Training to run your fastest half marathon is quite different from training to get round. You need to be clever and it can be daunting. Expert running coach Nick Anderson offers up some running wisdom to get you round the course with time to spare.
The old hand at the half marathon needs to be a bit more canny than the first timer when training for the 13.1-mile distance. It is time to step up from simply building your endurance in order to cover the distance and begin to ensure that your body is ready to train using the correct energy systems in order to be able to run the half marathon at your target PB race pace.
With plenty of experience in the bank you need to work out what has and hasn’t been working for you in the past, training-wise. If you have found you have plateaued then take a look at the reasons for this. Equally, if you remember back to a period of training when you were running brilliantly or smashed your last half marathon PB then draw some positives from this and add them back into your training mix.
It’s not all speed
Remember a new pace doesn’t necessarily mean simply working on speed. In the early weeks of your 12 week training block towards your half marathon, rather than your faster, interval sessions being short sharp bursts on the track, treadmill or during a fartlek session, have a serious think about whether you are incorporating the longer blocks of threshold running correctly within your training week. It is this that gives us the ability to run faster for longer and maintain a harder pace all the way round.
Threshold is running at an effort level of 8.5 out of 10 or 80-85% of your max heart rate. NOT flat out! We call it running on the edge of discomfort and example sessions would be 5 x 5mins at threshold (1min jog recovery) progressing onto 4 x 6mins (90 seconds jog recovery) and eventually 3 x 10mins @ threshold (90 seconds jog recovery) all of which can be incorporated into a 60 minute run on either a flat route or an undulating route. Think of threshold as an effort level not a pace and run to feel.
Race pace and long runs
Similarly, if you have a target finishing time and pace in mind, are you practicing this pace in training? Doing sessions in the latter weeks that involve target race pace are key if you want to run that pace for 13.1 miles on race day!
With the strength and experience behind you, the long run should no longer always be a slow time-on-feet plod. This is definitely useful and key for building the endurance in the earlier weeks but in the latter weeks think about incorporating blocks of race pace or even threshold into your long runs. For example 90 minutes with the last 30 minutes including 4 x 6 minutes at threshold (2 minute easy run recovery). Challenging but beneficial!
Perhaps 3-4 weeks out, the long run could even be 2 hours with 40 easy, 40 steady and the final 40 at target half marathon effort or pace, a great way to reassure yourself that you are ready.
For the real pros, be prepared to go over distance 3-4 weeks out and maybe even try a 25k progression run like the elites. This could be 5k easy, 5k at half marathon pace, 5k easy 5k at 5-10 secs per mile quicker than half marathon pace, 2k fast, 3k easy; now that’s nailing it!
Time to get speedy
The faster sessions can then be included in the final 6 weeks. These are a crucial element of training. These should be in the form of reps that work on your V02 max.
Working at 5k pace, or slightly harder, for example 6 x 800m or 6 x 3 minutes off a 90 second jog recovery. It would also be ideal to incorporate a couple of 5K Time Trials, races or Saturday morning Parkruns within your training leading into the half marathon in order to further work on your V02 max and speed.
Consider the sandwich effect
Perhaps you can even bookend these session with half marathon pace or threshold blocks to add volume. A great example might be 10 mins at threshold (2-3 min recovery) then 6 x 3 mins at half marathon pace off 90 sec jog before just a few minutes later adding a further 10 min block at threshold; now you are flying!
Nail that half marathon
- Follow a trusted schedule – this really will provide structure, guidance and weekly targets.
- Increase the volume of running gradually by just 10 per cent each week.
- Add extra volume as aerobic cross training in the early weeks to build fitness without the impact of running.
- As the volume/intensity of your training increases, so too should your strength and conditioning work. You must be strong enough to absorb those miles and prevent breakdown from injury.
- Choose your trainers carefully. Most will run in normal 'every day' trainers but for the faster or more experienced out there a slightly lighter racing shoe may now be an option. Use on race day and faster sessions.
- Stretch every day or regularly throughout the week to aid injury prevention.
Embrace this distance of 13.1-miles, learn how to race it properly and you will never look back. It really is an achievable challenge and half marathons, as you well know, can actually become quite addictive! Enjoy!