How to improve your half-marathon training

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So you already have a half marathon or two under your race belt and you’re thinking about getting your time down rather than simply finishing. How? ‘Your aerobic system provides over 99 per cent of the energy for a half marathon, so developing that system is your highest priority,’ says Pete Pfitzinger, coach and author of Faster Road Racing. But a diet of easy miles won’t cut it. Coach Jeff Gaudette says the 13.1-mile distance is ‘a blend of stamina and speed endurance – the ability to hold a fast pace for a long time’. He recommends balancing tempo runs with speedwork in the form of long intervals. ‘In addition, you need to mix in quality long runs so you can teach your body how to run fast late in the race, when you’re tired,’ he says.

Start where you are

‘Runners interested in going for a PB need to know just how fast they can run,’ says Higdon. Plug one or two recent race times (the closer to half-marathon distance, the better) into a pace calculator to establish a goal pace and review it after any races in your build-up.

Groove race pace

Pace judgment is crucial, says endurance coach David Chalfen. ‘It’s telling if you’ve found in past halves that after the first four miles, each mile gets slower. Include some training runs that are done at your goal half-marathon pace – either as long reps with short recovery (take 60 secs recovery per six minutes of effort), a certain distance at race pace or a progression run that moves from slightly slower than race pace to slightly quicker.’

Upgrade your speed

Your 10K pace is likely to be 15-30 seconds per mile faster than your half-marathon pace (the difference is typically smaller at the faster end of the spectrum, greater at the slower end). ‘Training at 10K pace works wonderfully well for the half marathon,’ says Owen Anderson, author of Running Science. ‘It makes half-marathon pace feel much easier and will improve your economy at race pace.’

Go hard, go easy

Spread your tougher sessions out through the week. ‘A pattern of hard/easy is the most effective way to train,’ says Hal Higdon, coach and author of Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Training.

Vary your long runs

Most of your long runs should be run at an easy pace, but bringing in something more challenging once in a while pays dividends. ‘If you want a big personal best, race-specific workouts can take your fitness to new levels and help you achieve more on race day,’ says coach Jason Fitzgerald. Try ending a long run with three to five miles at goal pace.

Find inner strength

Build core strength to help you run more efficiently and maintain good form, says exercise physiologist Adam St Pierre. ‘Many overuse injuries can be traced to weakness in the core, which includes the abs, lower back and glutes.’

Get your race head on

Tune-up races are a great way of checking your progress. ‘Schedule one six to eight weeks into your buildup,’ advises Gaudette.

Chunk it

On the big day, break the race down into manageable chunks, says coach Martin Yelling. This is particularly useful if you’re a runner who tends to lose focus in the middle miles. ‘Miles seven to nine are often where people drop the ball,’ says Yelling. ‘Thinking of the race as four three-mile, or three four-mile chunks can really help – then it’s just a mile and a bit to the finish.’

Ready to get started? Check out our half-marathon training plans for every level of runner.