You are ready to up the distance and commit to your first half marathon, or you’re ready to run your best ever half in a faster time. Wherever you are in your running journey, there are always ways to tweak your half marathon. Here are our tips to make yours twice as great.
It can be easy to get carried away. If you’re feeling fit, ready and keen to start a training plan or cycle it can be tempting to rush straight into it. But the best results will come with a patient, careful build up that allows you to increase your fitness and avoid getting injured or feeling burned out. It doesn’t have to be an exact science, but steadily increasing your overall weekly distance (total in miles or kilometres) by no more than 10% will help you to keep your build up as effective as it can be.
A good half marathon build up requires a minimum three or four runs every week, with at least one of those as a longer run that gradually increases in distance week on week. Committing to a half marathon means investing your time, having fun and doing the work. A good careful half marathon training cycle should be around eight to 12 weeks long, depending on your experience and goal (whether that’s just to complete it or ‘go for a time’).
Increasing volume and intensity of the running you’re doing will put some extra stresses on your body. Having a good regular strength routine will help your body to manage the load and avoid injuries that will stop you in your tracks. Spending just half an hour once a week on a strength routine pays off, so make the time and commit to it.
While the half marathon is a long distance, speed work such as short, fast intervals of running can really help you to build overall fitness. For great half marathon training, it’s good to build up to workouts that have long repetitions of fast running in them as you increase your fitness. Running With Us coach Nick Anderson suggests two killer workouts to add in and test your fitness below:
Workout one for more experienced runners:
100 minute run including 60 minutes of three minutes alternating target half marathon pace and three minutes easy pace.
Workout two for intermediate runners looking to go faster
Two miles at target half marathon pace, three minutes easy jog, six times 800 m at 5k pace with 90 seconds jogging between, followed by three minutes easy jog and two miles at target half marathon pace.
Working with a coach like Nick or getting suggestions from a coach at your local running club can really mix your training up and get you out of your comfort zone towards a faster time.
Steady running is your best friend in half marathon training cycles. Getting to know how hard a run feels is really useful, and many use GPS watches and/or trackers like Strava to track distance, time and effort. Steady running is equivalent to pushing just a little harder than conversational or jogging pace. Putting in at least one steady run a week teaches your body to run at a slightly harder but maintainable pace: really important for running longer distances.
Some online training plans will throw in some generic workouts using tempo pace, where you are running at a sustained harder effort without going all-in. Tempo is great for teaching your body how hard it can work over longer periods for the half marathon. Your tempo pace is something that is entirely personal to you and it’s likely to change as you increase your fitness throughout the training cycle. You can get technical by working out your tempo pace exactly using a heart rate calculation but using your perceived effort can be just as useful. Tempo running should feel like you’re cruising along, harder than steady running but not all out like short reps should be. Tempo runs should be put in at least once every two weeks for up to an hour, where you’re running at between 70-80% of heart rate, or a strong seven to eight out of ten effort level.
Your body needs energy to perform at its best for a half marathon, so as part of your preparation you need to look into how best to take in that energy in the lead up to the race. Race nutrition is a really important part of how you perform on the day as the distance and time on your feet during a half marathon requires some fuel in the tank, especially in the last few miles. We have some suggestions here on how to successfully choose and practice the right nutrition for you.
A half marathon is a big and exciting commitment whatever your end goal, so you have to make sure that training for it will fit into your life. Personalise everything starting with your goal for the race, the event you want to do, how and when you train and what you’re going to eat on the day. You have to make sure this journey works for you.
Running with friends is a pleasure, but it’s also a great motivator in a half marathon build up. Arranging to meet a friend to run together just once a week creates some accountability as you’re less likely to cancel a run or do it at a different time if you’ve made plans with someone. Running together can also challenge you to run faster or slower as you adapt to their pace. Both are useful in half marathon training which requires a good mix of fast efforts and slow easy running to build up a good aerobic base.
Just like nutrition, race pace is a very personal thing. As you go through your training cycle you will get a feel for how pacing feels and roughly what your end result is likely to be. Don’t be too cautious in your estimate, but be realistic too. The half marathon is a long way if you go off a little too hard, so learning and practicing pacing within your training is a useful thing to do.
The half marathon is a classic distance and you will find all kinds of half marathon races in your area ranging from obstacle racing, trail and fell runs to fast and flat city centre races with thousands in the field. Whatever you are going for, have fun along the way and enjoy the whole process. It isn’t always just about race day.