If you have a half marathon race coming up, you’re probably wondering just how long your long runs are going to be while training for the race. How far is far enough for a half? Can you get by with topping out at a 7 mile run? Or should you train up to – or maybe even above – the 13.1 mile distance?
Your longest long run leading up to your half marathon should be at least 10 miles long if you are simply interested in finishing the race. But if you are training to get a certain time or want to achieve a personal record, the best way to prepare is with at least one long run that is between 13-16 miles, depending on your experience level.
Ready to learn about the reasoning behind this and more? Keep reading to learn all about long runs in preparation for your next half marathon!
How Long Should Your Longest Run Be For A Half Marathon?
In order to successfully complete a half marathon, your body and mind need to be well-prepared for the task of running 13.1 miles consecutively. You will need to be familiar with, and ready for, the physical and mental challenges you’ll face during the race.
Having the confidence to finish a half marathon is a common issue for runners new to the distance, so completing several long runs will helps runners to know that they can conquer the race distance.
If your goal is simply to finish (which is a fantastic goal!), 10 miles is the minimum to hit as your longest training run. This will be a long enough training run for most runners to complete the distance.
However, if you are looking to get a certain time in your half marathon or you’ve run a half marathon before and want to achieve a personal record, you’ll want to shoot for at least one that hits the 13-mile mark. Experienced runners may even consider going up to 16 miles or more for their longest training run.
Ultimately, the longer your training runs, the better prepared you’ll be when it’s time to toe the line on race day. But remember, you need to acclimate to this type of mileage, so be sure you’re following a trustworthy training plan that gets you there safely, or hire a coach who will guide you along the way.
Here is a sampling of some popular running programs’ maximum long run distances, to give you a general idea of the wide range of possibilities:
Maximum Long Run Distances In Popular Half Marathon Online Training Plans
- Jeff Galloway:
- Beginner Runners: 14 miles
- Experienced Runners: 14 miles
- McMillan Running:
- Beginner Program: 2 hours maximum (time limit, not prescribed miles)
- Intermediate and Advanced Programs: 12-14 miles
- Hal Higdon:
- Novice 1 Program: 10 miles
- Intermediate 1 Program: 12 miles
- Advanced Program: 2 hours maximum (assumes that you’ll cover more than 13.1 miles in that amount of time).
Ultimately, you can expect that your half marathon training will be taking you up to at least a 10 mile long run, if not several miles more than that, prior to your race.
Why You Should Consider A Long Run Longer Than a Half Marathon
If you’re an experienced and/or faster runner, you should consider taking your half marathon long training runs beyond 13.1 miles. Why?
According to running coach Jeff Galloway, who is the creator and proponent of the run/walk/run method, the long run is the key to half marathon success. Galloway believes that long runs farther than the actual race distance allow runners to feel confident. Long training runs above and beyond 13.1 miles help your body be more comfortable handling the race distance because it’s been there before.
Unlike marathon training – where the general rule of thumb for most runners is to cap your long runs several miles below the marathon’s full 26.2 mile distance – training for a half marathon is not nearly as taxing on your body. The risk for burnout or injury by running farther than 13.1 miles in training is fairly minimal.
Maxing out your long runs between closer to 16 miles or even more can improve your race performance by yielding physiological gains such as a better ability to maintain a pace for longer, as Strength Running Coach Jason Fitzgerald shares, and psychological improvements as well. Runner’s World writes that long runs teach the body to better work through muscular fatigue, have better cardiovascular system efficiency, and better ability to store glycogen, all of which will benefit you on race day.
Like the marathon, the half marathon is mostly aerobic in nature (more on that here), so optimizing your aerobic capacity with steady 2 hour (or more) long training runs will also positively affect your race performance. However, there can be a point of diminishing returns with long runs, so there is really no need to take your long runs past the 3-hour mark for half marathon training.
What KIND of Long Run Should You Do To Prepare For A Half Marathon?
Generally, your half marathon training long runs should be run at an easy pace, especially if you’re a newer runner or if you are training for your first half marathon. How do you know if you’re running easy? There are several simple methods to ensure that you’re not overexerting yourself on long runs, including:
- The Conversation Test: you should be able to hold a conversation or sing while running without gasping for breath
- Using Your Rate of Perceived Exertion: your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) during your run should be around a 3/10 on a scale, where 10/10 is your maximum amount of effort
- Heart Rate Monitoring: monitor your heart rate and keeping it in Zone 2 during your long run
Training at an easy pace trains the aerobic system and slow-twitch muscle fibers, which the body will use for most of the race. According to running coach Greg McMillan, easy, steady long runs of 2-3 hours in length will also teach your mind and body to withstand race-specific workouts in your training.
