I’ve had a few readers ask me different questions about training for your first half marathon, including questions about how far should you run before a half marathon. Since this is a common question also for both beginner and experienced marathons and half marathoners alike, let’s look at what popular training plans recommend.
A half marathon (13.1 miles) and full marathon (26.2 miles) both require long runs as an essential part of your training. These are endurance events, so you need to build your endurance in order to successfully cross the finish line. The best way to build endurance is through long runs—runs that last 90 minutes or longer.
Almost every half marathon and marathon plan out there calls for one long run per week, usually on Saturday or Sunday. How far these long runs are depends on your level of fitness going into training, goals for the race, and which training philosophy you are following.
- Receive Weekly Running Tips & Motivation
- How to Recover from a Half Marathon
- Understanding the effects of the Half Marathon on your body
- How long does it take to recover from a Half Marathon?
- How can you speed up the recovery from a Half Marathon?
- Planning your next race – How much recovery do you need between races?
- 18 First Half Marathon Tips
- 7 Training Tips for Your First Half Marathon
- 1. Build a base.
- 2. Pick a plan.
- 3. Think quality over quantity.
- Why Half Marathons Are the Best Distance Ever
- Tips you need to know before running your first half marathon
- How to conquer a Half Marathon from a 10k
- How long is a half marathon?
- How many miles is a marathon?
- Is running a half marathon hard?
- More tips for running a half marathon
- Run a Half Marathon in Ten Weeks
- Guidelines for following the first schedule:
- Guidelines for following the second schedule:
How far should you run before a half marathon?
- The Hansons Half-Marathon Method Beginner Plan calls for long runs up to 12 miles. For most of the plan, you alternate between a long run of 10 miles and a long run of 12 miles each week.
- The Hal Higdon Novice 1 Half Marathon Training Plan peaks at a 10 mile long run the week before the race. His Novice 2 Half Marathon plan includes a 12 mile long run the week before the race.
- The Jeff Galloway Run-Walk Half Marathon beginner plan brings runners up to 14 miles (with run/walk intervals) two weeks before the race.
- The First-Time Half Marathoners Plan on Runner’s World has you run 12 miles as your longest run before the race.
- As a certified running coach, I recommend 12 miles for new runners and up to 15 miles for experienced runners.
So most of these training plans take you to 12 miles before the half marathon. There’s only a 9% increase in distance from 12 miles to 13.1 miles; tapering and the adrenaline of race day will carry you for the final 1.1 miles.
If you are running your first half marathon with a time goal, you will probably want to run 13-14 miles before your race to get your body more comfortable with the distance. You will also benefit from doing several 10-12 mile long runs with fartlek intervals, tempo segments at goal pace, or progressions.
If you are running a half marathon as your first race or are a novice runner (less than a year of running), you want to give yourself adequate time to build up to your long runs. For example, if you are currently running 3-4 miles a few times a week, spend a few weeks before you start your training building up to 8 miles by adding a mile to one run each week (or find a plan that starts with long runs on the lower end).
There’s no need to run your long runs as fast as you want to run the race! Tapering and adrenaline will also help you run faster on race day. If you have a time goal, aim to run your long runs about 1 minute per mile slower than your goal race pace.
What about the marathon? Many runners say that the marathon is more than just twice the distance of the half marathon, so you can’t just double your training from the half marathon. Running a marathon requires that you train smart, since running 26.2 miles is a huge stress on the body. While you can run up to or even over 13 miles in half marathon training, you do not want to run up to or over 26 miles in marathon training, especially if you are training for your first marathon.
How far should you run before a marathon?
- The Hansons Marathon Method maxes out at 16 miles for the long run. Don’t be deceived; this plan has you running six days a week, you run 8-10 miles on the day before the long runs, and these 16 milers are done at a moderate pace instead of the traditional long slow distance easy pace.
- The Hal Higdon Novice 1 Marathon and Novice 2 plans both call for one 20 mile long run before the race.
- The Jeff Galloway Marathon Plan takes you all the way up to 26 miles, but all long runs are done using the run walk method.
- The First Timers Marathon Plan available on the Runner’s World website caps at 20 mile long runs.
- As a coach, I recommend 20 miles. It’s not just your aerobic endurance that you need to train; your mental strength, fatigue resistance, and stomach all need to be trained to handle the demands of the marathon.
At first, you may be tempted to run the whole 26 miles before the race, but that effort could exhaust you so much that the race itself is difficult to finish. Many coaches believe that running for longer than 3 hours has diminishing returns, which is why they cap the marathon long run at 20 miles for most runners (which is still longer than 3 hours for many beginners).
As with half marathon training, you want to choose a marathon training plan that begins at your current level of fitness or spend a few weeks before you begin training increasing your weekly long run.
Whether you are training for a half or full marathon, it is important to remember that long runs put a lot of stress on your body. If you push too fast in your long runs or take on too much distance too soon, you sharply increase your risk of injury and burnout. Be sure to safely increase your mileage as you train.
The famous running coach Jack Daniels advises that long runs comprise only about 20-30% of your weekly mileage, since the more miles you run, the more your body is used to the stress of running. This is why the Hansons Method only goes up to 16 miles in the middle of 60+ mile weeks. While some runners find that too high mileage leads to injury, just be mindful that you have a strong running base and most of your weekly miles aren’t coming from a single run.
Want to work with a running coach for your next marathon or half marathon? Learn more about my coaching services here and schedule your initial consultation today!
Questions of the Day:
New runners: What else would you like to know about half marathon and marathon training?
Experienced half and full marathoners: How far did you run before your first marathon or half marathon?
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I could not have gone another step, but on Sunday I ran across the finish line of the Toronto Women’s Half Marathon, my first ever. My legs shaky, my feet numb, I did it. And everything hurt. Turns out, 21.1 kilometres is far: It’s more than 52 laps around a track or 38 CN Towers or 231 football fields. It was the first time I’d run that distance – 17 kilometres was my farthest in training – and the journey to that elusive finish was a mental and physical test unlike anything I’d ever endured.
If you’ve been randomly saying aloud “I’d like to do a half marathon,” like I did 10 weeks ago, here are six lessons to consider before you begin:
1) Take your time If there’s one thing I did wrong, it was deciding on running 21.1 kilometres when I hadn’t done a 10-km run in over two years. Running – smart, injury-free running – is a slow build. Choose a half marathon that’s six months from now and develop a plan where you’re not in a rush. It took me five weeks to get a base level of fitness – essentially where five kilometres didn’t kill me. After that, it was about running longer, tacking on three or four kilometres to every long run – but it wasn’t smart, and my body is unhappy.
