So You Want to Run a Half Marathon?

Admittedly, I am a novice runner. I’ve been running just a little over a year. So what could I possibly have to say about training for a half marathon? A couple of things.

Photo courtesy of ©, Image #2311855

Photo courtesy of ©

For starters, my lack of experience is precisely what qualifies me to speak on the topic. When I got started, most of the advice I received was from veteran runners. They knew a lot about running—as a veteran runner. But apparently they had forgotten what it was like to be a beginner. I still remember.

Second, I am not your typically annoying, just-made-a-new-year’s-resolution-and-want-to-enroll-all-my-friends-in-my-new-hobby kind of runner. I have had a year for the novelty to wear off. I’m still annoying, but, hopefully, it’s been tempered by some experience.

So if you’re considering running in a half marathon, here’s what I recommend:

  1. Make a decision. This is where any journey begins. You have to decide to do something different. No one can make this decision for you. Until you make the decision to lose weight, get in shape, or start exercising, nothing else will happen.
  2. Sign-up for a race. This will give you a concrete goal. It makes the training relevant. It also puts a stake in the ground and says, “I’m going to do this.” It might be a 5K, a 10K, a half marathon, or a full marathon. The important thing is to sign up. Once that happens, you are committed.
  3. Go public with it. Once you tell your family, friends, and business associates, it’s difficult to go back. The alternative is go forward and do what you said you were going to do. I did this last year on my blog, and it almost guaranteed that I would be successful. There was no way I was going to go back on my word.
  4. Tie the decision to your identity. Some people say to themselves, “I’m just not a runner” (or a jogger, or a walker). And because they chose to define themselves this way, their behavior follows. Something shifted in my own psyche when I started defining myself as a runner. I remember writing on my About page that “I enjoy running.” As a result, I actually started enjoying running. One of the great things about being human is that we get to define who we are what we will become. We don’t have to let our own internal files—or other’s—define us.
  5. Buy some new running shoes. Numerous people have written to say that they have decided to take up running. Almost always, the very next sentence is that they have just bought a new pair of running shoes. I think investing in yourself like this also makes it more difficult to turn back. You have something at stake. And, if you’re like me, you like to try the new shoes out and see if they make a difference.
  6. Adopt a strategy. I think it is virtually impossible to succeed without a plan. If you just get up in the morning without a plan, chances are, you’ll do nothing. Instead, I try to plan out my running in order to get ready for the next race. The are wonderful resources on the Internet. is a fantastic resource. You might also want to read my previous articles on running, exercise, and goal setting.
  7. Plan the night before. I learned this tip from Bill Phillips, author of Body for Life. It has been the key to my running success this past year. If you wait until the alarm clock goes off in the morning, you’re hosed. Nine times out of ten, you’ll roll over with a vague commitment to “run tomorrow.” However, if you know exactly how far you are going to run and how far, you have a much better chance of actually doing it.
  8. Get started. The best way to start running is to … start running. There’s no substitute for putting on your shoes and hitting the trail. I remember when I started running last year, the first few weeks were the most difficult. I was out of shape and sore. Sometimes, I couldn’t wait to be through with my run. But after about six weeks, something happened. I actually started looking forward to running. I especially love how I feel immediately after running. In fact, my energy stays up for most of the day. But it all comes down to getting started.
  9. Listen to your body. When I first started running, I actually walked most of the time. I only ran a little. Then, as I gained strength, I would run a little more. Eventually, I could run the whole time. (This is a method I learned from Jeff Galloway.) But even now there are days when I have to walk part of the way. I just accept this as part of the journey. I listen to my body and work with it instead of against it.

I contend that almost anyone can walk or run a half marathon with three to four months to prepare. (Amazingly, that’s exactly how much time you have between now and the Big-D Texas Marathon & Half Marathon in Dallas on April 6 and the Country Music Marathon & Half Marathon in Nashville on April 26.) Forgot about setting records. Your first goal is just to finish—and enjoy the experience. With these recommendations, you can do so.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • Joe Ely

    Boy, I wish I worked for Thomas Nelson!!

    This is great advice for new runners. Find a plan, stay with it, make it fun, let others help you, use a group. Each person will learn much about his/herself in the process.

