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Half marathon running training plan


Expert reviewer, Declan Leonard, Physiotherapist, Bupa UK
Next review due September 2023

The distance of a half marathon is 13.1 miles or 21km. If you’ve got a half marathon on the horizon, we have three running training plans to help you on your way:

  • beginner – if it’s the first time you’ve run a half marathon or it’s been a while since you ran any longer distances
  • intermediate – if you consider yourself to be a more developed runner
  • advanced – if you consider yourself to be an advanced runner

A person running in the park

How the training plans work

The training plans have three key elements, which alter as you progress:

  • F – frequency (how often)
  • I – intensity or pace (how hard)
  • T – time (how long)

Exercising regularly and gradually increasing how much you do is key to improving your health and fitness.

As you get fitter, you’ll be able to train more often and for longer in each session. As a beginner, this means you can gradually run more and need to walk less. At an intermediate level, you should find that you’re able to run distances faster.

It’s hard to define ‘intensity’ (or pace) because it depends on your individual level of fitness, which will increase as your training progresses.

The training plans involve different types of run that correspond to your ‘perceived effort scale’. The scale runs from 1 to 10, where 1 is standing still, and 10 is your maximum effort, so running as fast as you can (see the table below). The activities in the running training plans correspond to the ‘Activity’ column in the table.

Perceived effort levels

A table by Bupa showing perceived effort levels for running

Click here to open a larger version of the table.

Types of training

The training plans involve long runs and light to moderate (recovery) runs, and some faster runs too.

Easy runs

These allow your legs to recover from hard efforts and prepare you for the next day of training. Take them at a light to moderate pace (effort level of 5 to 6). You should be able to enjoy running without feeling tired.

Steady runs

These runs should be at a slightly challenging pace with an effort level of 6 to 7. You should be able to hold a conversation, but find it difficult. This will become your race pace and be used for your long runs. It will increase your distance and build up your aerobic fitness, efficiency and endurance.

Tempo runs

Constant speed running is sometimes referred to as tempo running, and this improves your running pace.

Although the true definition of tempo running varies, aim to run at a constant speed that feels ‘comfortably hard’. This should be about an 8 on the effort scale. Stick to about 15 to 20 minutes at this pace and always include warming-up and cooling-down as follows:

  • 30 mins total:
    • 5 mins warm-up (effort level 5)
    • 20 mins tempo running (effort level 8)
    • 5 mins cool-down (effort level 3–4)

  • 40 mins total:
    • 5 mins warm-up (effort level 5)
    • 15 mins tempo running (effort level 8)
    • 5 mins easy jog (effort level 5)
    • 10 mins tempo running (effort level 8)
    • 5 mins cool-down (effort level 3–4)

  • 50 mins total:
    • 5 mins warm-up (effort level 5)
    • 20 mins tempo running (effort level 8)
    • 5 mins easy jog (effort level 5)
    • 15 mins tempo running (effort level 8)
    • 5 mins cool-down (effort level 3–4)

In your warm-up, aim to include several minutes of exercises to get your heart going followed by some leg stretches. You could start with some light jogging followed by jumping jacks and then throw in some lunges and leg swings. This will warm up your muscles and get your blood flowing, which should boost your performance and may help to reduce your risk of injury. A good cool-down exercise is to walk after your run to slowly bring your heart rate down.

Interval training

Interval training is running intervals of fast, short periods of effort, alternated with recovery periods of slower running. So, you run really fast over a set distance or time, at an effort level of 9. Then you follow each hard interval with an easy one of at least the same length, then repeat. Try using a treadmill or running track to help you get the distances and times right. Training with intervals builds your aerobic fitness, strength and speed.

As you go through your training plan, try filling the recommended time with these sequences:

  • Starting interval training:
    • 30 secs running (effort level 9)
    • 2 mins easy jog/walk (effort level 5)

  • Hitting your stride (from week 8):
    • 1 min running (effort level 9)
    • 2 mins easy jog/walk (effort level 5)

  • Closer to race day (from week 12), try short/fast intervals and longer/slower ones, eg:
    • 30 secs sprinting (effort level 10)
    • 90 secs easy jog/walk (effort level 5)
    • (repeat x 5)
    • 3 mins running (effort level 9)
    • 4 mins easy jog/walk (effort level 5)
    • (repeat x 2/3)
    • 30 secs sprinting (effort level 10)
    • 90 secs easy jog/walk (effort level 5)
    • (repeat x 2/3)

Don’t forget to perform at least 5 to 10 minutes of warm-up and cool-down before and after your interval training.

