I'm in the midst of training for my next half marathon in April and every time someone sees that I'm out running, I get a lot of questions about training (which I seriously am no expert on). Basically when I started running last summer, with the guidance of a good friend/runner and some articles on Runner's World, I set out to make my own training schedule.
The Hal Higdon Training Plan is one of the most popular ones and I used a similar guideline. Also, most races offer some kind of training plan. I trained for 3 months (pretty hardcore) but you may want to train longer. I am by no means an expert (I've already said that) but people do ask me...so I thought I'd tell you what works for me.
So, because I continue running when I'm not training for a race (and my max during that time is 4 miles) I don't have to start right at 1 mile (or half a mile). When I started training for my half last year, I'd never run farther than 2 miles in my life, so my first "long run" was 3 miles. I will say that what I found on most all plans is that running 4 days a week is key and using a day of cross-training is also helpful (I do Pilates on that day). So that really leaves me 2 days of rest...and trust me, your body needs rest. So let's just say you've been running and you want to train in 3 months for a half marathon in April (which is exactly what I'm doing). I will make my first "long run" 4 miles. So my week would look something like this:
Monday: 3 miles, Tuesday: Pilates, Wednesday: 3 miles, Thursday: 2 miles, Friday: rest, Saturday: 4 miles, Sunday: rest
I try to never run more than 2 days in a row unless it's three short runs in a row (ex: 3 miles, 2 miles, 3 miles). You should also never increase your mileage in a week more than 10% (1 mile). So you'd never go from running 5 miles to running 8 miles. That's a good way to get injured (PS I sprained my ankle before the last half, was out for 4 weeks and was miserable...don't do it).
So each week, I would increase my long run by 1 mile (Week 2):
Monday: 3 miles, Tuesday: Pilates, Wednesday, 3 miles, Thursday: 2 miles, Friday: rest, Saturday: 5 miles, Sunday: rest
You obviously don't have to run on the exact same days I run and you don't have to run 3, 3, 2, long in that order. Break it up, have fun with it.
So I do this until I reach 10 miles (I don't run the full 13 before the half). and then I start to taper off for the two weeks before the race (so I'd do something like 3, 2, 3, 5 and 3, 2, 3, 6). Then the week of the race, I do an easy peasy schedule (2, 3, 15 minutes, RACE).
Does all of that make sense? I print off blank calendars and put them on the fridge with how many miles I'm going to run each day (that way I know and my family knows). Another thing I find helpful is to think the entire day before a long run about it and peptalk myself (I read inspirational things, eat healthy and stay really positive).
For me, running is so mental it's ridiculous. If I think for one second on a run that I can't go any farther, I start getting tired and slowing down. I also believe that you can't let anything stop you from running (i.e. weather, kids or a mental block). When there was still snow on the ground, I knew I had to run. I hate treadmill running with a passion, so I knew I'd be running outside. If you think "it's too cold, I'm going to freeze" you're probably going to have a crappy run.
Like I said 100 times, I'm no expert...and this is only my second half. I wouldn't even be writing this if I weren't asked by several people (and it's easier to post a blog on it then send the same e-mail to 10 different people). Listen to your body. Find a plan that works for you. If you're just starting out, don't push so hard that you're going to get hurt. Find your happy running place :)