    Will be watching with interest!!!

  • Fran Toolan

    I love the line about tying the decision to your identity, but I’d encourage one step further…

    Run for someone else! I ran the Boston Marathon last year for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute (and I am again this year on April 21). I wore a paper wristband that contained 26 names of people who battled with cancer. Every mile I looked at that wristband. There was no way I was going to let any of them down! Plus, I raised a fair amount of money for a very noble cause.

    There were wins on lots of levels!

  • Julian Fricker

    Regarding point 9, when I first started running I used a method I read about in Mens Health to get up to running 30 minutes at a time. The first week you start off walking 30 minutes each time you go out. Then you gradually introduce running into the 30 minutes. You then do 30 minutes split into walking for 4 minutes then running for 1 and repeat that 6 times. Each week you replace 1 minute of walking with running and within 5 weeks you are running 30 minutes.

    This method worked very well for me, hope it can help someone else.

  • Timothy Fish

    It sounds like good advice, but I especially like the statement about your inexperience being what qualifies you to speak concerning how to start running. I find that this is true of many things. It is hard for an expert to speak at a level a beginner can understand because the things the beginner needs to learn are often the things that seem obvious or boring to the experts.

  • Colleen Coble

    Mike, do you run outside or do you have a treadmill? I took up walking with weights (per Amanda Bostic’s recommendation) and grew to love it. I have a cemetery practically in my backyard where I go. But I live in Indiana. We just had a snowstorm so that’s out for at least two or three days.

    I hate walking on a treadmill but maybe I could learn to love it. LOL

  • Michael Hyatt


    I do both. My preference is to run outside. However, if the weather is bad or too cold (below about 45 degrees), I run at the gym on a treadmill or eliptical machine.


  • Maurilio Amorim

    I decided to run the full marathon this year without any previous extended running experience. I joined a marathon training group, InnerStrength, and it has been a blast. Great coaching, fun runs throughout the city, good food after runs, and built in accountability. I’m up to 14 miles on my long runs. Today I was out in 16 degrees along with 6 crazy people who will run regardless of the weather. I had to fight my Brazilian-born instincts to physically get out of my car. Thinking back, I think I was pulled out of the car. It was rough getting started, but six miles later, I was glad I did it.

  • Pat Baughman

    Mike – I’ve always wanted to do this, but doing it with a group is the motivation I needed. I’m so excited to complete this life-long dream – in the year that I turn 50!! Thanks for the extra push!

  • Mika Buckley

    I am so excited about this 2008 challenge! I was able to run the Dallas one last year with the Live Events team, and it was life changing! A couple of us are actually planning on doing a full marathon this summer, so this opportunity will be a great kick-start to our training! Thanks again!

  • Rachel

    I did the 1/2 marathon last year! It was amazing. I’ve had various back, foot and ankle weaknesses all my life but even that can be overcome. Hal Higdon has a great training schedule – 12 weeks long specifically for us walkers.
    I know there are other good programs too. All I can say is, stretch consistently, listen to your body, and follow the basic program and the impossible will become possible. :)

  • Tom Moucka

    Mike – you’re right on the money. I started running just about the same time as you and I’ve had many of the same ups and downs. I say a hearty YES to the going public idea and the new shoes (I also LOVE the headphones you recommended). Way to go. I’ll be running in the Music City Half and raising money with several others for World Vision. See you there.

    – Tom

  • amy

    While my passion for running led me to this topic – my career in Human Resource made me reread your post and challenge many times. Your work and challenge is a great example of great leadership at work.

  • L.L. Barkat

    I just started running in December, after more than 20 years away from it. Now I remember why I loved it so long ago!

    On a totally different note, I wanted to let you know I added you to a list of blogging publishers like IVP, Zondervan, Waterbrook, Wiley and so forth, in a post about how authors can meet editors through publisher blogs.

    If you want to join editors from some of these companies and weigh in on the issue of whether and/or how authors should communicate on publisher blogs, feel free to stop by and join the conversation.

