How experienced half-marathoners can boost their training

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As an experienced runner, you’ve already notched a few halves and are comfortable with the distance – but perhaps you haven’t done the 13.1-miler justice, focusing your efforts more at either end of the speed/distance spectrum. ‘Optimal half-marathon preparation involves a middle ground between 10K and marathon training,’ says veteran coach Jack Daniels.

Know your threshold

Lactate-threshold (LT) pace is the effort you can sustain for about an hour, and is probably 8-15 seconds per mile faster than your goal half-marathon pace. It’s a pace Pete Pfitzinger, coach and author of Faster Road Racing, recommends you work with in your bid for a faster half.

‘A relatively new approach to tempo runs involves interspersing harder efforts with training at, or slightly slower than, LT pace,’ he says. The rationale is that the faster segments lead to increased lactate production while the slower pace improves the body’s ability to use that lactate as fuel.

Try this: 10 mins easy; 4 mins at LT pace; 4 mins at 10 secs faster than LT pace. Then 4x4 mins at LT pace; 2 mins at 10 secs faster than LT pace. Finish with 10 mins easy. Increase the number of intervals or add a minute to the faster segments to progress.

Groove your race pace

Regular runs at goal pace help you get a feel for it – note how you’re breathing and rate your perceived effort so you can better monitor your pace on race day. ‘Schedule a race-pace run every week,’ says Anderson. ‘Start with three to four miles and add a mile every week or two up to a maximum of eight.’

Be a team player

One of the best ways to reach your potential is to train with others of similar ability, says sports psychologist professor Andy Lane. A study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology found athletes put in more effort when they had teammates, compared with training solo.

Know the drill

‘Drills enhance dynamic flexibility, stride power, stride stiffness and efficiency,’ says coach Brad Hudson, co-author of Run Faster. ‘Do drills and strides after the jogging portion of your warm-up in any workout involving running at 10K pace or faster.’ Try these drills to get yourself ready for speedwork.

Add speed

Most of your quality sessions will hover around threshold pace, but some faster efforts can also pay dividends by improving your V02 max. Pfitzinger recommends short reps at 3-5K pace. Try a fortnightly set of reps lasting two to six mins, with a recovery jog 50-75 per cent of the length of each effort.

Master the distance

While less experienced runners don’t need to reach race distance in training, you’ll need to go the distance a few times if you are aiming to run a fast half marathon. ‘Advanced runners will want to run significantly more than 13.1 miles on their peak long run,’ says coach Jason Fitzgerald. However, there’s no need to exceed 16 miles.

Get primed

Don’t restrict your warm-up to a steady jog. Research shows adding a few minutes of faster running better primes the body. Former Olympic marathoner Mara Yamauchi suggests explosive knee drives off a step to activate the glutes.

Shed a load

Research from the University of Georgia, US, showed that a five per cent increase in a runner’s usual weight slowed them by almost three minutes over a half marathon. So don’t carry excess baggage, be it attached to your waistline or in the form of drinks bottles, heavy running shoes or kit.

Hold it steady

Run the race as evenly as possible. ‘Speeding up from your optimal pace increases glycogen usage more than slowing down decreases it,’ warns Matt Fitzgerald, author of The New Rules of Marathon and Half Marathon Nutrition. And in the face of hills or headwinds, maintain a constant effort, not pace.

Get the juices flowing

Drink or eat your way to a PB by consuming natural performance-enhancers. Add a beetroot juice (try Beet-It Sport, a 70ml shot with the same concentration of nitric oxide as 400ml of juice) to your race-morning routine – research shows it lowers oxygen cost at a given pace by three per cent and peaks two and a half hours after consumption. And follow it up with an espresso or two. Studies show a dose of caffeine equal to up to 6mg per kg of body weight lowers RPE (rate of perceived exertion) during endurance exercise by an average of 5.6 per cent. It takes 60-70 minutes for caffeine to peak in the bloodstream.

Race-pace specific training sessions

Do one to two miles easy before each workout and one mile easy to finish. Take an easy (or rest) day either side of these sessions:

Week 1: 6 x 1-mile winders: start at half-marathon pace (HMP), then run each mile a few secs quicker; 60-sec jog recovery between each.

Week 2: 6 x 1 mile at 10 secs slower than 10K pace, with 90-sec jog recoveries

Week 3: 3 x 2 miles at LT pace, with 2-min jog recoveries

Week 4: Parkrun or 5K

Week 5: 2 miles easy; 4 x 2 miles at HMP, with 3-min jog recoveries; 1 mile easy

Week 6: 2 miles easy; 6 miles at HMP

Week 7: 10K race

Week 8: 8-mile progression run: start 20 secs slower than marathon pace and speed up by 10 secs per mile

Week 9: 2 miles easy; 3 x 3 miles at HMP, with 3-min easy jog recoveries

Week 10: 2 miles easy; 8 miles at HMP; 1 mile easy

Week 11: 6-mile progression run: start 10 secs slower than marathon pace and speed up by 10 secs per mile

Week 12: Race week