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2) Revel in carb day Oh, sweet, glorious carb day. I was told by runners, trainers and dietitians to eat carbs the day before a half marathon – about 60 to 70 per cent of my food intake. From a woman whose regular weekday meals consist of kale, tuna and tofu, this was my Christmas. Running long distances is generally discomforting: Eating bread with pasta for dinner, with a night cap of sweet potatoes, is not. Don’t skimp on this – it’s the fuel you need for the big run – and the reward of hard work.
3) Stop judging, start celebrating My biggest accomplishment came at about the 14 kilometre mark. The route was a Y-shape, with U-turns at the end of each leg, which offered a view of hundreds of the gazelle-esque runners who were leading the race, sculpted abs and thigh gaps everywhere, killing the course in what I deemed as a reflection on my imperfect fitness. But when I saw a blind runner, assisted by a tether to another woman, everything changed: Proud of everyone attempting this ridiculous feat, I began to cheer everyone who zipped by me, appreciating sheer human potential.
4) Whatever gets you through the wall I need music to run, and usually songs that make me dance will make me run. I had crafted a spectacular playlist of compulsively dancy tunes: Michael Jackson, James Brown and Katy Perry had me grooving to the eight-kilometre mark in 50 minutes, a personal best. But when things got really dark and ugly, eight kilometres later, when I started to plan the “I couldn’t do it” column, a U.S. military chant, on repeat, called “I can run to Haiti” made my feet move when I had given up. Weird? Absolutely. But I can run to Haiti in just one day.
5) Appreciate the journey I won’t tell you my time, for the sole reason that it didn’t matter to me. I wasn’t racing, I was running. I accomplished my goal – to finish before the organizers dismantled the finish line. More importantly, for a first timer, I was there to soak up the experience and do my absolute best. I took out my headphones to thank every volunteer, and shared a quick laugh with a firefighter handing out water. Those spirited people, often left behind in a massacre of empty cups, are better people than most – and that’s what I’ll remember most about that day.
6) Run to enjoy, not endure Many runners truly cherish very long distances, but this process showed me that 21 kilometres is not my idea of a good time. For me, my good, challenging run – no walk breaks, all heart – is about eight to 10 kilometres. I’ll sign up for a October 10K, with a goal time of an hour. I will run now for the sheer joy of challenging myself. From a woman who strained to do five kilometres once a week three months ago, it’s a long way from where I started.
Half-marathon races just keep growing in popularity, especially among women. They don’t involve as much prep as a marathon, obviously, but are still a challenge—and fun, especially when you cross that finish line with friends. My first half-marathon? An epic disaster. I’m talking barely-made-it-across-the-finish-line-without-curling-up-in-a-ball-and-crying disaster. Read on for the seven things I wish I had known before I started half-marathon training so you can run strong and finish with a (sweaty) smile on your face.
1. Train on Race Terrain
I was familiar with the first seven miles or so of the course of my first half-marathon, but I’d never checked out the remaining mileage till race day. So when I got to the halfway point and felt awful, every remaining twist and turn was that much more painful; over and over, I thought I was nearing the end, but the road just kept going, and going and going. It was physically and mentally brutal. If you have access to your race course ahead of time, do some practice runs on various sections to familiarize yourself with the whole thing, or at least ride a bike or drive the course to give yourself somewhat of a feel for it—so you know what’s coming on race morning.
2. Be Flexible
I’m pretty sure I’d never heard of a hip flexor until training for my first big race. As a result, I never stretched mine, and racking up mileage for several months made them super-duper tight. They were so tight, in fact, that it caused bursitis in my hip, which basically felt like a rock-hard knot in one side of my glutes; I had to see a physical therapist twice a week and let her massage it until my butt was bruised. Fun stuff! In conclusion: Stretch after every run. Then stretch some more.
3. Have a Checklist
In my everyday life, I don’t do checklists. If I try, I usually stop halfway through to Google something like “Scott Eastwood abs” and then forget all about the list. Oops! When it comes to races, though, having an old-school, written list is a huge help to ensure you’ve got everything you need. I remember getting to Central Park for my first half-marathon and then turning around and jogging back to my apartment to get the deodorant I’d forgotten to put on that morning.
4. Do Nothing New on Race Day
This goes for what you eat and drink before and during the race, plus what you’re wearing from head to toe. For one race, I wore an outfit I’d donned for tons of training runs—but because it was warmer I left the jacket at home and only wore the tank. That sucker dug into my armpits and caused super-painful chafing. God bless the medic-tent volunteer who handed me Vaseline to slather on the roughed-up skin. (And yes, in general, Vaseline or anti-chafing cream is your friend. Put it everywhere!)
5. Have a Plan B
And a plan C. No matter how much and how well you prep for a half-marathon, you never know what race day will bring and how your bod will react. My first half-marathon was in New York City in the middle of August, and it was about 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity. Everyone was advising racers to forget about PR’s and to run more slowly than planned. Did I do it? Yeah, but only starting around mile seven, after I’d run the first half of the race at my goal pace and had gotten totally dehydrated in the process. Covering the last six miles of that course is still the most miserable race experience of my life (and I’ve run nine marathons and did an Ironman last year). When your number-one goal goes by the wayside, having a second, less aggressive goal to focus on instead helps you keep pushing to finish strong.
6. Keep an Eye Out
If you do have a problem mid-race, many times you don’t have to go it alone. There are generally volunteers all along the course to hand out water, Gatorade, snacks, bandages, ice packs, Vaseline, icy sponges to cool your head on hot days, the Times crossword puzzle—okay maybe not crossword puzzles, but literally almost anything you could need. If you’re struggling mid-course, keep an eye out for people who might be able to help.
7. You Can Always Walk
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of a half-marathon, the cheers of the crowd, you can make yourself a ball of nerves and worry about whether you’ll perform up to par. I learned to calm myself by taking deep breaths and reminding myself that it’s okay to slow down if necessary. Yes, having a bad race after you’ve trained for months is a downer, but I walked a good chunk of that first half-marathon of mine and guess what? I still got a medal around my neck at the end—plus an excuse to enjoy a victory beer or two. Cheers!
