the distance a lot more fun to train for than a full. 🙂

  6. Sonya on January 26, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    AH!! I’m currently getting ready to train for a full marathon – I’m so nervous!

  7. Rachel on January 26, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    I second the Honey Stingers! Taking gels while running makes me want to throw up; they slosh a lot. Ick. I like that the Honey Stingers are more natural, and the flavors are good.

    Another tip: Train for the race you’r running. If it’s a really hilly course, run hills once a week. If it’s on pavement, run at least most of your long runs on pavement, so your body can adjust to the impact. If it’s going to be hot, do a few runs on the treadmill or at the hottest time of day, to get used to running in the heat. Come race day, knowing you’ve trained for everything the race might throw at you will be a huge confidence boost!

    • Sejal M on January 26, 2012 at 1:24 pm

      Good tip!

  8. Lisa @ Fresh Spinach on January 26, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    How did you get over your knee injury? That’s the #1 reason I stopped running but I miss it so much!

    • Fitnessista on January 26, 2012 at 1:21 pm


    • Erin on January 26, 2012 at 4:31 pm

      It also depends on what type of injury you have. I have pretty consistent problems with my IT band which causes knee pain and ART (Active Release Therapy) helped tremendously if you can find someone in your area who can do it.

  9. Emily on January 26, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Great tips. I am training for my first full right now, and have really enjoyed the first 4 weeks of training. However, I am getting to the point now where all long runs will be over 10 miles, which I am excited & nervous about!

    Where did you get that “will run for wine” shirt? I might need it!

  10. Emily @ The Swallow Flies on January 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    This was such a great post – thank you! I trained for a full marathon last year and was only able to complete the half due to injuries sustained from over-training. (Tip 1: don’t overtrain. Tip 2: don’t run a half marathon on injuries – it’s quite possibly the worst pain ever.) That being said, I’m running the Lincoln Half Marathon in May, followed by several smaller races leading up to the Des Moines Marathon in October. I’m doing LOTS of strength and cross-training workouts now, but I need to figure out how to incorporate more running so that I don’t die May 6th. 🙂 I look forward to following your training!

    • mountain girl heidi on January 26, 2012 at 1:51 pm

      Where do you live Emily? I live just south Omaha, and I run outside almost every day. There are also some local running groups that get out on Wednesday evenings from Peak Performance.

  11. Kelly @ Vegolosophy on January 26, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    I have never run one, but really want too! I am just nervous because I get pretty bad shin-splints and anytime I run over 7 miles or so my shins start to really hurt…

    • Kelli on January 26, 2012 at 4:27 pm

      Shin splints are a sign you are ramping up to quickly! You should add no more than 10% distance to your 1 long run each week to prevent them from happening. It is soooo easy & tempting to add more b/c a lot of times your cardiovascular system can handle it, but your joints & bones cannot. Ramp up slower than you think you need to & you will probably be good to go!

  12. Lena @Fit on the Rocks on January 26, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    I’m excited for you to start training. I’m running my first half marathon in a week and a half in L.A., and I’m so excited/nervous. I guess the only newb tip I can provide is to up your miles slowly. I know a lot of people who got injured because they thought they could just jump into doing 20-30 miles a week without having any sort of base.

  13. Shelly on January 26, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    My tip is not to run in cotton socks! I trained for my first 10K race in cotton socks and just thought that hideous blisters were a part of running. Getting actual running socks made such a difference b/c they wick the sweat away instead of letting it chafe your feet to shreds, my favorites are running socks from Adidas and New Balance.
    Speaking of chafing- the other weapon in your arsenal is Body Glide! I put it on the arches of my feet, under my sports bra straps, and on my inner thighs if I’m running in shorts. It’s a life saver!

  14. Jen on January 26, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    Love this post! I’m training for my first half right now – Disney Princess in Feb 🙂 so excited! I’m definitely a fan of both the garmin and the honey stingers!

  15. Laurel on January 26, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    I have done a bunch of half marathons, I love that distance! I would say first, trust your training, don’t get too nervous on raceday- you will finish, and you won’t be last! Second, stick to your plan for training and for raceday so you don’t go out to fast or go beyond your planned pace and end up burning out. they are really fun races!

  16. Laura @ She Eats Well on January 26, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    I have run 10 or so half marathons and counting. I think the best advice EVER is to not do anything different the night before/day of your run as you did during training. That means, eat the same breakfast/pre-run fuel, dress the same, etc…even though I know that race day is a special day and you should be hydrating and fueling the day before, if you do something too different that you’re body isn’t used to, it can ruin your race. Also. Stretch after the 1/2 race…make time for it. Foam roll that shizz out. Your body will thank you.

