Run your best half marathon

Gearing up to run a half marathon? Perform at your best and nail that PB with expert running coach Tom Craggs' essential tips.

Run your best half marathon

In the run-up to a race, it's important to build a solid fitness foundation to ensure you finish the race feeling strong. Our top 10 tips will put you in good stead to nail it on race day.

1. Get super strong

As you race fast, the heart rate will creep up and you may have to work hard to maintain your pace. A stronger frame will help you carry the engine you built up through weeks of running – you can do this by adding strength and conditioning into your training mix, ideally twice a week.

Focus on running-specific strength exercises that support your ability to transfer weight one leg at a time. Single-leg squats, walking lunges, rowing exercises and Pilates can all be great options to consider.

Focus on running-specific strength exercises that support your ability to transfer weight one leg at a time. Single-leg squats, walking lunges, rowing exercises and Pilates can all be great options to consider.

2. Incorporate inclines

Building a periodised plan over the course of 12 weeks involves laying foundations in the early stages on which you will build the walls and roof of your half marathon performance.

Continuous hills can be a top session to include once a week in those early weeks. Find a hill with a gradient of around 6-8 per cent. Run up the hill at an effort where you could only speak four words at a time. After 60 seconds, run up and back down at the same four word answer effort, and repeat in blocks of time. 4 x 6 minutes in week one, 3 x 10 minutes, etc., with a short 90-120 second recovery.

3. Be patient

As motivated as you may be, running is a high-impact sport and must be integrated progressively into your exercise routine. Start by running three times per week, or every other day - this can be progressed, as the body gets stronger.

Be prepared to walk/run if building fitness and gradually reduce the amounts of walking in the weeks ahead. 20 minutes might be one minute easy run/ one minute brisk walk in week one but by week four could be 20 minutes continuous or four minutes run/ one minute walk.

4. Don't ignore mid-week gains

It can be tempting to focus on your long run as the key measure of your fitness before your half. In fact using your midweek runs will have as much of an impact as the long run.

45 minutes with the final 25 at half marathon pace or even an interval session, such as 8 x 3 minutes with the odd numbers run at a little faster than half marathon pace, the even numbers at 5K pace, with 75 seconds recovery, can all be highly effective, short mid-week sessions.

5. Stay healthy

The crucial weeks leading up to a race can be a delicate time. It can be tempting to keep pushing, adding more volume or finding that you are regularly picking up niggles, or getting sick.  

If you are injured, cross training and aqua jogging can supplement your running and even replace sessions. Maintain the same time and effort levels as your running plan by training to heart rate to hit the same efforts your would if you were out running.

6. Break it down

Don’t get daunted by the volume and the goal - aim to break your half marathon goal down with intermediate target races. This will also allow you to get used to running around other people, and learn the patterns and routines you will want to replicate on race day.

Top tip – Run a parkrun 4-6 weeks into your plan and then a 10K race 3-4 weeks before your target half marathon. You might even consider running a 10K race at your planned half marathon pace. It will build confidence and help you remind yourself of your pre-race routine.

7. Respect the taper

If you currently run four or five times a week, maintain this in the final two weeks before race day. Combining a familiar pattern of training but reducing the volume of each run will enable you to build up your energy levels without getting rusty.

Aim to reduce the volume of your training by about 30 per cent two weeks out from race day, and to about 50 per cent in race week itself. For more tips, watch this guide to tapering

8. Keep running

While you want to arrive at the start line feeling fresh, it can be easy to cut back too much, and feel rusty and sluggish when the gun goes off. Aim to maintain some lighter faster sessions in the final two weeks to keep the legs moving.

9. Sleep well

The magical, deep sleep phase is when growth hormones are released, which will help you recover from your training, build more muscle and help cellular regeneration. However it takes several hours to get to this phase of your sleep.

Aim for 20-30 minutes more sleep a night during your taper. Banish smart phones, tablets, TVs etc from the bedroom, limit big meals and caffeine late at night and aim to get into a good, regular pattern of early nights in the final days before the race.

10. Fuel

Your body needs good stores of carbohydrate to race well over the half marathon distance. Ensure that in the final 3-4 days before the race you never feel hungry.
Monitor your fuel intake closely and aim to snack every 2-3 hours on high quality carbohydrates. Energy bars can be a great option if you struggle to eat solid carbohydrates the final two days before the race.

11. Enjoy the day!

Unless you're an elite runner, you will have signed up to a half marathon for a fun challenge. Remember that on race day and don't forget to enjoy yourself.

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