Photo Credit: Mitchell Funk, Getty
How to Recover from a Half Marathon
The most critical element to half marathon success is recovery.
Yes, as crazy as that sounds, it’s correct.
Without recovery, all your hard workouts simply wear you down and don’t allow your body to adapt to the stimuli of hard workouts and miles on your feet.
Most runners understand this critical training theory when it comes to their weekly workouts. If you don’t, here’s an awesome video that explains the workout and recovery process. What we often forget is that this applies to races.
In fact, I’d argue that the most important element to making long-term progress with your half marathon times is recovery from races.
In previous articles, we’ve taken a deep dive into the research on the recovery process for a marathon, Today we’re going to look at what research can tell us about how to best recover after running a half marathon.
- How damaging the half marathon is to your body
- How long it takes to recover
- How you can speed up the process
- How soon to plan your next race after a half marathon.
Understanding the effects of the Half Marathon on your body
Researchers haven’t provided us with a slew of data about the impact of a half marathon race on markers of damage such as creatine kinase levels (CK), cellular damage and the immune system.
However, some studies do provide us some meaningful data that, when combined with what we know about the speed of recovery, can help us determine just how much damage a half marathon does to our body so we can make sure we recover enough.
This study collected data specific to the effects of recovery strategies following a half marathon. This study indicates,
“The half-marathon race induced a temporary state of fatigue independent of the recovery mode, as significant fatigue-related alterations in muscle contractile characteristics, perceptions of muscle soreness, recovery and stress as well as in blood markers of muscle damage, inflammation, metabolic status, and neurohumoral regulation occurred.”
This study was conducted on runners that raced a half marathon at or near their lactate threshold.
This means the data is applicable to you if you raced your half marathon anywhere on the effort scale of moderate to all-out. If you just ran easy, I don’t think this data applies.
How long does it take to recover from a Half Marathon?
The data from this particular study showed that bio-markers of muscle damage and cellular damage were present even 48 hours after the race regardless of how the runner felt.
This is significant for two reasons.
First, it doesn’t matter how you feel after the race and the days after the race, the research shows that there is still significant muscular and cellular damage you need to recover from
Second, using data from the fatigue and damage after a marathon, we can extrapolate that the recovery from the half marathon takes between 3-7 days depending on your fitness level, individual recovery rate, and how hard you raced.
How can you speed up the recovery from a Half Marathon?
Now that we know you need three to seven days to fully recover from the half marathon, what does this recovery protocol look like?
How should you approach your training the week after the race? Is there anything you can do to speed up recovery?
What to do immediately after your Half Marathon race
- Make sure you have something to eat within an hour or two hours of finishing. We know from recent research that there is no 15-30 minute window (so you don’t need to rush to get something in), but you also shouldn’t be waiting 3-4 hours before you refuel either. Aim for 300-600 calories and a ratio of 4 grams of carbohydrate to 1 gram of protein and only a little fat.
- Once you get home, try to take an ice bath (simply fill your tub with cold water and ice – you don’t need to go crazy) and sit for 10-15 minutes. Then you can shower and get on with your day
- Later in the evening or before bed, try a light massage. Don’t dig into the muscles, but rather use light strokes to get blood flowing.
What do do 1-3 days after your Half-Marathon race
Running: 0-100% of your normal easy day volume. Don’t schedule any workouts, but you can run easy up to your normal easy run distance.
Cross Training: light – don’t go crazy, you’re not losing fitness.
Recovery Tips and tricks:
- Soak in a hot tub for 10-15 and stretch well afterwards.
- Each lots of fruits, carbohydrates, and protein. The Carbs and protein will help repair the muscle damage while the fruits will give you a boost of vitamin C and antioxidants to help combat free radical damage and boost your immune system.
- Light massage will help loosen your muscles. Don’t schedule a deep tissue massage yet, just a gentle effleurage massage or a light rolling with the stick.
What to do 4-7 days after your Half Marathon race
Begin to build back to your normal easy running volume. You can schedule a workout later in the week if you’re feeling good, but try to keep it easy to moderate and not something too difficult.
Planning your next race – How much recovery do you need between races?
Taken from our article on how to build the optimal 1 or 2 year training plan, you should schedule a training cycle or races that focus on longer or shorter distances then the Half Marathon.
This allows you to work on other energy systems and types of training that ultimately allow you to become a better runner. You can’t train the same energy systems cycle after cycle and make progress. Eventually you’ll stall out.
Likewise, you don’t want to just take time off (even if it’s winter). You don’t have to be 100% committed and dedicated to training, but taking a season off is detrimental your long-term progress. Here’s an article that explains this entire concept of training between goal races.
Here is what a yearly half marathon cycle might look like:
- August to November – Half marathon build-up and specific training. If you’re an experienced runner, you can run a half marathon every two or three weeks, depending on your recovery rate.
- December – Short recovery and build-up period. It’s important you build in periods of recovery regardless of your experience level and race distance.
- January to March – Speed phase, 5k and 10k training, or base building. Choose whichever you like best or work on whatever system you feel is your weakness.
- March to June – Half marathon training and racing.
- June through September – Recovery and then either base training or speed phase, whichever you didn’t do in the winter.
From here you can repeat the cycle and use the same races to measure progress or tweak your racing schedule to find new experiences or challenges.
If we knew all the obstacles we’d face, it’s unlikely we’d ever start.
Which is why in some respects, I’m glad I didn’t know that it was crazy to go from “I can’t run a mile” to “what, a road trip for a half marathon, I’m in!”
If you’d told me in 2002, as I crossed the finish line of my first race ever, the Rock N Roll Nashville half marathon, “Amanda from here out you’ll be running 1600 miles a year and at least 8 marathons”. I’d have found a hole to crawl in because that was fun but too hard to imagine doing x2!On the other hand, there’s a lot that would have saved me some mental anguish. So to answer your questions about how to have your best half marathon (or best race in general) here are 18 of the things I wish I’d known about how to train for a half marathon as a beginner.
18 First Half Marathon Tips
Obviously after 15+ years running, I have a LOT to say on the topic. That means there’s tons of links for you to dive in to the topics that are most helpful for you to have your best race.
Most of these lessons apply to running any new distance, but are one’s that I found especially pertinent to the half marathon.
