The half-marathon is a great distance. It’s long enough to test you but doesn’t require the extra training demands of a full marathon. Half-marathons are perfect for pushing a few boundaries, to run further or faster than before, yet they’re also a realistic and achievable goal to work towards. That said, to achieve a BETTER half-marathon time, you’ve got to put in some serious training and also thought into your race-day strategy. Here’s five key components you’re going to need for that golden PB:
The right mix of runs
Running a better half is all about getting the right mix of runs in your training plan. These are the main players:
- Long runs. These are the stamina-building runs required to go the distance. They are done at a controlled steady intensity and should be in the region of eight miles progressing to 16 miles.
- Long-paced runs. These build on your long runs and include sections of a longer run done at a predetermined target pace.
- Steady runs. These are bread and butter miles performed at 50-60 per cent effort.
- Tempo runs. These are sustained-paced efforts (30- 60mins) completed at around 70-75 per cent of maximum effort. It’s this intensity that is likely to be close to half-marathon race pace. These runs are your golden ticket to running a better half.
- Threshold runs. A step up from tempo runs, these runs are completed on the edge of comfort or in controlled discomfort – they’re tough! Threshold runs are done at 80 per cent effort level and can be done effectively as a part of an interval session.
- Speed intervals. These are workouts with periods of higher (85 per cent plus) intensity running interspersed with periods of rest/recovery to ensure the quality of the effort is maintained.
- Half-marathon race pace. This is obvious. It’s the pace you want to race at. The issue is that this may change. You may get faster (or slower) throughout the plan and so targets need to be adjusted accordingly.
An understanding of your race pace
The right training should help you understand your pace and arrive at the start line of your half with a clear grasp of how to run at your target race pace. If your goal is to run sub-two hours for the half-marathon, it’s crucial to know what running 9:09min/miles feels like. Don’t spring any surprises on your body on race day; it won’t thank you for it by mile nine. Knowing and experiencing your target race pace in your training will give you the confidence to set a challenging finish goal. But don’t try and run the full half-marathon at race pace in training. Assessing and understanding your potential race pace comes with repeated training at paces close to your goal often with rest periods in between.
A strong taper period
If you plan to race at your max, leave the fast or tough running alone the week before your half marathon race. Your training has been done in the months and weeks prior to the event, not in the final few days before it. Some 14 to ten days before the event you will want to ease down or taper. This involves a reduction in the volume of your running in the week leading up to the race. Run for less time and less often than you would in a normal week. Practise your target race pace for 3×0.5-mile efforts and include a few short (30secs) acceleration runs three or four days before you race. Your goal in race week is to stay injury free, healthy and focused. Don’t be tempted to test yourself out in the final few days before you race; if you’ve completed the training, your race will be a success!
A solid race-day strategy
The art of running a great half marathon is with your race pacing. It’s not like a marathon where you start off under control and try not to slow down, or a 10K when you’re on the knife-edge of comfort from the gun. Instead, it’s a tempo balancing act. You should feel like you are running strongly from the start, but that this is a controlled effort that you can sustain for the full race distance. As the miles tick away your goal is to hold an even pace (the same time per mile or kilometre). The effort level required will almost certainly go up as the race goes on and especially if the terrain changes. What feels like a controlled tempo pace for the first six miles will no doubt feel harder to maintain during the final three miles.
The right mindset
Running a fast half-marathon is as much in the head and the heart as in the legs and lungs. Although your engine might be capable of running faster than you’ve run before, if your mind isn’t ready to go the distance, you may stutter mid-race. Confidence to run fast in a race comes from confident training.
■ Negative thoughts may creep in mid-race when your legs are burning and your heart is pounding. Remind yourself that you’ve been here many times in training and can handle the pressure and the pace right to the finish.
■ Break your race down into mental checkpoints: three miles, six miles, nine miles, 12 miles, the final 1.1 miles. Only focus on covering the next three miles. Tick off each section as you go.
■ Tune into your running zone. Keep it simple and just run. Being right at the sharp end of half marathon discomfort means that you are going to have moments in the race when the pace feels too hot to handle. Instead of slowing down, do what you’ve done in training and switch off to the outside world and dial into your own running groove. Feel your heartbeat, your breathing rate and sense your foot strike.