Cross training

This helps you to keep up your fitness but reduces the strain on the muscles you use for running. Take one session a week to do an activity, such as swimming, cycling or using a cross trainer in the gym. This will work your muscle groups in different ways and help to stop you from getting bored of just running.

You could also try some resistance or weight training with movements, such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, step ups, and box jumps. These can improve your running performance.

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Beginner training plan

This plan is for you if it’s the first time you’ve run a half marathon or if it’s been some time since you ran any longer distances. To get the most out of it, you should be able to run 3 miles (5km) in under 40 minutes – you may have completed one of the other beginner training plans. You should already be able to run 5km comfortably and have been doing so for a number of weeks or months.

Remember that these are just a guide – sometimes you might need to hold off for a week if things feel too intense. You’ll also want to take your work-life balance into account as things like poor sleep, not eating well, and stress can all affect your running and how you manage your training. And most importantly, how you recover.

One mile is equivalent to 1.6km. For this training plan, distances in km have been rounded to the nearest whole number for simplicity.

Click on the image below to see the full plan (PDF 0.2 MB, opens in a new window).

Image of Bupa's beginner half-marathon training plan

Intermediate training plan

This programme is for you if you consider yourself to be a more developed runner. You may have already completed half marathon races before, or possibly a 10km or 10-mile race.

One mile is equivalent to 1.6km. For this training programme, distances in km have been rounded to the nearest whole number for simplicity.

Click on the image below to see the full programme (PDF 0.2 MB, opens in a new window).

Image of Bupa's intermediate half-marathon training plan

Advanced training plan

This plan is for you if you consider yourself to be an advanced runner, and you run regularly. You may have already completed half marathon (13.1 miles/21km) races before, or possibly a 10km (6 miles) or 10-mile (16km) race, perhaps following the Bupa beginner and intermediate training plans.

One mile is equivalent to 1.6km. For this training plan, distances in km have been rounded to the nearest whole number for simplicity.

Click on the image below to see the full plan (PDF 0.2 MB, opens in a new window).

Image of Bupa's advanced half-marathon training plan

Recovering after your race

After you’ve achieved your half marathon you may set your sights on a full marathon. While it’s great to capitalise on this marathon motivation, it’s important to give your body a rest first to recover.

Take it easy for the first few days, but keep moving to encourage blood flow to your muscles – walking is ideal. You can then start to gradually add some runs in and build things up until you’re eventually back to your race distance. Our marathon running training plan then awaits. If you want to take on this next challenge, build up to half marathon distances first for a number of months before you try to push on to a full marathon. It’s important to take time to adapt to these distances to prevent injuries.

Frequently asked questions

  • The distance of a half marathon is 13.1 miles or 21km. This is exactly half the distance of a full marathon, which is 26.2 miles. Running 13 miles is no easy task, even for the fittest people. Our half marathon training programmes are designed to help you reach your goal, one run at a time.

  • It depends how experienced you are as a runner and your current fitness level. Our half marathon training plans are 12 weeks long. Training regularly and gradually increasing how much you do is key to improving your running fitness.

  • Everyone is different so make sure you know what suits you when it comes to eating before a run. Don’t try anything new on race day. Experiment with different foods and timings during your training to see what works for you.

    Two to three hours before your half marathon run, you may want to eat a meal that:

    • is high in carbohydrates to increase your blood glucose level and your glycogen level
    • contains some protein to help your muscles recover after exercise
    • is low in fat and fibre because these can take a long time to digest and may cause tummy problems

    See our page, Food for exercise, for more information.



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  • Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Freelance Health Editor, September 2020
    Expert reviewer, Declan Leonard, Physiotherapist, Bupa UK
    Next review due September 2023

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