Push yourself, it’s race day after all, but when you find yourself hitting paces you never saw in training take a breath and reel it back in. It’s easy for even experienced runners to get swept up in the excitement of the thousands of runners, the cheers and the idea that race day is finally here.
But, you have no idea what their training looked like, so don’t let any ego pressure or adrenaline push you to keep up.
Bonus: It’s way more fun to be passing people at the end, than praying it was over.
Read more on how to pick your goal race pace >>Have Fun
Remember that you signed up for this whole crazy thing to have a fun goal that would keep you motivated. While you’re going to push yourself just a tad harder on race day, it’s not supposed to be miserable and in fact you might find you actually love it, if you just take a second to look around.
Everyone talks so much about what hurts or what didn’t go well, that I think we forget this whole thing can be a whole lot of fun! There are people in whacky costumes, friends and family ready to support you and we must never forget the post race meal…mmm burgers.
Read more on managing race day nerves >>
Practice Good Nutrition
Good nutrition planning is not just for elite runners; you can’t wing it on race day.
It’s about being well hydrated in the days leading up to the race, getting your electrolytes balanced and learning what fuel works for you during the run. Just because the packet says 1 gel every 30-45 minutes doesn’t mean you need that…it also could be why you’re suffering runners trots.
Read the myths of carbo-loading>>
Create a Packing Checklist
If you’ve ever been called Type A this is the time to really put it to work for you.
Get totally anal retentive about planning what you are bringing to the race. You can certainly buy things last minute at the expo, but save yourself the anxiety by having your perfect gel, socks and any potential variation of weather outfit available.
Folks who have done the Disney World Marathon will tell you they always pack thinking it’s a Florida race and have been surprised at the start more than once with a 30 degree day…no fun without any warmer clothes. Be prepared for all scenarios to keep calm, chafe free and enjoy the day.
Get an easy printable race day checklist to be on top of EVERYTHING you need and how to plan for family meet ups and other things we often forget.
Wear Throw-away Clothes
Swing by Salvation Army the week of the race. The idea of throw-away clothes sounded preposterous to me, but this makes the start line experience exceedingly more enjoyable. You may be outside in cool or wet temperatures for hours before the race begins in the pre-dawn chill.
Beyond comfort, keeping your body warm preserves much needed energy.
If it’s not a cold race, you might only need some knit gloves you can toss and trust me they are worth the $1 to buy! Tuck them in your shorts if you warm up, just in case you turn back in to the wind later in the race (A tip from Ryan Hall).
Follow Music Rules (or Don’t)
A lot of the courses say no music, so like a rule following girl I would show up to find tons of people with headphones.
While the rule is in place for a good reason (runner safety), if it’s not a trail race and you can run with 1 ear bud it’s very rare that race officials will enforce this rule. That being said, do it at your own peril.
Learn How to Drink on the Run
First, remember you don’t have to drink at every aid station or drink the entire cup provided.
Dump some out if it seems too full, then pinch the cup, so the side creates a point and sip. Guzzling rarely leads to a happy stomach.
Once you’re done, look around and try to toss it all the way off to the side, so you don’t create a slick mess underfoot for runners behind you.
Know someone gearing up for their first #halfmarathon – share these tips!
Wear Fitted Running Shoes
Get fitted for good running shoes.
The one’s you bought from the department store may have worked fine in the past, but they aren’t suited for the increased mileage you’ll be covering. Don’t: Let the shoe store talk you in to a shoe that isn’t comfortable just because of a 30 second treadmill analysis of your gait.
Learn how to find the right running shoe>>Check Your Ego
Check it at the door because you’ll find yourself getting passed by people older, fitter, taller, shorter, thinner, heavier, with strollers and none of it matters. What matters is you showed up and crossing that finish line is automatic PR. If it’s not the time you want, the great news is your next race will be another PR!
Beat That Quitting Feeling
Get real about the fact that during training and the race you will feel like quitting. Assuming you haven’t slacked on your training and could be on the way to injury by plowing ahead, don’t worry when this moment strikes.
While you should be fired up for your first half marathon, a bit of realism (not fear) makes this moment something you can move through. Get focused on all of the reasons why you want to cross that finish line and how it will feel to say “I freaking ran 13.1 miles”. Knowing that you aren’t the only one having this thought is also extremely comforting, so don’t be afraid to look at a fellow runner and say “we got this”.
They might need the pep talk too.Have a Spectator Plan
Plan ahead to know what your fans will be wearing and where they hope to be. It’s often easier for you to spot them than the other way around. I definitely missed friends at those first races because I thought they would certainly see ME.
Share these race sign ideas to help them out >>
Balance Your Weight
Recognize that distance training requires appropriate fueling. Like many runners, I started running to lose weight. I assumed that marathon training would be a great way to speed up the process. It isn’t; marathon training leads to increased hunger and feelings of food entitlement.
Running 16 miles is pretty amazing, but it doesn’t mean you can overeat on pizza, cookies, bagels and other high carb foods every day of the week. High quality food keeps training hunger in check and provides energy for your runs.
Read more on running and weight loss >>Prep for Chaffing and Blisters
On race day you may suddenly find yourself chaffing in places you didn’t even know existed. Put Body Glide on every conceivable inch of the body, not just select spots like your thighs, but on race day get in between every toe, under every arm, and even around your waistband. It’s worth it.
Read more on all the tips to try and avoid them >>
Embrace the Rain
Watch the weather so you can plan your race day outfit and throw-away gear, but after that stop worrying about it. My first race was in the rain as have been many that followed and once you start running the rain can actually be a great way to keep from getting too warm…on a cold day it’s just another part of the race.
Plus once you cross that finish line, you feel just a little more bad ass and that’s half the fun too. However, you can also grab a great rain jacket to help as well.
A rainy race day isn’t so bad and 17 other things I wish I’d know before my first race
Practice running solo at least once a week during training. If you always run with someone and find yourself solo on race day it can immediately throw off your entire day. Know you can rely on yourself.
Read more on why you should run solo >>
Fight Off the “Never Will I Evers”
Realize you’ll likely find yourself swearing off a certain race or distance in the later part of the race and possibly even after the finish line of your first half marathon.
After the moment wears off you’ll find either a sincere joy at the results of months of hard work or a desire to redeem yourself for having not learned some of the lessons listed above!
