Low Stress Training Plan for First Half-Marathon

The purpose of this training plan is to help you master the half-marathon distance, that is, master the stress of the distance. The plan does not include speed training, because I think the stress of speed should not be part of your first half-marathon. Think of the plan as a series of enjoyable training runs that get progressively longer until you feel comfortable with the half-marathon distance. The plan uses the 10% and heavy/light rules as its basis for increases in the weekly distance.


To begin the plan, you should be running for several weeks about 24 miles (39 km) per week with 6-mile long runs, and you should feel comfortable with that distance. If you're running less than that, here is a plan to bring you up to the point where you can begin half-marathon training.


Total time. The plan requires 12 weeks for a half-marathon. This is a longer time than that required by some plans in common use. The extra time is due to smaller increases in distance, smaller jumps in distance after the fall back weeks, and higher weekly distance.

Number of days per week. The plan is set up for six days of running per week. The plan can easily be modified for three or four days of running per week by eliminating days. However, to have a successful experience in a half-marathon, try to maintain 25-30 miles per week.

Length of runs. The plan has you running three different lengths of runs: one long run, one medium run, and four rest or recovery runs. Some runners run more than one long run or more than one medium run, but doing that puts significantly more stress on your body.

Increases in distance. The increases in the distance of the runs are based on the assumption that you can handle 10% increases in your weekly distance. Some runners can't do that and will need to allow additional time to let their bodies adjust to the increased stress. During the week, listen to your body to see how you feel after that day's training. If you feel tired, dragged out, or have excessive soreness, allow another week at that same or reduced level. When you return to the scheduled increases, don't try to catch up; just continue from where you are. If your tiredness continues, consider reducing your increases in subsequent weeks.

Fall-back weeks. After three weeks of increases, the next week is a fall-back week of reduced distance; that week is followed by a recovery week of the distance you were running before the reduction. This recovery week is to give your body extra rest. The fall-back weeks are denoted by FB.

Comfortable pace. Run at a comfortable pace, especially during the light weeks. Your first half-marathon is not the race for setting a new personal best! Choose a pace that will allow you to talk to a running buddy (or to yourself) and to feel fine at the end of the run.

Walking breaks. As you train, and later as you run your race, consider taking short walking breaks of 1 - 2 minutes every mile (2 km) during your runs. Walking uses muscles differently than running, thus giving your running muscles a rest, and the breaks help you to be invigorated and avoid slowing down during the last part of the run. Walk at a comfortable, restful pace. During the race do your walking breaks while passing the water tables. If you can do the shorter rest runs without stopping or slowing down much or being overly tired, you can omit the walking breaks during those runs, although you can do them if you want. If you're running hills, high temperatures, or high humidity, take walking breaks more often.

Using the plan. The charts give distance in miles (kilometers). The kilometers are rounded to be whole numbers.

1st Goal: Increase long run to 8 miles (13 km)

Week 1 3 (5) 4 (6) 6 (10) 3 (5) 4 (6) 6 (10) off 26 (42)
Week 2 4 (6) 4 (6) 6 (10) 4 (6) 4 (6) 6 (10) off 28 (45)
Week 3 4 (6) 5 (8) 7 (11) 4 (6) 4 (6) 7 (11) off 31 (50)
Week 4 FB 3 (5) 4 (6) 5 (8) 3 (5) 3 (5) 5 (8) off 23 (37)
Week 5 4 (6) 5 (8) 7 (11) 4 (6) 4 (6) 7 (11) off 31 (50)
Week 6 4 (6) 5 (8) 8 (13) 4 (6) 5 (8) 8 (13) off 34 (55)

Stay at these distances until you feel comfortable with them.

2nd Goal: Increase long run to 12 miles (19 km)

At the end of week 12, you will have run a long run of 12 miles (19 km) and will be ready for the half-marathon distance of 13.1 miles (21 km).

Week Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun Weekly
Week 7 4 (6) 5 (8) 8 (13) 4 (6) 5 (8) 9 (14) off 35 (56)
Week 8 4 (6) 5 (8) 8 (13) 4 (6) 5 (8) 10 (16) off 36 (58)
Week 9 FB 3 (5) 4 (6) 7 (11) 3 (5) 4 (6) 8 (13) off 29 (47)
Week 10 4 (6) 5 (8) 8 (13) 4 (6) 5 (8) 10 (16) off 36 (58)
Week 11 4 (6) 5 (8) 8 (13) 4 (6) 5 (8) 11 (18) off 37 (60)
Week 12 4 (6) 5 (8) 8 (13) 4 (6) 5 (8) 12 (19) off 38 (61)

Congratulations! You've conquered the half-marathon distance, and you're ready to run the half! Allow one week to taper your mileage before your race (two weeks if you're older) so you'll be rested when you run the race. Consider a taper that reduces all of your runs by about one-third.
It's important that the 12-miler (19 km) occurs one week before your race (assuming you are rested on race day). If the 12-miler (19 km) occurs before that, you may lose some of the effect of the peak distance when you run the half-marathon. If it occurs later than that, you may not be fully recovered from your training when you run the half-marathon.

After you finish the race, walk around for a few minutes before you sit down to help keep blood from pooling in your feet.

Last Goal: Take a Week or More to Recover

After the race, take a day or two off to help your body start its recovery. During that time, don't just sit & watch TV. Be active by walking, swimming, biking, etc, but do those activities in moderation. When you feel ready to run, do a reverse taper to return to your pre-race distance. Begin with short distances at a slow, easy pace to help your body continue its recovery. Listen to your body during this time and avoid pushing yourself to do longer distances and faster paces. Let your body dictate how often you increase.


Holly said...

Wow, this plan is just asking for someone to get hurt! That seems like a lot of unnecessary running to me. I know that I would get hurt running that many days a week!

Allen said...

Hi Holly,

You're right, people can and likely will get hurt if the try to run a lot of miles without having developed the strength and endurance in their body that is needed for a half-marathon.

A half-marathon is 13.1 miles, and that is a long, long distance. People who run a half marathon need to have slowly increased their distance up to at least 10 miles, and 13-15 miles is better.

Two principles of running are involved here. First is the so-called 10% rule. I have a page in this blog about that rule. The number 10 is not a magic number. For older people like me, it is more of a 5% rule. For younger runners, it might be a 12-14% rule. What it really means is that you increase your distance in small increments such that your body can adjust to the small increase and develop the endurance to run that new distance.

The other principle is called heavy/light. This principle is based on the biological fact that our bodies require at least 48 hours to recover from a heavy-stress workout. Thus, a person shouldn't do two heavy-stress workouts in a row. If a person runs two days in a row, the day following a heavy-stress workout should be a day of light-stress workout, such as shorter and perhaps slower runs, walking, light swimming, light cycling, etc.

To see the context for this training for a half-marathon, read the suggested training for a beginner. Then read the suggested training for an intermediate runner. Finally, read again the suggested training for a half-marathon. Notice the gradual increase in # days per week, distance, and speed in going from a person who has not run before to a person who can run 13.1 miles without injury.

Pain and injury aren't normal. Recreational runners like us should never experience serious pain or injury. If they do, they are training in the wrong way.

3fly said...

Hi Allen, I am following your intermediate plan and I have to say it is great! I cant wait to get up and go every morning. I am conscious of following the plan (but also listenting to my body) and have to force myself to only run the 2kms in between the 5 and 6km runs because the last thing I want to do is injure myself.

I am looking forward to completing the intermediate plan so then I can start on the half marathon training plan.

Allen said...

Hi 3fly,

Thanks for visiting my site and reporting on your training. Check back once in a while and let us know how your training is going.