Once you’ve done your first half, you know the demands of training and have experience of what to expect in the race itself. You’ve also got a good base of mileage and endurance from previous training cycles. If you’re looking to get faster, now is the time to add a bit more quality and more mileage into your schedule. It also helps to develop a good sense of race pace, says Janet Hamilton, a running coach and exercise physiologist (runningstrong.com). To do this, start by running 800m (or half a mile) at your goal race pace, checking your pace as you go. Once you can nail that half marathon pace within a few seconds without looking at your watch, build up to running up to five miles at half marathon pace, sandwiched by a mile of easy running to warm up, and a mile of easy running to cool down.
You’ll need to eat and drink on the road, says nutritionist Pamela Nisevich Bede (swimbikeruneat.com). ‘Some runners think they can get through a half marathon without sports drinks or gels, but that can make for some painful and slow last few miles,’ she says. Aim for 30-60g of carbs each hour that you’re running and practise fuelling on long runs so there are no nasty surprises on race day.
A 2009 study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research showed that when runners trained on ascents and descents, they improved speed and foot turnover more than when running up hills or on flat surfaces alone. Running downhill requires the muscles to lengthen, or make eccentric muscle contractions, which can generate more force than when you’re running uphill or on flat ground. Don’t let your feet slap the pavement or try to brake with your quads. ‘Keep your toes under your nose,’ says RW chief running officer Bart Yasso.
Get upwardly mobile
When you’re going up, avoid charging the hill; you’ll burn up valuable fuel. ‘Don’t try to attack the hill,’ says Hamilton. At first, work on maintaining an even effort going uphill as you do on level ground – even if your pace slows. As you build your fitness, work towards maintaining an even pace on the inclines. If you don’t have hills in your area, use treadmills, bridges and slip roads to practise your ascents.
The best strategy for nailing a PB in the half marathon is to run an even or negative split, says Yasso. A negative split is running the second half of the race slightly faster than the first. ‘When the starting gun goes off, everyone takes off like they just got let out of prison,’ says Yasso. ‘That’s a big mistake. Hold steady in the first miles, and gradually accelerate. You’ll get a boost from passing people in the final miles.’