Learn About Recovery
Spend time learning about recovery. Compression pants, ice baths, sports nutrition, all of these things ensure that during training you can continue putting in the miles and after the race you can resume training without too many days of walking down stairs sideways.
Whether it was the best or worst experience of your life there is often a desire to get right back to training, but your body won’t be ready right away. Those who do jump back in often find themselves injured within a few months. A few extra easy weeks are worth avoiding months of frustration.
Read the complete post race recovery guide >>
Stick to Your Plan
Finally, it’s important to know that every runner you meet will have an opinion about how you should train, what to wear, what to think; it’s great to listen to all of the advice, but after that you need to decide what fits your personality and then stick to a plan.
And if you really need a coach, then work with someone who understands you! I do offer one on one coaching to a few people each year or checkout the brand new Sub Two Hour Half Marathon training plan to guide you through the process!
Anything you wish you’d known before your first race?
Any questions you still have about race day?
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Photos: Most photos from taconicrr Flickr.
7 Training Tips for Your First Half Marathon
So, you’ve run a 5K—maybe even a 10K—and now you’re ready for something more challenging like a half marathon. Good for you! The half marathon is a great distance. It’s long enough to feel challenged, but not so long that training for it completely consumes your life.Below are a few good training tips for your first half marathon.
1. Build a base.
One mistake new runners often make when paring for a half marathon is thinking that the 12- or 14-week plan takes you from the couch to the finish line. All half marathon training plans that range in length from 10, 14 or 16 weeks assume that you’ve already built a weekly mileage base of at least 15 to 20 miles. Your longest run should also be at least 5 miles.
Anything less than this weekly mileage or longest run mileage will overwhelm your body’s ability to acclimate. If you have a solid base under your feet, then when you start your training, you’ll only be acclimating to the demands of the half marathon training workouts.
If you have a weak base coming into the training, then you’ll actually be asking your body to build that base while at the same time as acclimating to the new training demands. That’s overtraining or an injury just waiting to happen.
2. Pick a plan.
Twelve weeks is a common length of many half marathon training plans, but a quick Google search will bring up plans that range from 10 to 16 weeks. I prefer to use a longer plan (14 weeks) with my runners. The extra weeks allow for a little wiggle room if a runner gets sick or has slight setback or injury.
If this is your first half marathon, I strongly recommend a plan longer than 10 weeks. This will give you more time to acclimate to the training demands.
Not only do the plans vary in length, they also vary in content (the types of workouts, weekly mileage and the number of times you run each week). Study the various plans carefully before picking one. First, find one that meshes well with your work and family schedule.
If the plan has you running every day and you know that’s not going to happen, then that plan is not for you. Second, find a plan that matches your running fitness level. If the first long run in the plan is 8 miles and your current longest run is 4, select a different plan.
Often plans are labeled for Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced or Experienced, but even then, read through the plan carefully and make sure it fits your current running fitness level.
3. Think quality over quantity.
Running lots of miles each week is one way to prepare for a half marathon, but lots of miles can increase our chance of injury. I have my new half-marathon runners run four times a week. Two of these runs are what I call quality runs and two are base maintenance runs. The quality runs consist of a mid-week tempo run and a weekend long run.
The types of tempo runs vary, but basically they begin and end with a 1-mile warm-up/cool-down and the in between miles are run at a pace about 30 seconds slower than 5K pace. The Tempo portion is an uncomfortable pace. This helps your body increase VO2Max (your body’s ability to take in and utilize oxygen at the muscle layer to make energy) as well as push out your lactate threshold (that point at which you feel that burning sensation in your legs).
Increasing VO2Max and pushing out your lactate threshold helps make you a more efficient runner as well as help fight off fatigue longer. A tempo run can range from 4 to 8 miles, and the types of tempos can vary.
Three good tempo workouts include: the traditional tempo (described earlier), race pace tempo and tempo intervals. Race pace tempos are very similar to the traditional tempo, but instead of running 30 seconds slower than your 5K pace, you pull it down a notch to your half marathon race pace.
This is a great workout for giving your body a chance to experience what it feels like to run at race pace. Saving your race pace tempos for the longer 6-, 7- or 8-mile tempo runs works well. Tempo intervals begin and end with the 1-mile warm-up/cool-down, but the in between miles are broken into 5-mintue fast/5-minute slow intervals.
The fast interval (fartlek) is run about 20 seconds slower than 5K race pace and the slow interval is run at your slow easy long run pace. This teaches your body to learn how to speed up and/or slow down when needed during the race. Here are more specifics on these tempo workouts.
The long run is just that…long. This run should be run at a pace that’s about one minute slower than race pace. That’s hard to do sometimes, but by pulling back, you help your body build endurance without wearing it down.
To help curb the urge to run faster as well as teach your body that you can pull out some speed at the end of the race, I have my runners up the last 1 to 2 miles of the long run to race pace or slightly faster. Most half marathon training plans will take the runner up to 12 or 13 miles. There’s no need to do a run longer than 13 for a half.
The two weekly base maintenance runs are short runs (4 to 5 miles). These are designed to keep the weekly base miles going and to help keep the runner limber between the quality workouts. These runs are also run at a slower pace (45 seconds to one minute slower than race pace).
Why Half Marathons Are the Best Distance Ever
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc./Getty Images
Head to any track and you’ll instantly see that running is an individualized sport. Everyone’s got a different gait, foot strike, and choice of shoes. No two runners are the same, and neither are their race goals. Some people want to run 5Ks, others want to storm a marathon on every continent. But there is evidence that all those very, very, very long runs aren’t quadrupling the benefits of your shorter runs. “It doesn’t take more than five or 10 minutes of exercise to achieve all of the aerobic and weight management benefits and feel-good feeling to enhance your mood,” says Heather Milton, senior exercise physiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center. So no, that six-hour slog isn’t six times better for you than short-and-fast mile repeats.
Plus, marathon training comes with its own host of hazards. Namely, it squeezes your social life harder than a used-up Gu on the side of the course. When you combine early Friday nights with early Saturday wake-up calls, that doesn’t leave much time for long, lazy dinners and endless glasses of wine. Half marathons let you live (relatively) normally, and they eat up far less time during your day. During my early days of half training, I still remember wolfing down Chinese food at midnight, then turning around and running the next morning like it was nothing. Marathon training feels larger than life because it actually is. Your brain clears off space on a shelf and marks it MARATHON ANXIETY. It’s where you throw your trepidation about times, outfits, the weather, and having to poop in the middle of the race. (Yeah! Why Does Running Make You Poop?) After four months of training, that shelf becomes very heavy.
