Training for a Half Marathon on Short Notice


Starting in April, you can find a half marathon in Illinois almost every weekend. While improving weather may tempt you to pull out your credit card and sign up for an event, local coaches recommend seriously evaluating your current running fitness before making any firm decisions.

“Anything is possible, but what is of real importance is what type of race day experience do [runners] want to have and [what] risk are they willing to take to cross the finish line,” writer and well-known running coach Jenny Hadfield says.

Michael Schaffner, a running coach with Chicago Endurance Sports, says an athlete could run a half marathon with six to eight weeks of training, but only if he or she has a good background in running and isn’t injured.

“For an experienced endurance athlete who has completed half marathons or marathons previously, they should have a pretty good handle of what it takes to complete a race,” Schaffner says. “If they are running regularly, healthy and have a solid base, it’s certainly reasonable to complete a half marathon in six to eight weeks of training. However, they also need to evaluate where they are in their training cycle and how it might fit into their running season. If they have a target race scheduled for the season, I would suggest considering how this particular half marathon fits into, or detracts from, their training for that bigger goal.”

Coach Brendan Cournane advises runners to set their expectations based on their current mileage.

“If you’re running 20-25 miles per week, you could train for a good half marathon,” he says. “If you’re coming off the couch I would not recommend doing a half on less than 12 weeks training. If you’re in that in-between period, running 10-15 miles per week, I would not want you to race the half marathon.”

Having a solid base will make an enormous difference if you have less than two months to train for your half marathon. If you’ve maintained your endurance through running during the winter, you can consider slowly adding speed workouts into your training, keeping in mind that these workouts will require additional rest and recovery to avoid injury.

“Intensity levels can come about in different ways,” Cournane says. “They can come by adding too many miles in the week or too many to your long run. They can also come from running too fast or increasing the pace on your training runs too fast. You need to allow your body to recover after a hard workout.”

Long runs generally get the most attention in an endurance training program, as they have a major impact on race day performance. However, increasing your long run distance too quickly can elevate your risk of getting hurt. To avoid this, Lori McGee Koch, head running coach at Chicago Endurance Sports, suggests trying back-to-back runs.

“Since you will be running less mileage with a shorter training cycle, you may want to maximize the benefit of the mileage by running a shorter run the day before your long run for the week,” she says. “Doing back-to-back runs will help your body prepare for running on tired feet.”

McGee Koch recommends running four times per week for someone using a shortened training cycle and says runners should also incorporate cross training to enhance their training.

“A good plan may be running one medium long run, one cross training day, two short runs and a long run,” she says. “Do a short run followed the next day with your long run followed by a recovery day. To maximize the benefit and slowly build strength while building mileage, you should try to add about 10 minutes of core strength to the end of each of your runs. Focus on traverse abdominals (planks) and a good mix of glutes, hamstrings and quads.”

Hadfield cautions runners against trying to catch up in a training plan, as they’ll likely put too much stress on their bodies in doing so. She instead tells runners to start from their current level of fitness and build up gradually, and to consider using run-walk intervals on race day to help performance

“Walk briskly every three to four minutes for a newbie, or every mile for a seasoned runner,” Hadfield says. “You’ll be surprised at how well you can run with this strategy.”