  17. Kimberly @ Healthy Strides on January 26, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    I have run three halfs and I’m training for my fourth (the first post-baby). I, too, love the Hal Higdon plans. For a first timer, I think it’s important to run 3 times a week and incorporate strength training. I know a lot of people are afraid of being sore from weights but building muscle improves the joints and helps avoid injury. Or at least that’s my experience. AND, for new runners, don’t focus on speed or getting faster because, unless you have a good base, you are also risking injury.

    So excited that you are working toward this race! I found training for something after I had my lil guy helped motivate me to work out, kept the post-partum depression under control and gave me much needed me time. Best of luck!

  18. Andrea on January 26, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    My MIL walks halves almost every month (she has done 30+ in the last few years!) and I am going to walk one with her in Pasadena at the end of May. Even though it is just walking I am still nervous – 13 miles is a loong way!

  19. Lindsay on January 26, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    I’m a first time commenter, but long time blog reader (stalker). Gina, thanks so much for posting this. Gearing up for my second half. Hoping to get into Nike Women’s in SF, but as a back up planning for Disneyland half. Ran RNR Phoenix last year with Team in Training. I think TNT is a great resource for first timers. You learn all the aspects of nutrition/gear/training/technique. The support you receive is amazing. And, the cause is worthwhile and you run to make a difference. Highly recommend. Also, has some great resources and guides to help those hoping to run for weight loss (raising my hand right now) and half marathon training guides. SmartCoach is also awesome. Just talking (er…writing) about this gets me all fired up. Good luck to those starting to train any distance!!

    • Fitnessista on January 26, 2012 at 3:34 pm

      thanks for saying hi!!

  20. MMiller on January 26, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    You are the one that can do this Gina!! I have to admit, when I started reading I was thinking you were nuts!! You just had a baby…and that is only 2 months away!! But then I remembered who was talking!! You can accomplish anything!! Just take it easy and be ready to walk more if need be!!

  21. Jordan@almondjay on January 26, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    I love running half marathons! During training make sure you take days off and rest! Rest is key. After the race you will be soar but smiling because you accomplished something most people don’t dream of doing 🙂

  22. aj on January 26, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Be still my heart! I love running, particularly half marathons. I have done 4 so far, the same two repeated. I love the one I do in October in Minneapolis over Halloween weekend called “Monster Dash”.
    Runners dress up in costumes (but you don’t have to) and they have live music at just about every mile, so it is a very entertaining experience and the miles fly by. I got to about mile seven before I even felt like I was “working”. And that’s saying something!

    I also get pretty emotional during halfs, lol. I remember about mile 10 this year, and hearing Lady Gagas’s “Edge of Glory” song and I almost lost it! Its such an accomplishment, the feeling really can’t be beat. Thanks for choosing this topic, Gina!

  23. Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga on January 26, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Wow, good luck, Gina! This is such an ambitious goal and I know you are one determined lady once you put your mind to something…so bravo to you!

    I love to run in races, 5 & 10ks and half marathons but for the first YEAR after giving birth, there was no way I could have run. Everything was a little too bouncy due to the nursing and they hurt. Strapping it all down can impede milk supply and my insides just didn’t like the running impact, so I walked the first year and it was great for me.

    My half marathon tips: don’t start out too fast; and have fun!

  24. aislin on January 26, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Thanks for all the awesome tips! Good luck!

  25. Sarah on January 26, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    I love running. I ran my first half marathon in August, and am doing my second this weekend at the Disney Tinker Bell half marathon.

  26. BirdsNest101 on January 26, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    I ran my first Chicago Marathon in October 2011. It was the best experience of my life and I am signing up again for it! I never did a 1/2 and if I had I don’t think I would have had the guts to do the full one. I am glad I signed up and just did it! I also have the same Garmin and it is fantastic!!!

    Tips for any race are walk through the water stations, it will help tremendously at the end.
    Start off SLOW don’t let the excitement get to you.
    Set up your “fans” throughout the course to cheer you on
    Remember the pain is temporary the pride is forever.
    And my personal motto, Do it for the swag. I love wearing with pride my Chicago Marathon jacket! I will buy another one this year too!

    Good luck to you!