Another benefit of running half marathons and shorter distances is that you get to keep running. Marathoners are typically advised to take it easy for 26 days (one day for every mile) after the big race! (Read up on what training for a long race really does to your legs.) Half marathoners, on the other hand, can get back into their normal routines pretty much immediately as long as they feel good. Milton says this quick recovery is due to less pounding on your joints because of the shorter distance. Proper training helps, too, of course.
When I was training for my first half, I didn’t know how far to run, what to eat, or even that I probably shouldn’t run at night wearing all black. But one unexpected blessing was that I had no clue how much I didn’t know. All I knew was that each mile still felt like a victory.
Milton backs this up, saying that it’s far easier to get in appropriate training for a half rather than a full marathon. “For a lot of marathoners something comes up for a week or they slip up or they can’t get in those really long runs, and they just didn’t feel prepared enough,” she says. ” may not end up being quite as enjoyable an experience, especially if you’re struggling those last four or five miles … 13-mile runs are definitely a little bit more reasonable.”
And perhaps this is the dirty little secret of a half marathon: It’s just plain doable. Unlike a full marathon, you don’t have to commit four months of your life to training. You can still drink and socialize and think about other things. After the race, your battered body rebounds much more quickly. And that’s the thing: Your body will surprise you. After your first half marathon, you’ll look at yourself in an entirely new light.
My first half marathon was in 2012, what’s now the SHAPE Women’s Half Marathon (you can register here!). My time was 2:10:12, but I only know these things because of online records. When I tried to think back to my first half, I honestly couldn’t remember how I felt. Was I scared? Bored? Writhing in pain?
Good thing Gmail keeps all evidence stored away. After some searching, I found an email to a runner friend two months before race day: “I signed up for my first half-it’s in April! And now I come to you, the expert, begging for advice…what should I do to train??” Other emails to friends included these gems: “How many miles should I get up to before?” and “I never even thought that fabric might chafe?” (I’d later learn about that the hard way.) None were as revealing as this email to my friend Adam, three weeks before the race: “im worried about the half marathon what if i die” No punctuation, no capitalization. I really was scared. And four years later? I couldn’t remember a second of it. Why?
I’m starting to realize now why my memories are fuzzy. The biggest takeaway about running your first half marathon isn’t the feeling that comes with crossing the finish line. It’s the feeling that washes over you the next day and in the following weeks and months, which explains my journal entry just two weeks after that first half: “I will remember today as the day I won the lottery, beat the system, and found out I’ll be running the New York City Marathon on November 4.” Without that first half, I never would have found the confidence to try a full.
The beauty of the half marathon is what lies in the opportunities that follow. You run your first half and there’s no denying you’re a “real” runner. You run your first half marathon and think, “I could probably do that again,” and then you probably do. You run your first and think, “No way could I run a full,” but then a few months later you’re smack in the middle of a serious training cycle that would surprise your previously doubtful self. (It’s perfectly acceptable to never run a full marathoner, though. One veteran half marathoner explains why it’s just not for her.)
There are milestones you remember forever-those you might get engraved on a medal or tattooed on your skin. And then there are experiences left behind, those that felt monumental at the time but that fade until they’re no longer distinguishable from any other race. You’ve forgotten them because you’ve stretched your limits so much further since then that you can’t remember a time when something felt so insurmountable. Now, you’re the runner zooming past your previous self, arms swinging, chest heaving, a new finish line somewhere in sight.
- By By Kara Cutruzzula
7 Rules For Your First Half Marathon
These golden rules will make half marathon training easier:
Ready to take on your first half marathon? We love this distance – especially the Windsor Half Marathon! Set yourself a new goal – make this the year you complete 13.1!
Half marathon doesn’t have to be daunting. In fact, with enough time and consistent training, anyone can take on 13.1 miles. Running a half marathon is impressive – an undeniable statement that you are a runner. It tests your endurance, stamina, fitness, and pace. But it’s nothing like as demanding as a full marathon.
Here’s how to fit half marathon training into your busy life:
1. Choose a training plan that fits your life.
This might sound counter intuitive, but you need to make sure your half marathon training fits into your existing life. Sure, the ideal approach might be to drop everything and tick off every run in a perfect training plan. But this is real life. Choose a plan you will actually be able to stick to. An “OK” plan done 100% is better than a “perfect” plan done 75%.
2. Focus on mileage.
To complete a half marathon, you must make sure you are capable of covering distance. Sounds obvious, but so many people skimp on mileage. You’ll need to do a long run every week (gradually increasing the distance), plus a midweek distance run of 10K+. Once you’ve established a solid base level of fitness, add 10 minutes to your long run every week. This steady, consistent approach will develop your cardio fitness and prepare every aspect of your body (and mind!) for the half marathon distance.
3. Stay strong.
You might think there’s no time to do strength work in a half marathon training plan – but it’s really important. Support your legs, hips, and back with some strength training and it will help keep you free from injury – and could even boost your running pace. 1-2 short simple strength sessions per week for the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core will work wonders. Try wall sits, lunges, glute bridges, bodyweight squats, and planks.
4. Don’t be a one-pace pony.
There’s a risk involved in half marathon training – the risk of falling into a steady pace and getting stuck there. Make sure you maintain your ability to kick up some pace when it matters. Include a midweek training run for speed and pace. Intervals, threshold runs, or sprints will all keep your pace higher and prevent you from becoming a plodder.
5. Organise your nutrition.
You can’t wing it and hope to fuel your body properly for half marathon training. Become a nutrition ninja: plan your meals, batch cook, have a meal prep day, and make sure you have healthy snacks to hand. Meals before and after training should be lower in fat but high in carbs with moderate protein. Snacks should be rich in protein to keep hunger in check. If you feel really hungry once the mileage increases, don’t reach for sugary manmade snacks. Try snacking on hard boiled eggs, real Greek yoghurt, leftover meat based meals, crudites with hummus – think protein, fibre, and healthy foods.
