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Half Marathon Training Plan

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Half Marathon Training Plan

By Lewis Morrison, MSc, CSEP-CEP, FMS2, Peak Centre for Human Performance.

Download your Half Marathon Training Plan PDF here:

Consider this your more thorough explanation of your runs, and how to evaluate whether you are performing them correctly, and with the right intensity.

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How Can I Calculate My Max Heart Rate?

You will notice that each run has a heart rate zone to accompany it. Using a heart rate monitor you’ll be able to assess your intensity level, based on your percentage of max heart rate. If you don’t already know your max heart rate, find it with this simple method:

  1. Do three 90-second hill repeats with 30 seconds recovery in between, with a heart rate monitor on.
  2. The max heart rate you see can be counted as your max heart rate number for your calculations.

If you haven’t done any maximum effort exercise recently then before you attempt to find your max heart rate, make sure you check with your doctor before making any significant changes to your exercise program.

The next step is to determine your HR zones by multiplying your max heart rate by the percentages in the table below to estimate your training zones:

Training Zone Heart Rate Zones  
Percentage of Max HR What it feels like
Zone 1 (LSD Runs, Shakeout Runs) 75% 82% Easy, can talk to running partner
Zone 2 (Race Pace) 82% 87% Comfortably uncomfortable
Zone 3 (Tempo Runs) 87% 92% On the edge of giving up, but can still keep going
Zone 5 (Hill Repeats) 96% 100% All-out, nothing left in the tank

Estimates versus Lab Testing

Remember that this is just an estimate and your personal heart rate zones may be higher or lower.  If you would like to find out your training zones with precision, it can be done quite inexpensively at a quality physiology lab like Peak Centre for Human Performance.

I don’t have a heart rate monitor, what should I do?

The Peak Centre recommends using heart rate watches or monitors as the most accurate way to ensure you’re training at the right intensity, and to get the most out of training. Don’t worry about breaking the bank; a decent watch can be bought for less than the price of a pair of running shoes. However, if you don’t want to use a HR monitor then you have to base your training on perceived exertion or feel. Included in each training type is not only the percentage of max heart rate, but also a feel guide.

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LSD Run: Beginning of Training Plan

Runners find their happy pace on LSD runs: long, slow distance training runs. The goal is to gradually build mileage so you feel strong on race day. At the beginning of half marathon training that’s 5 miles (8K).

Intensity Goal:

  • Heart Rate: 75-82% Max HR
  • If heart rate monitors aren’t your thing: A LSD run should feel very easy to complete, your breathing should be very light and you should be able to maintain a conversation without feeling out of breath. Err on the side of caution; there is no downside to running a little slower on these runs.

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LSD Run: End of Training Plan

In the last quarter of training you’re building to peak mileage: 12 miles (19K).

Intensity Goal:

  • Heart Rate: 75-82% Max HR
  • If heart rate monitors aren’t your thing: LSD runs at the end of training should feel very easy to complete, your breathing should be very light and you should be able to maintain a conversation without feeling out of breath.

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Race Pace Portion of LSD

If your goal is to PR, you may be spending a portion of this long run at Race Pace. Push your pace for 3 to 5 miles to your race pace, or increase your heart rate to 82-87% Max HR. This should feel comfortably uncomfortable; you can feel the burn, but you can maintain the intensity for up to 2 hours. For best results, choose a route that similar to the race course you’re going to dominate. Don’t get too excited—don’t expect to hold this zone for all of your runs—just the race pace portions of long runs.

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Shakeout Runs

Shake it out—don’t go into this run planning on breaking records. The goal of a Shakeout Run is to simply log a couple more miles, build your aerobic base, and loosen up any muscle tightness from your long run.

Intensity Goal:

  • Heart Rate: 75-82% Max HR
  • If heart rate monitors aren’t your thing: A Shakeout Run should feel very easy to complete, your breathing should be very light and you should be able to maintain a conversation without feeling out of breath. Err on the side of caution—there is no downside to running a little slower on these runs.

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Hill Repeats

Scope out a hill that will take at least 90 seconds to climb at top speed—then get ready to climb to new speeds. For each interval (with a total of 1 to 4 intervals depending on the week), push as high up the hill as you possibly can in the 90 seconds. Recover for 3 minutes as you run back down. See if you can beat your distance the next interval.

Intensity Goal:

  • Heart Rate: 96-100% Max HR
  • If heart rate monitors aren’t your thing: Hill Repeats are at your max speed. You are pushing as hard as you can consistently for an interval of 1 to 3 min maximum. This is not 100 meter sprint intensity, but something you can maintain for a couple of minutes.

