How to train for (almost) any race

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This is a simple guide to preparing for any run from a 5km fun run through to a half marathon.  It should take 8-16 weeks depending on how long you have to prepare and how far the race is.  It’s worked for dozens of our clients and only requires three runs per week.  Follow my simple training plan and you’ll get round any distance up to half marathon even if you have to walk a little on longer races.

The plan involves three training runs each week, one long, one short and one middle distance.  The long run should start with you going out for an hour for longer races over 10km (6 miles) or 30 mins for shorter races less than 10km.  Add five minutes to this each fortnight until you reach a maximum of 80% of the total time you expect to take for longer runs (over 10km) or the same amount of time for races of 10km or less.  Aim to jog slowly and don’t worry about how far you go or if you need to take walking breaks, just get used to spending longer periods on your feet.

The middle distance training run should be a distance you can run non-stop, but the speed is unimportant.  For a half marathon this should peak at 8-10 miles, but you may start at as little as three miles for longer races or  1.5 miles for shorter races.  If you find you can’t jog 3 miles non-stop then a half-marathon may be a little ambitious unless it is more than 12 weeks away.  Aim to add half a mile to this run each week for longer races and a quarter mile for short races.

Short training runs should be interval training and involve running 800m (one mile for half-marathon runners) as fast as you can sustain, followed by three minutes of gentle jogging/walking to recover.  Repeat this until you have run three repetitions of 800m quickly.    Every two weeks add one fast repetition up to a maximum of six. Once you can do this, you can make the fast running 1km, but keep the recovery the same.   There is no need for half marathon runners to increase the distance on this drill.  This session is hard work, but it helps you run faster and cope with the physical exertion of race.  It is also a good idea to make sure you have a day off training after this session.

The plan will help you get round any race if all goes well, but if it doesn’t, you need to be sensible. If you pick up an injury or a virus that interrupts your training, then you may need to consider running more slowly or even skipping the race.   Make sure you gradually decrease training for two weeks before a half-marathon and a week for other distances so your body recovers and is ready for the big day.  This will help you to run your best and most importantly enjoy it.

If you have longer to prepare, follow the plan but stop increasing distances and just aim to run faster once your long run reaches 80% of race distance (or equal distance for short races), your middle-distance runs are two-thirds and you can manage six fast repetitions.  This training schedule has helped lots of my clients succeed from 5km to marathons and from ‘just getting round’ to ‘keeping up with the Kenyans’ performances!

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