  27. Heather @ Bake, Run, Live on January 26, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    I started running again in 2007, after a 16 year break (I ran all through school). My first race was Goofy’s challenge in January ’08. Yup- I gave myself a whole year to get ready to run 13.1 on Saturday and 26.2 on Sunday (my first half, my first full). The advice I would give to a new runner wanting to run a half (or full), is to set one goal…to finish! Not going in to my first races with a goal finish time, just let me relax and enjoy myself. I knew if I pushed too hard, I ran the risk of getting hurt, or not having fun. Either of those would have turned me off from doing more races.
    In September I ran my 9th half, and I already have 3 on the schedule for this year!

  28. Liz on January 26, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Just wanted to say that as much as I want a Garmin (I REALLY do) they aren’t a necessity for half marathon training. I do recommend a good digital watch with a stopwatch and splits though! Definitely want to second figuring out how to fuel before the day of!

  29. Julie (A Case of the Runs) on January 26, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    It’s definitely cool that you’re trying something fairly new to you! I would do as you said and just take it one day at a time and see how it goes.

    Also, I admire the fact that you didn’t get sucked into doing race after race because everyone thinks it’s cool and just doing your own thing. =)

  30. Jess on January 26, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    I am just about to start training for my first post-baby half next week. I was trying to get it in before the end of the year but life got in the way. Just to warn you, your first runs after baby may be uncomfortable. It took a little while before I was up for more than a few, slow miles because it felt like my uterus was going to fall out. Ha.

  31. TherunningInspiration on January 26, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    I´ll be running my first Marathon in March so I will follow your blog closely. You are such an inspiration and I have been so inspired by the way you train and many of your eats.. 🙂

  32. Michelle on January 26, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    My top tip is “Run Your Own Race.” It’s so easy to get caught up with the crowd and the hundreds of other runners and take off like lighting or speed if people are passing you. At the end of the day you’re only there to prove to yourself what you can do so don’t worry about anyone else on the course and run the race you envisioned yourself running.

  33. Ashley @ My Food 'N' Fitness Diaries on January 26, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    good for you to already have fitness goals set in place for yourself so soon after pregnancy – that’s awesome! i actually plan on running my first half marathon this june, which i’m super stoked about but also quite nervous! this post definitely helped answer some questions i had… thank you! 🙂

  34. Michelle on January 26, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    Oh! Also, don’t ever let anyone call it “just” a half! It’s 13,1 miles. OWN it. 🙂

    • JBecca on January 26, 2012 at 2:16 pm

      Hee! After my first half, my husband got into the habit of saying I ran “13 miles.” One of my friends–another runner–always corrected him. “13.1” Even that .1 matters! 🙂

  35. JennP on January 26, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    My advice would be to do as much of the training as possible outdoors (as opposed to the treadmill). If weather conditions force you to use the treadmill for training more often than you’d like, then make sure you’re running on AT LEAST a 1% incline (depending on the race)! Even the flattest course isn’t perfectly flat!

  36. Hillary on January 26, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    I’m training for my second half marathon right now—how timely!

    Good running shoes are the most important thing EVER. During my first half marathon training, I wore shoes that offered almost no support. Come to find out (with the help of the local running store), I need a LOT of support when I run—no wonder my hips and knees hurt so bad the first time!

    I also found it helpful to train with a group for my first race. I worked with Team in Training and raised over $1500 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Not only was it a cause close to my heart, but the support of the coaches and my “team” mates was priceless. They offered support from day one and it went well until after the race ended! Right now I’m training on my own, but roughly following the plan from when I trained with TNT.

    Good luck with the training, Gina! You’ll be great!

  37. Courtney on January 26, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Love this! I’ll be rooting you on:) I’m on the other side of the spectrum, I am in my first trimester and I’m planning to run a half mary in March. Of course I’m hydrating, listening to my body, taking it slow–hoping that my body and the baby want to run or run/walk it when the time comes!

  38. Amanda on January 26, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    I’ve suffered one full marathon and enjoyed several half marathons. 🙂 My life savers? Body Glide (life changer!), stretching, good shoes and socks (someone above said ditch the cotton, I totally agree!), dri-fit running gear, and SLEEP. Wearing any kind of cotton for the longer distances was killer for me. I still have a scar from a cotton sports bra and the tag on some shorts that chafed me during a long run!

    Go Gina!

  39. Karen on January 26, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Great tips! I’ve run 8 halfs in the last 2.5 years, most recent was at 8 weeks preggo this fall. It is definitely my favorite running distance – something to train for, but doesn’t have to be ridiculously time consuming.

    I overtrained for my first half. About halfway through training I really packed on mileage and upped my pace. Ended up with a knee injury after the race. The training plans you mentioned are good ones – if newbies follow those, should be able to avoid injury.

