a couple of years ago

Run your first Half Marathon

Well done for your commitment! There has been very few moments in my life that compare to the intensity of emotions I experienced by crossing a finish line, it is deep, powerful, it is one of this time where I feel truly alive, in the flow, using all of my resources, giving it all. I am excited for you!

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10 general principles that will make you like running:

  1. Go progressively, you can even start to combine walk and run at the start. The worst thing you can do is go from no run to pushing yourself too long or too fast, because doing this you will anchor massive pain to running and you will not want this repeatedly
  2. A good run always start with 15’ warm up and always finished with 15’ cool down, no matter what!
  3. A nice practice is to combine running with something pleasant and useful: listen to music, listen to an audiobook or a podcast, or call your family ☺
  4. Recovery is as important as training. Recovery will protect you from the runner’s worst and most frequent enemy: injuries. Remember that it takes 72 hours to recover from an intense intervals training session. I would also recommend having 1 day of full recovery (ideally combined with some stretching or yoga) after a long run, and 2 days after intervals.
  5. Running on an injury will guarantee you 1 single outcome: a more severe injury
  6. Drinking water is crucial, especially after your run. Make sure you drink at least 2 litters on the day of your session
  7. It is really motivating to measure your stats and share it with friends and fellow runners. You have many options out there, find the one that works for you. I liked: Nike+, Garmin connect, and Strava.
  8. Stick to your programme: it is designed in a specific way, by professionals, and for a specific reason. Doing more is increasing your risk of injury and exhaustion. Doing less can be acceptable if it remains an exception
  9. When it’s the time for you to push hard (in line with your programme), just go for it and give it all!
  10. You may choose to run with other people because it can motivate you. That is fine as long as you select people at your level (having the same objective as you).

So what’s the plan?

Your programme will depend on your target time. I am assuming here that your goal is to finish between 1h50 and 2h, which is a good performance for a non-regular runner. To give you an idea, 1h45 is milestone, and below 1h40 becomes very serious. Under 1h30, you are talking about very fast and well trained amateurs. The world record is currently at 58 mins.

Your programme should last between 8 and 12 weeks. There are many websites providing detailed weekly goals, so in this post I will keep it simple and provide guidelines rather than exact target. This will allow you to adapt your programme based on how your feel and based on your individual progress. Remember my 10 principles!

Your 3 runs per week are different by nature:

  • 1 intermediate run (Saturday or Tuesday)
  • 1 intervals training (ideally on Wednesday)
  • 1 long run (ideally on Sunday morning)

Intermediate run:

This is a 45′ to 1h run at 70% of your capacity (you should still be able to talk without being out of breath). If you want, you may add a few accelerations (15 secs fast + 15 secs recovery) in the middle or in the end of it (I would recommend to do it in the middle).

Enjoy this run, it is supposed to be a pleasant one, where you increase your endurance and where you get into the habit of running with increasing pleasure and satisfaction

Intervals training:

Those sessions are the ones where you push your limits and increase your cardio-vascular capabilities. Practising in these cardio zones will increase your average speed during the half marathon.

Respect the programme, AND stick to it. It will hurt, you will probably think about skipping or slowing down, stick with it, keep going, respect your programme, it is worth it.

You should be running the fast segments at 90 – 100% of your max capacity. If you wish to be more accurate, I encourage you to invest in a cardio meter and select a more detailed programme. Like I previously said, this post is giving you a high level idea of what to do.

So…what to do?

You always start with 15′ of warm up and always finish with 15′ of cool down. During these times, your pace does not matter, just relax, get warm / recover, believe me you will have a chance later on to stretch yourself, this is not the time!

You are warm, let’s push! I would recommend a simple progressive interval duration / distance that you increase each week:

  • start with 200m and do 8 to 12 times, with 30 to 45 secs of recovery in between (definitely no more than 1min otherwise there is no point)
  • each week you can increase, go to 300m for 7 – 9 times, then 400m for 6 to 8 times, etc…your can stick to an equivalent distance each week as a basic guideline
  • by the end of your programme, you should reach longer intervals of 1000 to 1500m (do 2 to 4 of them), of course you won’t run those at the same pace as your 200m, but make sure you push yourself and get well into your stretch zone

Remember that your body requires 72 hours of recovery after such a session. If you feel like you can run the next day, you need to push harder during your intervals.

Long run

This is your longer run, make sure you reduce your pace compared with the intermediate run. The purpose of this training is to increase considerably your endurance. Even your running style changes as you run for a longer period of time. You can start at 45 mins if you are really at the start of your journey, and by the end of your programme you must reach at least 1h15. If you are up for it, you could go for a 1h30 session 1 or 2 weeks before the race. I do not recommend to do more, you will have the opportunity soon enough on the day of the half marathon. Save yourself from injuries.


Like I said, this post is only meant to provide you general principles, and there are many places where you can find much more detailed programmes if that is what you are looking for.

On a personal level, I have always been very cautious when using programmes, because often they are over-demanding and increasing too much your risk of injury. I have beaten my record of marathon to 2h52 (finished 24th) and I was running 2 times per week only. Same story for my 2 ironman triathlons: I was only doing 2 sessions per week (the interval one + the long run) combined with cycling and swimming practises.

I hope this will help you achieve your goal. There is something really magical about pushing yourself beyond your limits, there is something unique about taking action to reach your goal, and the amount of pleasure and satisfaction you get when you cross the finish line is hard to explain with words: I can only wish you to experience it for yourself!

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