Consistently voted the UK’s favourite race distance, a half-marathon is a great way to bridge up from a 10km to a full marathon. However, it is a distance with its own unique characteristics that will challenge your endurance while still giving you room to work on your speed and strength.
The first of this two-part half-marathon special covers some top tips on getting your training right and how to build your foundations. HIGH5’s Running Experts, RunningWithUs, cover some of the key sessions so that you can feel confident to take on 21km if you are new to this distance and help you grab that new personal best if you are an experienced runner.
Building your Foundations
The foundations of your half-marathon campaign require planning and patience. Work back from race day and give yourself 12-16 weeks to build up gradually. Think about some of the following tips in the early weeks:
Ask most runners what they found hardest in a half and they will mention how their legs felt in the final few miles. As you race fast your heart rate will creep up and you’ll have to work hard to maintain your pace. This is where your physical strength will play a critical role. A stronger frame will help you carry the engine you are building up through the weeks of running. We can do this by adding strength and conditioning into your training mix, ideally twice a week.
Try this: Focus on 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.
An upward curve
Building a periodic 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. Including hill sessions into the first 4-6 weeks of your training plan is a great way to do this.
Try this: ‘Continuous hills’ sometimes also called ‘Kenyan Hills’ can be a top session to include once a week in your early training weeks. Find a hill with a gradient of around 6-8%. Run up the hill at an effort where you can only speak 4 words, but don’t sprint. After 60 seconds, run back down at the same 4-word answer effort and repeat: 4 x 6 minutes in week one, 3 x 10 minutes in week two and 4 x 8 minutes in week three. Include a short 90-120 second recovery between each block.
Included in the right way, sessions that add more intensity into your running week will make you fitter, stronger and faster. However, ensure that your sessions are as specific and relevant to the half-marathon distance as possible by adding a weekly threshold run into your training. ‘Threshold’ refers to your anaerobic threshold, around 80-85% of your maximum heart rate. By training in this area you will learn to run faster, whilst still principally training your aerobic fitness, developing your ability to hold a faster pace for longer.
Top tip: Include a weekly session running longer ‘repetitions’ at a threshold effort. Use a heart rate monitor to run at 80-85% of your maximum HR or simply run to 4 word answer pace, a controlled discomfort taking care not to push too hard. In the early weeks this might be 4-5 x 5 minutes at this effort, with 75-90 seconds recovery in-between. Over a period of 6-8 weeks this can build up to 4-5 x 2km, still from a short recovery as you get fitter and stronger.
A game of patience
As motivated as you may be, running is a high impact sport and must be integrated progressively into your exercise routine. Starting with 3 times per week or every other day is generally a safe place to start and this can be progressed as the body gets stronger.
Try this: Be prepared to walk/run if you’re building up your fitness and gradually reduce the amounts of walking in the weeks ahead. 20 minutes might be 1 minute easy run/ 1 minute brisk walk in week one, but by week 4 it could be 20 minutes continuous or 4 minutes run/ 1 minute walk. If you are more experienced, recognise that easy and conversational paced running has a huge benefit to your cardiovascular system. Don’t be tempted to push too hard on your easy runs in the early weeks – these should be at the speed of chat. That means you can still hold a conversation with your running partner.
Watch out for the second part of our half-marathon special next week. This will cover the crucial phase leading up to the halfmarathon, as well as tapering and how to prepare for the big day itself.