    I don’t have a Garmin, but I use different Apps with my phone. Used to do Nike+, then Map My Run. Now I use Digifit with my heart rate monitor: it has a map showing your path, mileage, pace, heart rate, and all of the good stats that come with that.

  40. Linda on January 26, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    Thanks for this, Gina! I’m wanting to do a half this year, but keep wondering whether I could actually do it. Between this and Julie’s (Peanut Butter Fingers) blog, I think it’s totally doable.

    I also take it as a sign that two of my favorite bloggers have talking about training for a half within months of each other.

  41. sarah on January 26, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Hey! I was wondering if you knew where to buy Honey Stingers in bulk? Do they have them at Costco maybe?

    • Fitnessista on January 26, 2012 at 3:33 pm

      no 🙁 i order them online

  42. Roselyn @ A Balanced Fit on January 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    I ran my first half last June and loved every minute. My tips: do the majority of your training runs outside. I was training with a toddler in a BOB stroller, and it sucked and was hard but I did every single run outside if the weather called for it. I even did cold rain since I had a nice snuggly cover and blanket to throw over my kid.

    I agree with your tip on fueling…take your fuel with you on training runs to see how things work for you.

    Don’t overdress (if training in the winter)…you’ll warm up after the first mile, I promise. 🙂

    Have fun and don’t stress! enjoy every moment!

    Good luck!

  43. Katheryn on January 26, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    I’ve run 3 full marathons and 5 half marathons. They were all great. My advice is to know and listen to your body. Following training plans are helpful, but they should only be a guide. Listening to your own body is most important. Second is to train for the race. Whether it’s a trail course, road race, lots of hills, flat, elevation. You’ll definitely benefit on race day. Also, I don’t own a Garmin and never will. I think having one would make me a little too crazy obsessive and I don’t need that. And I’ve been able to set new PR’s each race all without a Garmin.

    Good luck Gina with training! I’ve had two children and am pregnant with #3. Even though you kept active the whole time, don’t be surprised with how much endurance you’ve lost when you get back into it.

  44. natalie @ southern fit foodie on January 26, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    I really want to do a half marathon…really really really want to! Thanks for the tips – I need to just commit to one and DO IT!

    I teach 7 zumba/cardio dance classes per week (M-F), and I have no idea how my legs (or my life) would handle adding running to that. I know I need to cut back on my classes anyway before I am either completely burned or injured (or both), so maybe signing up for a half would give me the push I need to find a nice balance!

  45. Tori @ Get a Word in Veg Wise on January 26, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    You are such an inspiration (and rock star) for doing a half marathon so soon after baby! I hope I have your motivation after I give birth 🙂

  46. Caitlin on January 26, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    Thanks for this post! One of my goals this year is to run my first Half so it is great to read this and all of the comments. I see that you recommend Disney Races but I am no way ready for the for the one at the end of February. Are there any other races in the Southeast that you or anyone recommend? I am in Charleston, S.C.

  47. Courtney on January 26, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    I love the Half Mary distance! I keep telling myself ONE day I will run a full, but that would actually take training and planning … and I kind of like running by the seat of my pantaloons. Like I just signed up for my 6th Half Marathon. Which happens to be day after tomorrow …

  48. Rita @ Healthy Mom, Sexy Wife on January 26, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    No marathons before but it is a goal of mine to run at least a 5K this year. I think me and running are going to have to break for a short while though. I’ve been pushing myself a little too hard and am stalling my weight loss efforts. I think I’m going to focus on HIIT until I get closer to my goal weight but I really started loving running. Thanks for the great tips – will definitely keep them in mind when me and running get back together.

  49. Len on January 26, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    I got to say Im disappointed in this focus on post. I usaully love all your focus on posts because they feature a variety of different workouts that is not always seen in the blogworld. Now running and half marathon training is everywhere in the blogworld. Myabe its just my opinion and thats fine but I think alot of the healthy living blogs view running as the be all end all of exercise. There is a whole world out there and sometimes its hard to see that when reading blogs. I always viewed your blog as different and provides a nice varierty of options to your readers. I really hope this wont turn into posts about running miles and miles. Agaian, this is just my viewpoint and I know not everyone will agree and thats ok.

    • Julie (A Case of the Runs) on January 26, 2012 at 6:35 pm

      No, I agree, which is weird since I have a running blog… but it’s not all about running, and I love learning about other options!

  50. Allison on January 26, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    i love that you did a focus on half marathon training, i’m going to be doing my first half marathon at the end of May, i’ve got a pretty good training plan set out. honey stingers are AH-mazing, they are like candy, i love them.
    I’m also training for my first triathlon in August. Big year for me!

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