Half marathon pacing

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26/02/2013 at 16:24

Hi, Ive been running now for about 3 years and done a few 10ks and a 1/2 marathon. I am doing my second half marathon in Liverpool in March. I completed it last time in 2hours 5 mins which I was pretty happy with. Im training now for the second one but for the life of me I cant seem to get my pace any quicker than 9:30 per mile. Ive seen a lot of posts about people doing 6:40's and the like. I can run at this pace but not for longer than 1 a mile or so. Am I missing something or is my rather slow pace ok for someone who is not new to running? I train 4 times a week, twice doing outdoor boot camp style training and twice running, at present my training runs are 9-10 miles. Any advice would be greatly appreciated as I would love to break the 2 hour barrier this time round. Thanks!

cougie    pirate
26/02/2013 at 18:11
There wont be many people racing 6.40 miles on the day - the average probably lies a minute or two slower than that.

What is your 10k time ?

If you can run a mile in 6.40 then it shows you have potential - you just need to train at it. Two runs a week aren't really enough though. If you're happy with not progressing then that's fine - but if you want to get faster - you need to train more.

Sounds to me like the runs you do are steady long runs - so you're training to run at that pace. I'd add an extra run in there - maybe a bit shorter but still getting the miles in, and then an extra one where you do intervals. Maybe half a mile or so running at 8 min miles. Recover and go again. Start off with 6 repeats and try adding an extra one every week.

You can tinker with the speed and repeats - but its the same kind of theory - just work on improving week on week.

You only improve at things with practice.
27/02/2013 at 00:15

... and that outdoor bootcamp-type training is perhaps draining your legs.

I suggest doing something along the lines of cougie's suggestion...  and making sure you read up carefully on how best to taper for the Liverpool half.   That should have you on the start line with fresher, faster legs.   Good luck

27/02/2013 at 09:46

Thanks guys! My 10k time is 56 mins and everytime I go running on a long run Im doing 10k in 1 hour or just under. I know I can go faster than this but my problem is if I increase my pace even by a bit it tends to tire me out really fast. Its like im stuck in the 9 min per mile zone! This has affected race days as I have it stuck in my head if I go any faster ill have to stop or end up coming in last haha! The annoying thing is its not like im  out of breath at all, its just general leg body tiredness. Thats maybe something I need to work on too.

Ill shorten my next run to 5 miles and see if I can maintain an 8 min pace.

Thanks for the advice!

cougie    pirate
27/02/2013 at 09:55
Hold your horses Dan.

You're racing everywhere. No wonder you're not getting faster.
You run your steady runs faster than me but my 10k time is almost 20 moms faster than yours.

You need to slow it down. Do most of your running at a pace you could chat at.

Then do one speed work session a week.

Sounds like you're always knckawred from running full pelt for every run ?
27/02/2013 at 10:06

... and you beat me to it cougie

He needs to put in some long slow runs at 10:30 per mile or slower.  Build up the system for transporting oxygen around the body.

27/02/2013 at 11:20

Thats surprising to hear as when im going at my normal steady pace (9.30-45) it seems slow. Ive always ran steady so that I can talk, this stems from when I was pretty overwieght and wanted to stay in the fat burning HR zone. Ive continued to do that. We train hard at boot camp with sprints and fast shuttle runs often with some circuit training thrown in. Ive been doing that for nearly 3 years and it hasnt really sped my runs up much but has massivley increased my endurance for long runs. 

How far do you reckon I should do a long run for at a 10:30 pace? Ill give that a go for sure. If I can cut 10 mins of my half marathon time I would be over the moon!



27/02/2013 at 22:49

OK Dan... glad you already have a good grasp of heart rate stuff.  One thing just occurred to me whilst out on a late evening run... that if you're running 10K in 56mins, then you surely can't be in the aerobic zone at 9 to 9:30min per mile - no matter how comfortable you feel.  I'm not a qualified sports scientist, by I think slowing to 10:30 for your long runs would be good... and try to get one in at 12.5 miles as soon as possible (this weekend) ahead of your race.  It might just do a bit of good.

For future HMs, maybe aim to get them up to 16 miles at this pace... and replace one of your bootcamps with a slower midweek run.  That's if you want to focus on your 10K and HM performance.  There is too much focus on battering yourself in your current training.

28/02/2013 at 14:30

Thanks for the advice! Yeah I got really into all the HR stuff when I first started after making the schoolboy error of going all out all the time and not pacing etc.

No i agree my running at 9-9:30 is really steady my heart rate is not high at all and I can talk all the time. Ok plan tommorow then is a long one, ill go for 12.5 at the suggested pace.

Ive always aimed to go longer than the race distance but then heard that its not a good idea to run to the distance, but rather to do 70% and then shorter faster sprints to build pace. To be honest all I do on running days are slowish steady long ones but never gone further than the HM distance. Next up is the marathon distance but ill get this one out of the way first!