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Tempo Runs

Leave your heart out on the track (or road, or even treadmill). Your Tempo Run goal is to achieve the fastest pace you can hold for 30 minutes.

  • Warm up for 10 minutes at a slow pace
  • Run for 30 minutes at the fastest pace you can hold. Push yourself, but know that you’ll need to stay at this pace for a full 30 minutes
  • Cool down for 10 minute at slow pace

Each week try to achieve either a faster pace or greater distance in that half hour.

Intensity Goal:

  • Heart Rate: 87-92% Max HR
  • If heart rate monitors aren’t your thing: A Tempo Run feels like you’re pushing yourself very hard, but you can still maintain for up to 20 to 30 minutes. Your goal with this will feel like you’re always on the edge of giving up, but can still keep going.

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Race Pace Prep-sets

Closer to Race Day, your Tempo Run days are swapped for Race Pace Prep-sets. The goal is to incorporate more race simulation work during your taper. Think of this more as brain training: tune into racing intensity without creating lasting fatigue.

Race pace work is a chance to determine how close you are to achieving your race goal.  It isn’t unusual to have some difficulty in achieving the race pace in the first few sessions.  As you get into the last few race pace sections and you’re achieving the pace, then you have a good chance at achieving your race goal.

If you’re struggling to hold the race pace in the last few sessions, then you might need a little more time to get to your race goal and it might be time to consider easing off on your goal for this race

  1. Warm up at an easy pace for 10 minutes
  2. Build to race pace for 20 minutes
  3. Cool back down for 10 minutes.

Intensity Goal:

  • If you don’t have access to pace/km or pace/mile then do the race pace work at 85-87% Max HR.

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To be a better runner, you need to spend time strengthening outside of running. Find an activity that will complement the muscles you already build running, and switch the type of cross-training regularly, to prevent burnout. We recommend cycling, swimming, and rowing as low-impact and effective ways to continue to build your aerobic base. To strengthen supporting muscles, consider pilates, yoga or full-body strength training routines.

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Rest Days

Putting in miles every day while training actually decreases performance. Recovery is when your body adapts to the training and gets stronger.

It is important to treat your recovery days as real recovery. Try to keep activity to a minimum— ideally none at all—beyond what you need for running errands, walking your dog, or stopping to smell the flowers. For your rest weeks—which you probably take every three weeks in a 16-week training plan or in the taper—don’t be tempted to increase your mileage, so your body can catch up and be ready to tackle the next set of build weeks.

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Race Day Strategy

Now that you’ve done all of the training, and put in the miles and miles of legwork to this point, it’s time to complete your race. We can feel the adrenaline and the excitement pumping through everyone’s veins already. It is all too easy to get caught up in this buzz with everyone when the gun goes off and sprint from the start line. BIG mistake! The race is completed on the finish line— not in the first 5K.

The most efficient way to complete a race is to run even, or even better, to run negative splits across the distance. Even splits throughout the race mean you’re running each mile at the same pace (from the first all the way through to the last). Negative splits mean that you’re actually getting faster throughout the race so the second half of the race is faster than the first half. It will fill you with confidence if you’re the one overtaking people at the back end of the race, rather than the one being overtaken because you started out too hard!

Break the course into three sections:

  1. First third of course: Feel like you’re constantly holding your pace back just a little bit. If you go out too quick in this section, then the rest of the race will become very hard!
  2. Second third of course: Pick up your pace to feel like you’re at race pace—a pace you can hold for the remainder of the race.
  3. Last third of course: If you’ve paced well over the first two-thirds and you’re feeling great, then this is where you drop the hammer and go for broke!  Use the extra energy saved and give it your all.

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Good luck with your training!

What half marathon are you training for?

Lewis Morrison

From training athletes of all abilities to complete Ironman triathlons, marathons and Gran Fondos, to long-term research on athletes, Lewis has over 12 years of valuable experience in both testing and training elite athletes. Originally from the UK, Lewis completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Sports and Exercise Science at Leeds Metropolitan University, and later achieved a Masters in Sports Science at Loughborough University. He is currently the Director of Sports Science at Peak Centre for Human Performance, Canada’s leader in individualized training solutions. The Peak Centre for Human Performance is Canada\'s leading private sports science center. Through qualitative individual analysis they have the unique ability to provide the client with a specific exercise evaluation and the appropriate solution in an effort to maximize performance. Learn more about Peak Centre for Human Performance on their website.
Lewis Morrison