The Ultimate Guide to Long Runs in Half Marathon Training

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Cross Training For Runners
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David Dack

Are you ready to conquer those long runs as part of your half-marathon training? Well, you’ve landed in the perfect place.

In the world of half marathon training, the ‘long run’ takes center stage. It’s not just any run; it’s the heartbeat of long-distance running workouts. It’s the secret recipe that hones your endurance, bolsters your mental game, and primes your body for the grand race day.

But here’s the million-dollar question: How far should you push yourself on your longest half-marathon prep run? The answer isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. It all hinges on your fitness level and the time you have to prepare. But fret not; I’ve got your back.

In this article, we’re diving deep into the nitty-gritty of determining that perfect distance for your longest training run. We’ll sift through various running strategies, delve into the latest scientific insights, and equip you with precise guidelines to set you on the path to success.

Ready? Let’s lace up our running shoes and get started!

Understanding the Long Run in Half Marathon Training

When it comes to half marathon training, the long run is your bread and butter, typically spanning a distance of 10 to 14 miles. The distance vary depending on your experience and fitness level. But overall, you’ll slot in this long run once a week, devoting a good 1 to 2 hours or even more to it.

Here’s the twist: when you’re out there on your long run, forget about speed. That’s right, it’s all about hitting a pace where you could gab away with a running buddy—slower than what you’re aiming for on race day.

Here are the main reasons long runs rocks:

  • Boosting Heart Health: Every mile you log on these runs is like a high-five for your heart, improving oxygen-rich blood delivery to your muscles.
  • Muscle Power: These long hauls aren’t just for show; they’re about building leg muscles that can take on the half marathon distance without flinching.
  • Energy Smarts: Your body turns into an energy-efficient machine, learning to burn through fuel like a pro—both glycogen and fat—so you keep chugging along without hitting empty.
  • Mental Grit: It’s not just your legs getting a workout; your brain is too. Long runs teach you to deal with discomfort, boredom, and the mental hurdles you’ll likely encounter on race day.
  • Pace Perfection: They’re the perfect rehearsal for nailing your race pace, giving you a feel for what you can sustain when the big day comes.
  • Quick Bounce Back: By putting your body through these endurance tests, you’re not only building a more resilient musculoskeletal system but also teaching it to recover faster and adapt like it’s nobody’s business.

How Long Does it Take To Train For A Half Marathon

Now, let’s talk timelines. Prepping for a half marathon usually takes around eight to ten weeks on average. Long runs become your weekend ritual during this period, and their distance gradually ramps up, ranging from 10 to 18-20 miles, depending on your training plan.

But here’s the golden rule for first-timers: don’t go beyond 12 miles on your longest run, and finish it two weeks before the big day. Then, enjoy a two-week taper period, which means dialing down the volume and intensity to let your body recharge.

How Long HM Long Runs Should Be?

Training for a half marathon is an exciting journey, and the length of your long run, a crucial component of your training, varies based on your experience and fitness level.

Let’s break down the recommended long run distances for four categories of runners: newbies, beginners, intermediate, and advanced.


New to the running game? Welcome aboard! Your main mission is to ramp up endurance without overdoing it. If you’re fresh on the scene (think less than a year of hitting the pavement or new to distance running), pacing your progress over 14-16 weeks is wise. Some folks gearing up for their first-ever half marathon might cap their longest run at 8 miles leading up to the event.

Here’s a step-by-step approach for newbies:

  • Start Small: Begin with a manageable distance, such as 3-4 miles (about 5-6 km).
  • Gradual Increase: Increase your long run by approximately half a mile (0.8 km) each week.
  • Goal: Aim to complete a long run of 6-8 miles (about 10-13 km) before race day.

Key Tip: Focus more on the time spent running rather than the distance covered. For example, targeting a 60-90 minute run at a comfortable pace is a great goal for newbies.


For beginners, those who have some running experience but are new to half marathons, here’s a recommended approach:

  • Baseline: Start with a comfortable distance, approximately 5-6 miles (8-10 km).
  • Weekly Increase: Add about a mile (1.6 km) to your long run each week.
  • Target Distance: Aim to work up to running 10-12 miles (16-19 km) as your longest run in training.
  • Pacing: Maintain a conversational pace during your long runs, meaning you should be able to speak in full sentences.

For runners aiming to complete their first half marathon with a time goal, it’s advisable to run at least 13-14 miles before the race.