28/02/2013 at 15:33

I think there is a misconception amongst a lot of new runners that to progress with running, you simply go out each time and run the same distance and try to do it a bit quicker. So run 1 you'll do 5k in 30mins, then a few days later you'll do 5k in 29:50, and so on, all the way down to world record pace.

Unfortunately, that's not how to get quicker over any distance. The more slow miles you can do to build endurance the better, esp as you're aim is to race half marathons and eventually marathons. Might be worthwhile spending a year or so racing 5k and 10k to get your pace up, but to do this will also involve running lots of slow miles for endurance (5000m is still ultimately an aerobic event, even if you're Mo Farah). Doing shorter races more frequently will stave off the boredom though, and you'll see race day results and PBs over this distance (with the right training) which will be encouraging.

04/03/2013 at 11:16

Quick update, since my original post I did a longer run on the Friday, it went well and kept my pace around the 10 min mark which i did find quite hard as found it really slow but after a 3-4 miles I was used to it.

Problems however occured around the 8 mile mark, my legs just tired out and I could only manage 2 miles more to stretch it to 10 but the pace dropped down to 10:40's for the final 2 which is bad, usually around this mark id be 9:50 ish with energy in reserve but didnt seem like I had any. But after a stretch I was pain free which was really good.

Going to attempt 13 tonight, I think im getting bored of the same old route but theres not that many interesting places to go running nearby. If I can complete 13 tonight at a slow pace ill concetrate on some shorter faster runs till the big day.

05/03/2013 at 01:31

I was really hoping someone would comment on this post.

Dan said that he slowed down his LSR pace, and actually found that, to his surprise (and counterintuitively) he physically struggled.   This is really interesting, because I think I read that this is to be expected when you train as Dan has done, and I believe I remember the physiological phenomenon that explains it... but I'm not confident enough to repeat it!   I think I read it in the Hadd literature... but there is so much of it, I can't find it right now.

Can anyone help?


05/03/2013 at 06:13

Dan - the reason why you are finding slower running hard is you have run borrowing from your anaerobic system so the aerobic part of your physiology is under trained and you have no base - or little.

The link to the HADD document is at the end of this post - read it, you will find a section where he talks about exactly what you are experiencing.

You have to run slow and do lots more of it, work out your max Heart Rate and run at 75% and no more until you can run long and steaddy at that rate - it takes weeks and patience but will reap massive benefits over time.  The first time you 'run' it will feel so slow and you might have to stop and walk a bit, it'll be frustrating but after a few runs you will see the pace start to pick up.

The previous poster is right just running at or near race pace and being overly fixated about pace is not going to help you progress and is a common mistake.

Stop most or all pace work for a while and go out and do 5 runs per week at a mixture of distances at no greater than 75% max HR.  PS I do a similar system to HADD which is devised by John L Parker but Id go with HADD as there is a thread with folk who can help you on here [Id already started the parker system so didnt want to change part way through and they are so similar it didnt seem worth it]

link to HADD doc http://www.angio.net/personal/run/hadd.pdf

Edited: 05/03/2013 at 06:15
05/03/2013 at 10:44

Thanks to Lee for putting my mind at rest... and giving me the chance to refresh on the physiological side of this. Do read the document - because there is more in it than Lee was able to paste into a sensible post.  I do want to interpret it though, and ask if anyone disagrees with my interpretation.... please correct me.

If we build up the availability of blood flow (by developing mitochondria) to our muscle fibres, they can use oxygen/glycogen for fuel.... but when there is insufficient oxygen flow for any given running pace, the fibres work anaerobically. They can do this, but produce lactate and tie you up pretty quickly.

We have 3 types of muscle fibre:- fast-twitch-white (sprint), fast-twitch red (intermediate) and slow-twitch.  Your body doesn't even bother using the fast-twitch-white fibres unless you're running fast  80%VO2max...  so you don't build up mitochondria around those fibres at slow speeds. On the other hand, if you do all your running fairly fast, you largely bypass your slow-twitch muscle fibre systems, and run with your fast-twitch red (and maybe white) fibres... and it is these that get trained up to get lots of mitochondria for good oxygen supply. The slow-twitch fibres will get some benefit... but definitely sub-optimal.

So Dan, if the theory is correct and applies to you... when you did all your training at 9:30/minute, you must have been running too fast to use your slow-twitch fibres to cope... so your body quickly bypassed them and recruited your intermediate fast-twtich-red fibres. Maybe the first few times you did this you added a few mitochondria to the slow-twitch fibres, but they were always quickly swamped, and your body would spend its resources on adapting the intermediate fibres, not the slow-twitch ones. So your intermediate fibres would have more mitochondria, but these are designed for intermediate running speed /distance.. not really designed for long distance running, so you're not going to see dramatic improvements in long distance running ability, using those - hence your performance plateaued.).   So this seems to explain why your performance has reached 9:30 pace, but stopped improving.

When you run faster, you say that your fast-twitch muscle fibres are well-enough trained to let you go for a mile at a decent 6:40 pace... but not surprising, no further.

