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The No-Pain, All-Gain Guide to Half Marathons

Run, rub, and ingest your way to a greener, faster, and happier 13.1-miler

Friends, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Marathons suck. I know because I’ve run 28 of them.

Training for a 26.2-mile road race beats you up, wrecks your social life, and can turn your feet into freak-show oddities. During the race itself, even if you’re having a “good” one, you will eventually hit the wall, which isn’t as bad as you’ve heard. It’s actually much, much worse.
And then there are the bloody nipples and poop accidents. Really.

As for 5Ks? They’re too short to be much of a challenge, unless you’re a highly trained Serious Runner™ who is willing to sustain a near-sprint for 3.1 miles, in which case you are in for some industrial-grade pain.

The half-marathon, on the other hand, is a Goldilocksian delight—long enough to be a legit challenge, short enough to leave body and spirit more or less intact, and equally as likely to feature a beer tent at the end.

What’s not to love?

till, a 13.1-mile race requires thoughtful preparation. Train too little and you’ll finish feeling miserable, if you finish at all; too much, and you’ll wind up hurt. And even ideal half-marathon training will bring with it aches, pains, and twinges. Especially for runners of a certain age. (Yes, I am turning 50 this year! Why do you ask?) 

Read on to learn how to reach the starting line of your own half-marathon fit and fresh, then on to a triumphant finish—with help from your training buddies, CBD and THC.

 How Cannabis Can Help 

 It’s impossible to know how many athletes historically have incorporated cannabis in their training and competition, thanks to its legacy as an illicit drug. Even today, with recreational marijuana use legal in 11 states and nationwide legalization the proverbial slow-train a-comin’, a stigma adheres to user-athletes like a skunky cloud. Several top runners and coaches I contacted for this article politely declined interviews, citing potential blowback from sponsors and employers. (“I’m going to plead the fifth on that one,” one elite marathoner said when I asked whether he uses marijuana.) 

What we do know is that CBD is a powerful anti-inflammatory and that THC works wonders on pain. And since you aren’t a professional runner (are you?), you can be loud and proud in taking advantage of these benefits: 

  •  Targeted Pain Relief
    Tetchy hamstring? Inflamed plantar fascia? Angry Achilles? “Every runner has those one or two spots that flare up,” says Bob Bell, a former Division II track coach and an owner of Floyd’s of Leadville, a cannabis company founded by one-time pro cyclist Floyd Landis. “I use a CBD balm for that.” 
  • Coaxing More From Your Body
    For long events or workouts, smaller doses of CBD before or during—or both—can help you run stronger, longer. “You’re not using it for fuel, like an energy gel,” Bell says, “but as a way to slow down muscle fatigue, inflammation, and strain while you’re running.” CBD can also calm pre-race nerves, he says, noting that 30 minutes before a half-marathon he might take 25mg of CBD, and then another 25mg roughly 40 minutes into the race. 
  • Boosting Your Recovery
    After a workout—especially an intense one—a one-two punch of protein and CBD, perhaps in a shake, can help your body recover and repair. And don’t forget extra sack time, which is perhaps the athlete’s most important, and most neglected, method of recovery. “I don’t use a lot of marijuana,” says Bell, “but if I do, I use it for sleep. Not every day, but when I know I’ll need a good night’s rest.” 
  • For Bell, this means bedtime edibles that deliver 5 to 10mg of THC; obviously, you’ll want to find the lowest dose that works for you, starting small and gradually working your way up. 

Related: 6 Perfect Post-Training Strains

Actually, that applies across the board, says Bell, who stresses the importance of dialing this stuff in early, and gradually, through trial and error. “Don’t do anything new on race day” is old advice that applies at least as much to cannabis as it does to shoes, gear, and nutrition. Maybe more so.

Here’s the Plan

  • This 12-week training plan assumes, on Day One, a baseline level of health and fitness. If you aren’t currently able to comfortably run at least 4 miles, you probably aren’t ready for this plan.
  • Training for a half-marathon is a serious physical undertaking. See a doctor before beginning any exercise program.
  • This plan is adaptable to a wide range of runners from beginners to intermediates. That’s why it prescribes runs by effort, rather than a specific pace, and why certain runs are measured in time, not distance.
  • Aches and soreness are normal when you’re training for a half-marathon. Acute pain is not. Rule of thumb: If something hurts enough to affect your running gait, stop running and have a doctor diagnose it. Do not resume running until you resolve the problem and you can stride comfortably.
  • To describe effort, we’re using a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 = slow, easy jog; 3 = moderate, “conversational” running pace; and 5 = very difficult, can’t carry on a conversation. (Depending on your goal, you will likely run your half-marathon at a 3 or 4.)   


“Rest” means rest—for real. No running or other intense activity. 

“Warm up” means walking or jogging for a few minutes before your run.

“Cool down” means the same, but at the end of your run.

“Long runs” are meant to build stamina, not speed or strength. Run them at an easy pace.

“Hill repeats” consist of finding a hill, running up it for one or two minutes, at a 4 to 5 effort, then jogging back down. One run up and one jog down = one hill repeat.

“Tempo” means cruising at a pace that’s hard but sustainable—perhaps a 4 effort on our scale of 1 to 5