  • MingWai

    I was wondering what the possibilities were of jogging through a half marathon (i.e. no walking at all) after 3 months' training from scratch? Would this be an impossible task? I plan to do a 5k next month, but have never run in a race before; I'm 33, female and the right weight for my height but not physically very strong (I'm only 4ft 11). Even after 3 runs, I am feeling a difference. It's definitely early days, but I aim to run 5-6 times a week within 10 weeks time, sooner if possible (I am cautious in avoiding injuries). I am a determined person when I put my mind to something (I see it as a mental challenge as well as physical and this is changing my view of me), but I wouldn't want to sign up for a half marathon in another country (that my friend is doing; she's an experienced runner) unless I felt i could run/jog all or most of the way! Sorry to all those walkers out there, but this is my aim!! Is it possible???

  • Denise

    My journey begins this Saturday with a Team In Training group. I completed my 1st 5K this fall and I'm signed up for a few this spring. I figure I can train at a safe, slowish pace in preparation for the Rock & Rock half/full marathon in Seattle in June. I am bookmakring your site for motivation. Thanks!

    • Bbear

      Great ideas! I also signed up and then told everyone I knew I was going to run a half marathon. This keeps me motivated. I used to run quite a bit and have done a half marathon before(3 years ago). Over the past year I had gotten away from it. I started back on January 1st and yesterday I completed a 10 mile training run. My body got right back into it and I feel great. I plan to run my half in March and am feeling confident at this point. It just takes consistency and motivation. I am not fast(10min pace) but I am okay with that! Keep up the good work everyone!

  • Tyler Toone

    Thanks for an amazing post about running a half marathon. I am planning to do some more triathlons this year and possibly a half-iron, this is giving me the motivation to bite the bullet and go for it. I am firm believer in your number 2 – Sign-up for a race – it's like the captain that tells his troops to burn the boats because there's no turning back. I need to take your advice and "Tie the decision to your identity" – with metal in my legs since age 15 I have constantly said "I'm not a runner" but that is going to change today.

    Thanks again for a fantastic post, and kudos on a superb blog!

    My recent post Joomla For Schools

  • Nancy

    I am just a beginner. I am in good health but haven't done anything physical in awhile. How far should I begin my walking/running everyday? Do I go everyday or every other day? Thanks

  • Anonymous

    im 11 and plan to train hard so that i can run/jog/walk the half marathon next year(you have to be 12). this is good information! thankyou so much!!

  • Mcnaughton Vicky N

    I am 58 years old and have just booked in to do a half marathon. Have been training for 3 weeks but have a problem in that even though I have tried different times of the day eg 7.00am and no breakfast, after work and no food since lunch, I keep getting caught short and having to head for the bushes. Am aware that I can’t do that on the day. Any suggestions? Vicky

    • Michael Hyatt

      Have you tried the Galloway Method? Google it. You don’t have to run the whole thing. Your body is speaking to you. Listen to it!

  • W. Mark Thompson

    Since I’ve been keeping up with runs, this is the first month I’ve broken 100 miles. Also, since I’ve started running (then added biking) I’ve lost 15 pounds. If you find it, I don’t want it back.

    Scheduled to run my first half marathon in a month. Training for that now. Exciting times.

  • Maddyjackson

    Perfect site, I like it!
    I bookmarked this link. Thank you for good job! High
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  • Katie

    Just found your page so you want to run a marathon .What great advice for new runners.I’ve just committed to running a half marathon for charity.I have 8months to train and I’ve just started running.reading your page was like reading about myself ! I’m already finding things out about myself!

  • Jacqueline Prior

    Hi Micheal i must say i really enjoy your advise i get to read on different search engines and facebook you are a grt inspiration. But now i have a question, i haven’t been exercising for almost a year and i hust have this new urge to take up trailrunning and extremely excited about it but yes i am kind off doing the strategy you posted here but the race i would like to enter myself is a 35 km in 3 months do u think it is a bit bizarre or should i rather wait and take on the small ones first?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Jaqueline, it really depends on a number of things: your age, weight, overall health, time of year trail conditions, etc. I would probably run a few hotter distance races first and see how those go. There’s no shame in extending the due date for the 35 km race if it becomes necessary. Thanks.

  • Jewelz

    Hello. I’ve been running for over four years. My longest run has been about 7.5 miles. I run approximately 4-5 days a week, from 3-7 miles. One long run a week. Can I run a half marathon? How long should I build my long run to be?