But this weekend, when you slowed down to 10+ minutes/mile on that last long run, you must not have been running fast enough for your "fast-twitch-red (intermediate)" fibres to be recruited to the task. Your body was looking only to the slow twitch muscles, and as we've discussed, those haven't been optimally trained for maximum mitochondria... they can't feed blood fast enough, so start to produce lactate...  and you feel bad... and you need to slow to a pace where your mitochondria CAN get enough oxygen in there. (According to hadd, when you were struggling at 10:30 pace, if you had speeded up to 9:30 pace, you would have felt much much more comfortable, as this would have kicked your body into recruiting the fast-twitch-red fibres, which you know are well trained).

So, what next?... If my interpretations are correct, you need to build up your long SLOW run distances (perhaps at 11 minute pace based on what you said about slowing to 10-40).  As frustrating as this is, think of this as concentrating on adding mitochondria to those slow-twitch muscle fibres. Then, maybe in 3(?) weeks time, you can ask your body to run at 10:00 pace, and it will (as usual) first recruit the slow-twitch fibres - but instead of quickly exhausting them, it will find that their newly improved blood supply allows them to sustain the pace without needing to quickly switch to those fast-twitch fibres.  And if your slow-twitch fibres are now sustainably running

05/03/2013 at 11:09

Thanks for these replies! That makes perfect sense! When I felt tired and slowed to a 10+ min pace I did indeed feel like speeding up to feel better, I didnt. But when you mentioned that, it has reminded me of a few times when my legs have been tired but speeding up a bit actually helped. I didnt on this occassion as I was concentrating on keeping the pace slow. Its a shame I havent been able to break the 10 mile barrier so close to the 1/2 marathon but I think I still have time, im having a rest day today but will try a 12 miler tommorow.

I will read that article on my lunch break and thanks again!

05/03/2013 at 11:28

Just noticed my last post got clipped.   This was the ending (which I'd fortunately copied to clipboard)

So, what next?... If my interpretations are correct, you need to build up your long SLOW run distances (perhaps at 11 minute pace based on what you said about slowing to 10-40).  As frustrating as this is, think of this as concentrating on adding mitochondria to those slow-twitch muscle fibres. Then, maybe in 3(?) weeks time, you can ask your body to run at 10:00 pace, and it will (as usual) first recruit the slow-twitch fibres - but instead of quickly exhausting them, it will find that their newly improved blood supply allows them to sustain the pace without needing to quickly switch to those fast-twitch fibres.  And if your slow-twitch fibres are now sustainably running OK at 10:00, they will start adapting by adding more mitochondria, and before you know it, you'll be able to sustain 9:30, then 9:00, then 8:30 etc.  It becomes a 'virtuous circle'.

Hadd didn't say you shouldn't train your fast twitch muscle fibres (with hill-work, intervals and tempo runs)... but he was at pains to say that you should build from the bottom.  If you get your slow-twitch muscle fibres in great shape, then you'll get less lactate production at all paces...  and it provides a vital base for all further performance improvements.

I hope that makes sense... and if anyone else wants to comment, that would be great.

Keep us updated. It's interesting!

 [and you have updated a little above.....  so really interesting that it fits so well.   Shame you don't have 5 or 6 weeks to go before your next HM, but even if you can't get your body to adapt in time for this one, I hope you the insight helps you to get past your plateau and start improving. You'll see that Hadd made a big difference in 10 weeks.

I've been training with longer runs at about 9.20 pace and did a HM at 8.20. Having revisited all this, I'm thinking I should slow down my LSR pace a bit myself. ]

05/03/2013 at 16:16

Will keep updating, just printed off that article now to read

05/03/2013 at 19:50

Thanks for that Run Wales a good read and explained it better than I ever could.   I had the same problem when I started running learned quickly.  


On time I believe you should stick to a pace for 6 weeks.   Maybe increase the distance but keep the pace the same.

06/03/2013 at 01:43

Don't thank me too much...  I enjoyed writing it, because it cleared a few things in my head...(mind you, there are a few sentences that I wish I'd worded better!)   I emphasise that it's my interpretation of reading around a few things... particularly the hadd stuff...  but if any real experts would comment, that would be good.

 edit... re-reading your post, perhaps you are pretty knowledgable about the subject and you're saying that I've grasped it OK.   That would be encouraging! I hope it's the case.

Edited: 06/03/2013 at 01:46
06/03/2013 at 06:09

Dan - it would be good to give us an update on what you decide to do and if you go with 'the program' what you are doing   ....maybe join the HADD thread as there are experts on there who will help you.  The first phase will be support through their experiences - pace and prgoress at first is very frustrating, so doubts might creep in!!

Like the phrase you have to learn to walk before you can run, it is about learning to run slow to help you run fast!  Im about 5 weeks in to my plan - again it is not quite HADD but is very similar and has the same basic principles - and my pace has started to look less embarassing, to be honest on my first few runs it looked like i was a runner whom someone had taken the walking stick from!  I had some 'power walkers' nearly pass me at one point!!

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