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Tips for Choosing the Right Training Program and Race for You

Remember Meg from the new Meg on the Run series we’re doing? She’s back today! And she’s sharing her latest running adventures and best advice for choosing the right race and training program!


When I decided to run my first half marathon, I had two criteria: something around my birthday so I could make a big 30th birthday party thing of it, and a flat course. Believe me: 13.1 miles was more than enough of a challenge for me without any uphill climbs, thankyouverymuch. As for the training program, I just did a web search for free half marathon training schedules for beginners, and I printed off the first result that came up. I didn’t have enough knowledge to sort through my options and determine which one was best. This time around, I know a lot more about what goes into the training (and what I should probably tweak from last time), and it seems the options are endless.

Unfortunately, I still can’t find a program that says I get to sit on my couch and eat chocolate until race day. No matter which schedule I choose, it looks like I’m going to have to put in a lot of miles. Dang.

Most programs are somewhere between 10 and 20 weeks. I feel like the 12-week program was perfect for me last time, when I was a beginner, but not a rank novice — I was regularly competing in 5Ks but had only ever done a handful of longer runs up to 5 miles or so. If you’re really just starting to run, you will probably need more than 12 weeks to build up to half-marathon distance. Find a training program that looks realistic to you; do the training runs fit in with your schedule? Missing a day will not set you back to square one, but it might mess with your confidence. I made sure to always make up a run if I had to miss a day. I was super anal about it, and you certainly don’t have to be, but completing the training program to the letter helped me know that come race day, I was ready.

Once you have a schedule, you know how long you need to give yourself before your big race, and you can start searching for the race you want. I will be running my hometown Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon on May 18 in Portland. It’s hillier than my first one (Santa Cruz), but because it’s local, I won’t have any climate or terrain surprises. I can even do some of my training runs on the actual course. If you choose to do an out-of-town race, check on things like climate and elevation. A few thousand feet make a HUGE difference in breathing. I once did a training run in Salt Lake City (elevation 4,327 feet) and thought I was going to die after a quarter mile. Pick a course that has similar or lower elevation to where you will be doing most of your training. You can’t predict the exact weather, but you can get a pretty good idea of things like humidity and temperature in your race location — again, try not to deviate too much from the climate where you’ll do your training.

Your race and your training program are the two biggest decisions you’ll make in this process. Lock those in, and it’s for real!

4 Important Considerations for Your Training Program and Your Race

1. Time. Give yourself enough time to complete a full training program without cutting corners. Pick a plan that fits in your schedule and commit yourself to it. Plan ahead for any days you may need to switch things around.

2. The course. You can search for races by the type of course. Road, trail, hilly, flat — pick something you’re comfortable with, view the race profile ahead of time and train on that type of terrain.


I’m really looking forward the end of my race … downhill!

3. Location. If you’ve ever tried to work out in an unfamiliar climate, you know that it can throw you for a loop. You do not want to experience this for the first time on race day. Humidity and elevation are two factors that can really mess with you if you’re unprepared. Look for races with similar or milder climates to your hometown, in similar or lower elevations.

4. Stick to the program. It’s okay to miss a run. If you’re sick or injured, you absolutely need to give yourself time to recover. You do not forfeit all your progress if you skip a few days. Miss too many days, though, and your confidence will suffer. It’s okay to rewind your training or repeat a week if you need to. Build in some extra time to your preparations for wiggle room.

In my next post, you’ll get an update on my progress … eek! In the meantime tell me: Have you found your race yet? —Meg

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