But there will be a time and a place to layer in faster paces to your long runs.
For Experienced Half Marathoners: Sample Half Marathon Long Run Workouts
For our experienced half marathoners (aka you’ve done one before), we have included below some suggested ways to incorporate more speed into your long runs. While you can never go wrong by building up your slow, long run mileage when training for a half, experienced runners and racers should consider adding some half marathon pace work to their long runs, to help you reach goal race paces and times.
One caveat: unless being guided by a coach, you should avoid completing workouts within your long run on back-to-back weeks. Faster and/or longer runs require more recovery time. If your training plan follows a typical 7 day format, you likely won’t have enough time in between long run workouts to properly recover if you schedule them on back-to-back weeks. Instead, alternate an easy, conversational-paced long run one week with a long run workout the following week.
All of the suggested workouts below assume that you’re in the midst of a 10-13+ mile long run when you incorporate speed work:
Sample Long Run Workouts
- Long Run with Fartleks: throw in 6-10 surges mid-run, lasting anywhere between 30 seconds to 2 minutes. You aren’t aiming to go “all out” in speed during these surges; just pick up the pace to somewhere between your marathon pace and 10k pace. Recover for 30 seconds to 1 minute between surges at your normal long run pace, and finish out the run at an easy pace.
- Long Run with Steady Race Pace Segments: after an easy warm-up of 1-2 miles, run at your goal half marathon race pace for 1 mile, recovering at your easy long run pace for 5 minutes afterward. Repeat 3-5 times. Complete the rest of your run at an easy pace.
- Fast Finish Long Run: When you have 2-3 miles left in your long run, start to gradually progress from your easy pace to marathon pace, finally reaching your 10k pace in the final mile, and hold that pace until your run is complete.
How Many Long Runs Should You Do In Half Marathon Training?
With most training blocks last between 12-16 weeks in length, you can expect to complete about 12-16 long runs over the course of your half marathon training when using a 7-day cycle.
Long runs are completed once per week if you’re following a typical seven day per week training plan. For most runners, this is the best way to go. It keeps you consistent, allows a proper long run build week-to-week and follows a logical routine so you always know what to expect. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, don’t skip your long run!
Less conventional training cycles can range in length between 8-14 days, yet still only include 1 long run amidst those days. So if you choose to go this route, you will have fewer long runs over the course of a training block. You may want to consider following a schedule like this if you have an erratic schedule, are an older runner or know you need more recovery than what a 7-day cycle can allow.
When To Taper Down The Long Run In Half Marathon Training
For most runners, a two-week taper will work best. This means that your longest training run is timed to fall exactly two weeks before your half marathon race, giving your body the best opportunity to be in peak shape for race day.
The taper phase then begins after your longest long run of the training block. You’ll begin to reduce your total weekly mileage and intensity in preparation for race day. Your body needs to be well-rested and ready to perform at the race with its top fitness.
Training runs throughout your taper weeks will be shortened, and may include eliminated runs as volume decreases.
Taper Week 1 (8-13 Days Out): During the first taper week, your running mileage should be reduced to around 60-70% of your total mileage from your peak week. A reduction in intensity is also necessary, with a focus on race pace intensity for any speed sessions.
Taper Week 2 (1-7 Days Out): Your last long run should be planned no later than one week before race day and will be about 7 – 10 miles in length depending on previous running volume. By the second taper week (aka race week), your mileage will be reduced to about 40% of your peak week (not including race day mileage).
Fueling and Hydrating For a Long Run in Half Marathon Training
Fueling and hydrating well during your half marathon is crucial to your race day success. In order to be prepared for race day, you will need to practice fueling and hydrating every week during your long training runs in order to train your stomach and digestive system to take in nutrients during the race. Not only can you test out new fuel items (gels, chews, regular food, gum, etc.) at that time, but you will also practice your timing and quantity.
Remember, never try any new fuel or timing strategy on race day, or you may face the unwelcome consequences of gastrointestinal distress mid-race! You don’t want to derail all those weeks of dedication and training because you deviated from your practiced fueling and hydrating strategy.
If you’re wondering how and where to start when it comes to half marathon fuel and hydration, be sure to check out our articles on these topics: Half Marathon Nutrition – What and When to Eat During Your Race and How to Hydrate for Your Next Half Marathon.
And that’s the gist of what you need to know about long runs when training for a half marathon! With this information, you know what to expect during your next half marathon training block, and will certainly go into your next half marathon race fully prepared to conquer the race distance.