Just because you haven’t spent your whole life running doesn’t mean that you can’t give it a try now, no matter what phase of life you’re in. Karen Bei, mom of runner Sara Hall (the second-fastest U.S. marathoner of all-time), had no interest in running until she reached her 50s. With her three kids all out of the house and starting lives of their own, she had more free time on her hands. And as many women in their middle years can attest, it just feels better as we age to tend more to our fitness and overall well being.
Of course, not all of us have such expertise in the family, but we’re here to help. This plan for completing a half marathon, written for Bei by Hall, is for those who already have at least six months of consistent running under their belts—three or four days of running per week and can finish five or six miles at a comfortable, easy pace. If you have more experience, it also serves as a solid schedule to train for your next 13.1-mile race. It tops out at a 12 mile long run and incorporates speed workouts based on effort instead of specific paces.
No matter what your age, if you’re curious about how to tackle Hall’s 14-week half marathon training plan, read on for a little bit of advice.
Work your way up in distance.
It’s tempting to jump right to those popular distances like half marathons and marathons, even if we’re rebuilding fitness after a long hiatus or are new to the sport. Bei trained for 10Ks before moving to the 13.1-mile races, which is a good way to stay healthy and sustain your interest in training. Doing too much, too soon leads to burnout or worse—time off for illness or injury.
“I’ve always believed it’s never too late to start running and anyone can do it as long as you build into it gradually,” Hall says.
Get back on track.
We all have bad weeks or a string of bad days that knock us off the schedule. Family, work, life in general will get in the way of any training plan. The trick is to not let distractions or mishaps completely derail you. Don’t try to make up missed runs or workouts by cramming them into a shortened window. If you only missed a day or two, simply pick up with the run scheduled for the day you’re back and forget about the days you missed. If you missed a week or more, adjust your goals. It’s better to pick a different race and get to the starting line healthy and confident in your fitness than to rush to meet a deadline and feel unprepared.
Find a cheerleader (or a coach).
Everybody needs someone in their corner, ready to offer encouragement and positive reinforcement. Bei has always appreciated her daughter’s enthusiasm for her efforts, even when Hall is in the midst of her own big running goals. Checking in with a supportive friend or coach can keep you motivated and also hold you accountable for your training.
“My mom texts me when she has a good run that she’s excited about,” Hall says. “Everyone needs someone who understands their running, who they can celebrate with when they hit a milestone.”
Remember why you’re training.
Before her mom ever started training for races, Hall told her to write down why she wanted to run—what it meant to her to build into a consistent routine. The reasons why you run and why you train for specific races will change over time, but it’s worthwhile to take a little time to hash those out before you begin a new training cycle. When you hit rough patches in training or a workout doesn’t go well, revisit your “why” to reflect on the bigger picture and inspire yourself to keep going.
“It’s been neat to see running be a force of empowerment in my mom’s life, just as it has been in my own and my daughters’ lives,” Hall says. “She was improving so much until [Bei’s cancer diagnosis]. Setting pace goals and slowly getting faster, despite getting older. That’s an exciting feeling, especially, I would imagine, when you’re middle-aged and feeling your age in many other ways.”
Listen to your body.
Aches and pains are inevitable when you’re pushing yourself, but anything acute or persistent may require an extra rest day or two (or a visit to a healthcare professional). Hall’s plan incorporates plenty of recovery days and options for cross training, too (Bei, for example, likes to swim). This plan also relies on effort-based speed workouts. Some days you’ll feel faster than others and that’s OK—don’t read too much into the ebbs and flows of your performance. It’s the cumulative effort over 14 weeks that leads to success. When you reach the higher-mileage peak weeks of training in the month before the race, you’ll want to take the easy days very easy—maybe even incorporate a couple of walk breaks if you want. Let your body absorb all that effort and keep the easy-day pace controlled.
Go with friends (or don’t!).
Hall loves to run with other people but Bei does not. Having a friend or a running group to meet a couple of times a week can help get you out the door on days when you might not feel like it. But Bei is intrinsically motivated and prefers to go alone to make sure that she’s staying true to her own pace and not falling into somebody else’s. Hall, on the other hand, enjoys having company as often as she can, whether to grind out the hardest days or just chat away on the easy days to help the miles fly by.
Find your paces.
Hall’s plan uses terms like “easy,” “faster,” and “slow.” It may take a little time to determine what that means for you, but using an effort-based plan means you have to learn to gauge your efforts. The baseline is “easy,” and that is a pace that is comfortable enough that you could speak in complete sentences to a friend. As your fitness builds, your easy pace will likely get faster, which in turn means your “faster” pace will naturally speed up, too.
14-Week Half Marathon Training Plan
|1||5K run||Day off or 2 miles easy||2.5 miles easy||5 miles, last 3 miles a bit faster|
|2||OFF||2.5 miles easy||1 mile easy, 5 x 1 min fast, 1 min slow, 1 mile easy||2.5 miles easy||Day off or 2 miles easy||3 miles easy||5 miles|
|3||OFF||2.5 miles easy||1.5 miles easy, 6 x 1 min fast, 1 min slow, 1 mile easy||2.5 miles easy||Day off or 2 miles easy||3 miles easy||5.5 miles, middle 2 miles faster|
|4||OFF||2.5 miles easy||1.5 miles easy, 8 x 1 min fast, 1 min slow, 1 mile easy||2.5 miles easy||Day off or 2 miles easy||3.5 miles easy||6 miles|
|5||OFF||3 miles easy||1.5 miles easy, 10 x 1 min fast, 1 min slow, 1 mile easy||3 miles easy||2.5 miles easy||3.5 miles easy||6 miles, last mile faster|
|6||OFF||2.5 miles easy||2 miles easy, 10 x 1 min fast, 1 min slow, 1.5 miles easy||Day off or 2.5 miles easy||5 miles easy||3 miles easy||7 miles|
|7||OFF||3 miles easy||2 miles easy, 12 x 1 min fast, 1 min slow, 1.5 miles easy||Day off or 2.5 miles easy||5 miles, last mile faster||3.5 miles easy||8 miles, last mile faster|
|8||OFF||3.5 miles easy||2 miles easy, 12 x 1 min fast, 1 min slow, 1.5 miles easy||Day off or 2.5 miles easy||6 miles||2.5 miles easy||9 miles|
|9||OFF||4 miles easy||2 miles easy, 14 x 1 min fast, 1 min slow, 1.5 miles easy||Day off or 2.5 miles easy||5 miles, last mile faster||2.5 miles easy||10 miles|
|10||OFF||3 miles easy||2 miles easy, 8 x 2 min fast, 1 min slow, 1.5 miles easy||2.5 miles easy||6 miles||5 miles easy||11 miles|
|11||OFF||4 miles easy||2 miles easy, 10 x 2 min fast, 1 min slow, 1.5 miles easy||4 miles easy||6.5 miles||5 miles||12 miles|
|12||OFF||4 miles easy||2 miles easy, 14 x 1 min fast, 30 sec slow, 1.5 miles easy||3 miles easy||5 miles, last mile faster||3 miles easy||7 miles|
|13||OFF||4 miles easy||2 miles easy, 12 x 1 min fast, 1 min slow, 1.5 miles easy||Day off or 2 miles easy||5 miles, middle 2 miles at goal race pace||2 miles easy||7 miles|
|14||OFF||5 miles, last mile faster||2 miles easy, 10 x 1 min fast, 1 min slow, 1.5 miles easy||2.5 miles easy||2 miles easy, 1 mile at race pace, 1 mile easy, 1 mile at race pace||3 miles easy, 4 x 10-second pickups / strides||2 miles|