6. Rest more.
Training for a half marathon will seriously impact your energy levels. And this will be even more noticeable if you have a busy, stressful life (who doesn’t!) If you’re training for a half marathon as well as working, commuting, bringing up kids, being Mum-taxi, running a business (etc!) then you simply have to take rest and recovery seriously. Start going to bed earlier (even half an hour counts). Make your bedroom dark and cool. No phones in the bedroom. Avoid late night online scrolling and just one more Netflix episode. Sleep matters more.
7. Find your pace.
Half marathon training is a wonderful opportunity to discover what you’re capable of as a runner. You are almost certainly faster than you think! So find out what your true endurance pace is over these long training runs. Thought you were a 10 min/mile runner? You might surprise yourself by uncovering a comfortable 9:30m/m pace. By working on mileage and speed over your training programme, you’ll uncover your natural tempo pace. The more you run, the more this pace will feel familiar and comfortable. One day, it will feel like you could run this way forever!
You Can Enter The Windsor Half Marathon Here
Tips you need to know before running your first half marathon
Whether you’re steeling yourself for the Simplyhealth Great Manchester Half or you’ve signed up to any of Simplyhealth’s races, 13.1 miles of running is no small feat.
Running a half marathon takes not only physical preparation but mental endurance too – and if you’ve never taken on the challenge before, not knowing exactly what to expect can be rather daunting.
That’s why it pays to prep yourself. Here, Gareth Turnbull, a former international athlete offers advice for the first-time half marathon runner.
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Half yourself a great 13.1 miles!
So the 5km and the 10km’s just aren’t cutting it for you at the moment and you now want to get your head (and feet!) in gear for the next challenge of the half marathon distance. And if you are taking a journey into the running unknown then here are a few helpful tips to hopefully make your Simplyhealth Great Manchester Half Marathon an amazing and enjoyable experience from start to finish.
Yes sorry to be the killjoy here, but if you have only ever attempted a 10km run then it’s worth reminding yourself (more than once!) that you will be running twice as far in a race than ever before. Thinking you can simply set off at your 10km pace and stay on that schedule until the finish is not a great idea. A better and more realistic one is to take your 10km best performance, double it and then add the time taken for three of those kilometres to your final total.
For example, if you run 10km in 60 mins, then look at a half marathon time of 2 x 60mins plus 3 x 6 mins. This will allow you to set yourself a per mile/kilometre pace for your whole run and crucially not result in a distinctly hard and unenjoyable latter part of the race. Remember time gained picking up your pace will always outweigh time lost slowing down, so play the waiting game, be patient and stick to your own pacing schedule.
Mind over matter
Great news. You aren’t really doing the half marathon distance after all…in fact, you are merely doing 5km four times in a row. You are a master of this classic park run distance, so take confidence from the fact your body will still be on cruise control as you breeze through the 3-mile marker. Repeat again and now you have broken the back of distance at 10km too. With the last 5km being a celebration of achievement all that’s left is a little mental application to get you through that crucial ‘third 5km!’.
With this in mind, visualise your favourite 5 km route and use that positive mental thought to sail through from 10km to 15km. Don’t let 20km and change frighten or intimidate you. Break things down into easy mental and physical blocks and you will find yourself in control of the half marathon distance rather than the half marathon distance controlling you.
You can’t fluke being amazing
This might seem an unusual thing to say, but let’s just remember that all the work has been done now and your training is going to serve you well. Think of race day as a celebration of the amazing journey your training has taken you on. Keep a particularly hard day’s training in your mind and use it when you might be feeling a little low or fatigued during the race. This is what you have prepared for and the training you have done won’t let you down! Your finish line awaits, enjoy the feeling of greatness.
Tips provided by running expert Gareth Turnbull on behalf of Simplyhealth, helping people make the most of life through better everyday health. For more, please visit Simplyhealth.
There are a million half marathons to choose from… actually, there are 2,800 to choose from in the U.S. Still, that’s compared to only about 1,100 marathons.
It’s a challenge without being overwhelming. Running 13 miles is still a long way to go, so you need to train, and train seriously. But at least your entire Sunday won’t be spent recovering on the couch watching Netflix because of a super-long outing.
Training plans are usually only 10 weeks, not 16. So guess what? You can race with less long-term planning. (Crazy, right?!)
RELATED: Looking for a great way to train? We have our own plans for every distance and every runner.)
You don’t have to worry about marathon-training weight gain.
Less waiting around for your friends and family who want to watch you, but they still have time to see you at different spots or grab a coffee while they await your triumphant finish.
Most people still need to consume some sort of fuel for a half. And let’s be honest: Who doesn’t think of energy chews as the adult version of Gushers? (Shoot, you could even use Gushers.)
RELATED: Find more great fueling options with these editor picks for best packaged foods
You won’t hit the wall, or if you do, it won’t derail you like the one marathoners hit around mile 20. (And TBH: This might be the worst feeling ever.)
When spectators yell “You’re almost there!” at mile 12, they’re not lying.
RELATED: 11 Things a Runner Never Wants to Hear
It doesn’t take that long. You can run a half and still get brunch, go to the movies, get a mani/pedi, or visit a goat farm.
RW HALF & FESTIVAL: Race with the Runner’s World editors this October for an experience like no other.
You won’t feel like death after the race. The recovery time for most people is a day or two, and you won’t be waking up feeling awful for a week.
Compared to a marathon, you have only half the chance of getting bloody nipples.
Charged with alerting Athenians about their victory on the battlefield, you’d make it to the outskirts of Pikermi, Greece—a charming little town of just more than 7,000.
It’s a brag-worthy distance! People hear you ran 13.1 miles and they are majorly impressed!
How to conquer a Half Marathon from a 10k
Half Marathons are becoming one of the most popular long-distance events, and conquering the 21.1KM means you’re halfway to running the full 42.2KM. 10Ks are fun and all, but for those looking for a new challenge, the Half Marathon is an excellent choice. Below are some tips on training up from a 10K to a Half Marathon.
1. Up your training
Most people can run a 10K with minimal training, but the biggest difference between the two is frenquency. On average, when training for a Half, runners up their training schedule to four to six times a week. This includes interval workouts, tempo runs, long runs, and crosstraining. Test your stamina by gradually adding distance to your run each week.
While increasing your mileage, it’s important to strengthen your thighs, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and abdominals to decrease your risk of injury. By crosstraining, you’ll not only improve your speed, strength, and endurance, but this will ultimately make you a faster and stronger runner overall. Incorporate some low-impact workouts such as swimming and cycling into your trainign schedule.