These runners can also benefit from incorporating speed work into their training, including fartlek, tempos, goal race pace, and progression workouts.

Some runners may repeat weeks at a certain distance before adding another mile to their long runs.

Intermediate Runners

For intermediate runners, those who have been running for a few years before their first half marathon, a longer long run during training may be feasible.

Here’s a recommended approach:

  • Starting Point: Begin your training with a comfortable distance of around 8 miles (13 km).
  • Incremental Gains: Increase your long run distance by about a mile each week, but also include a “step back” week every 3-4 weeks where you decrease the distance slightly for recovery.
  • Peak Distance: Aim to reach a long run of 12-14 miles (19-23 km) before race day.
  • Mix It Up: Within your long runs, incorporate elements like tempo runs or hill repeats to build strength and stamina.

If you’re an intermediate runner, then you’re likely looking to improve you performance, and may have completed more than a few races before. Therefore, opting for longer long runs shouldn’t be an issue.

Advanced Runners

Advanced runners, especially those aiming for a specific time goal in the half marathon, have the capacity to run longer distances in their longest long run before the race.

Here’s how advanced runners can approach their long runs:

  • Initial Distance: Start your training with a base long run of around 10-12 miles (16-19 km).
  • Progressive Overload: Increase your long run distance progressively, aiming to reach up to 15-18 miles (24-29 km) for your longest run before the race.
  • Quality Over Quantity: Focus on the quality of your run. Incorporate race-pace segments, hill training, and even occasional intervals within your long runs to improve performance.
  • Rest and Recovery: It’s crucial to balance the high mileage with sufficient rest and cross-training to prevent injury and maintain overall fitness.

Again, if you have more running experience, then you’re already better equipped to handle the biomechanical and metabolic demands of long runs.

By running over the half marathon distance in training, you can improve fatigue resistance and endurance, which can be advantageous on race day.

Listening to Your Body

Listening to your body is a critical aspect of half marathon training. Your body is an incredibly communicative tool, constantly sending out signals about its current state, its needs, and even red flags that could indicate potential problems. Developing the skill to understand and respond to these cues is vital for optimizing your training, avoiding injuries, and ensuring your journey to the half marathon finish line is both enjoyable and successful.

Here’s what to pay attention to:

  • Persistent Fatigue: Feeling perpetually tired isn’t just a sign that you need more sleep; it’s your body waving a red flag that you might be pushing too hard. Consistent fatigue, even with adequate rest, is a classic hallmark of overtraining.
  • Increased Susceptibility to Illness: If you’re finding yourself catching every cold going around, it might be time to evaluate your training intensity. Overtraining can take a toll on your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to infections.
  • Mood Changes: Notice yourself feeling more irritable than usual? Or perhaps the motivation to train, which once burned bright, now feels like a dwindling flame? These emotional shifts can be tied to pushing yourself too hard in your training efforts.
  • Monitoring Heart Rate: Your heart rate is a window into your fitness and recovery states. An elevated resting heart rate or a heart rate that takes longer to return to baseline post-exercise can indicate that your body hasn’t fully recovered and might need more rest.

Unraveling the Myths: The Long Run FAQs

Let’s debunk some myths about long runs in half marathon training and provide key takeaways:

Myth 1: “Long Runs Should Be Super Long, Every Time”

Truth: Long runs should vary in length, and not all of them need to be extremely long. It’s the cumulative effect that matters.

The shortest long run you can do in half marathon training is 8 miles, but it’s not advised for optimal performance.

Myth 2: “I Need to Run the Full Race Distance Before Race Day”

Truth: Running the full race distance before the race is not necessary and can lead to fatigue. Most training plans peak at 20 miles for a marathon.

You don’t have to run 13 miles before a half marathon, as many training plans take you to 12 miles. Tapering and race-day adrenaline will carry you for the final 1.1 miles.

Myth 3: “The Pace of My Long Run Determines My Race Pace”

Truth: Long run pace is a guide, not a prophecy. Experiment with different paces during long runs.

A recommended long run pace is 1:30 to 2:00 minutes slower than your race pace. For example, if your goal is a 9:00 per mile race pace, aim for a long run pace of 10:30 to 11:00 per mile.


The ideal length of the longest run in half marathon training varies based on your experience and training plan.

Consult with running coaches or professionals to determine the best approach for your unique circumstances.

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