3. Know your pace
A Half Marathon is a little more than twice as long as a 10KM, and when running your first one, you should expect to finish at a slower pace than your 10K pace. Calculate your Half Marathon pace by taking your 10K pace and adding 5-8%. Most RUNVAN® races will have pace bunnies to help keep you on pace, so find your group and try to stick with them.
4. Stay motivated
Training for a Half Marathon can be a lot of work, so try joining a run crew or running with a friend to help you stay motivated. There are many local run crews you can join, and you are also welcome to drop by the RUNVAN® Crew, every Thursday morning in downtown Vancouver.
5. Set some goals
Another way to stay motivated is to set some goals for yourself. One way to do this is by registering for a race so you have something to work towards. Vancouver is home to many Half Marathons year-round, including the First Half in February, BMO Vancouver Half Marathon in May, and the Fall Classic Run in November.
You can find a sample 17-week Half Marathon training program here.
Running your first Marathon
With some training and the help of these 6 simple tips, there’s no reason why you can’t cross ‘run a Marathon’ off your bucket-list!
Preparing for race day
The days leading up to race day are key to a successful Marathon. Find 7 race day tips to prepare for the next BMO Vancouver Marathon.
Find training advice, tips to prepare for race day, and more. These articles are here to help you prepare for a successful race day.
How long is a half marathon?
Half marathons are one of the many popular running events organised and attended throughout the UK every year. As a half marathon is considered by many to be a challenging distance, these events receive a high level of interest from runners, particularly those running for charities and other good causes. For those who have already completed race distances such as 5k or 10k events, but don’t feel ready to take on a full marathon yet, a half marathon is a great option for getting into longer distance running.
Before you lace up your running shoes and head out however, it’s a good idea to consider how many miles are in a half marathon so that you can assess your current fitness level and learn more about how to train for a half marathon.
How many miles is a marathon?
The total distance of a half marathon is 13.1 miles which, as you’ve most likely figured out from the name, is half the distance of a full marathon(26.2 miles!). If you prefer to measure your running distance in kilometres, you are looking at completing just over 21km in order to cross the finishing line of a half marathon.
It’s important to consider your personal fitness level and goals before undertaking a half marathon. Whilst some experienced runners might consider 13.1 miles to be a warm up, for others it’s their Everest! Don’t feel pressured to become the next Mo Farrah or Paula Radcliffe, take your time to train and build up your fitness before an event – you can usually register well before an event takes place.
Is running a half marathon hard?
The thought of running a half marathon can be daunting, especially if you aren’t usually do a lot of exercise. It’s advisable to follow a training plan to build up your fitness and avoid injuries on race day. A suggestion for your training plan would be to start out with shorter distance runs and build up the number of miles per week running up to the event, allowing you to gradually build up your stamina.
More tips for running a half marathon
Remember, you don’t have to run the whole distance, walk if you need to! It is also important to keep well hydrated throughout the race and dress appropriately for the weather – this includes wearing running shoes that are comfortable and well broken-in. Most importantly, enjoy yourself! If training becomes a chore, try getting involved with running groups or asking a friend to join you for encouragement and support.
If you are looking for your next half marathon, take a look at our event listings to find the perfect event for you – Half Marathon Listings
What is the average half marathon time?
Half Marathon Training Plan
Top half marathon running tips
Calories burnt running a Half Marathon
Best Half Marathons in the UK
What to eat before a Half Marathon
Run a Half Marathon in Ten Weeks
A half marathon can be an excellent event. At 13.1 miles (or 21.1K), it is long enough to give you great satisfaction from completing it, and short enough that you can recover quickly after the race. And if you follow a simple half marathon training plan, you can attain your running goals. It is a great stepping stone for runners who plan to move up in distance but who are not yet ready to tackle the marathon.
We would like to share with you two training schedules. The first schedule is better suited for beginning runners whose primary goal is to complete the distance. The second schedule is for more experienced runners, including those whose primary goal is to run the 13.1 miles notably faster than normal training pace.
Guidelines for following the first schedule:
Before you start your half marathon preparation, make sure you are able to run 10 kilometers without having to stop.
The schedule starts with four training sessions per week for the first three weeks. The volume is increased as you extend the distance you run once or twice a week. Please make sure you are well recovered from a fast run before your next hard training session. Also, to avoid injury make light stretching an integral part of your training, preferably after an easy run.
To train properly it is best to increase the speed, both in the context of your overall preparation and within an individual session. For the runs in which you vary the pace, such as when the schedule reads “s-m” or “m-f,” run the first 25% of the distance at a slower pace, than speed up for the middle part of the session, and finish the workout with your fastest effort. See the bottom of the schedule for explanations of the lettering.
One option is to color-code your schedule, the “green” days are your long, easy runs. The “red” days are your harder, faster workouts. Uta used this color-coding method for her workouts throughout her career.
Explanation: s = slow; m = medium; f = fast; sessions of varying pace (s-m or m-f); vf = very fast
Guidelines for following the second schedule:
The same principles apply as for the first schedule. The volume is, of course, higher. Consequently, it is possible to cope with more intense and longer training sessions.
If you are aiming for a particular time, the pace of the steady runs on Thursdays (red) should be between 95% and 100% of your race pace for the half marathon, and those of the faster sessions on Saturdays (red) between 105% and 110%.
Of course, in the build-up you can do shorter races and modify the schedule that at present shows easy training days for Friday and Saturday. If the race is in an easy week, don’t do the fast run on the following Tuesday. Instead, run an easy 15K on that day, and then continue with the schedule. Here too, the “green” days are your long, easy runs. The “red” days are your harder, faster workouts. See the bottom of the schedule for additional explanations of the various workouts in it.
Explanation: s = slow; m = medium; f = fast; FL = fartlek: a popular “free-flow” speed workout with a less structured form of alternating fast and slow intervals, i.e. speedplay, varying in distances on the road or on a trail—ideally not on a track. A typical “off-road” fartlek is one of Uta’s favorite elements of training.
- How to Use Uta Pippig’s Advice to Become a Better Runner
- Run Your First 5K
- Periods of Training for Your Marathon Preparation and Distance Progression for Your Long Runs
Updated January 14, 2017
Updated November 16, 2016
Updated October 5, 2011
- Posted April 16, 2005