Half marathon training can be a bit confusing at the best of times simply because it’s sort of an odd distance in the family of road races and is much different than 10k or marathon training.
New runners who have plans to take on a full distance marathon one day are wise to give the half-marathon a try first in order to better gauge their fitness level.
IS THE HALF-MARATHON A SPEED OR ENDURANCE RACE?
For the serious runner who is trying to place as high as they can in the field, a 10k race is pretty much a race where you run as fast a speed as you can possibly maintain for the duration of the race. For the winners that’s usually around 30 minutes somewhere.
Of course it requires endurance, but just not quite as much as the longer runs.
For instance a marathon is the type of race where you really have to rein in the speed and use quite a lot of strategy. You will most likely really have to count on your endurance training to get you to the finish line.
In other words it’s an optimum balance of speed and endurance that is the goal for the top runners, but it does lean more towards endurance and the 10k is a bit more about speed, but at the same time it takes endurance to maintain your optimum speed.
Many top 10k runners go on to become excellent half-marathon runners because they have developed some endurance and also have tons of speed.
If a top 10k runner is used to running back-to-back 5:15-5:30 minutes per mile in a 10krace, that speed can be carried over to a half-marathon where a 6-minute mile might become a very doable pace.
So that leaves the half marathon training if you are new to the distance. Is it a speed race or an endurance race and how do you train for it?
BENEFITS OF STRENGTH TRAINING
Possibly the answer to having your best half marathon training results is to incorporate some strength training into your preparation.
It might be easier to handle the speed and distance necessary to have your best possible result if 6 or 8 weeks of strength training are included in your build-up to the event.
Just spending 30 minutes twice a week doing some light weight, high repetition squats, quad extensions, and hamstring curls might be just the ticket for having a great race.
If you decide to give strength training a try, then do your workout sometime after your run for the day is done and take a rest day after the days you weight train.
Of course many people are not into weight training and that’s perfectly understandable. If that’s the case, there are other options to consider to help you get the most from your half marathon training.
REST IS IMPORTANT
It is often best to rest at least two days per week when endurance run training. Of course that should be left flexible.
At times you will feel great and you might run 7 days in a row. Other times you might feel you need extra rest and only run on 3 or 4 days.
If you are running 4 or 5 days per week one of your runs should be longer than the rest.
Usually this is on the weekend. Your shorter runs might be 30-45 minutes and your longer run 60 minutes when you are 5 or 6 weeks away from your race.
Each passing week as the race gets closer both the shorter runs and the longer weekend run could be increased in small increments each weeks.
It might not seem like much, but if you increase your long run by just 10 minutes per week for 6 weeks before beginning your two week taper you will be up to 2 hours by the sixth week.
There is no need to really be running much longer than that in preparing for the 21k distance.
One of the classic mistakes many people make is to not incorporate enough rest into their half- marathon training. The reasoning is that it’s not nearly as long as a marathon so they can train almost right up to the race.
Of course that’s not the case. Your body still needs to recover and a half marathon certainly is an endurance race that demands respect. Runners often seem to forget that any running puts stress on the body and requires recovery time.
It’s imperative to taper into pretty much any race and rest up for your best effort. Far too many runners leave their best race out on the training course somewhere.
Begin your taper for a half-marathon two weeks before the race. At this point there is not really anything to be gained by running long distances as nothing you do in those last few weeks is going to increase your endurance.
Run endurance is built up over months and even years and takes time to develop. Actually, rest is the best thing you can do your your body in those last few weeks before race-day.
Rest for at least three days with two weeks to go and rest for 4 days the week of the race. At that point there is little in the way of training you can do that is going to help your race.
When you do run, just run easily. At that point in your training, running too fast or too far could well have diminishing returns.
HIGH INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING
Interval training is another training method that is not for everyone. However if you want to finish the half marathon as fast as you can it wouldn’t hurt to give this type of training a try.
First of all, most people thing the intervals are the length of time you are running. For instance if you run at a quick pace for 60 seconds and rest for two minutes, the interval is not 60 seconds.
The interval is two minutes. That in essence describes what interval training is.
You run at a set speed for a predetermined amount of time and rest for a predetermined time and repeat.
The importance of heart-monitor training simply cannot be over-stated.
Here is a very simple and effective interval training session suggestion if you use a heart rate monitor.
First do a good warm-up of at least 20 minutes of easy running.
Then begin your intervals. Run for 60 seconds at your aerobic target heart rate.
Rest until your heart rate comes down a good twenty beats below your aerobic rate.
So if your aerobic heart rate target is 135, run easily or walk if necessary until your heart rate has fallen to around 115 or so.
Do your next interval at 5 seconds above your target rate, so in this example, at 140. Rest and repeat and every time add another 5 seconds to your top end. So if you did 5 intervals for example, your last one would be your target heart rate of 135 plus 25 or 160 beats.
This way the intensity increases slowly as the work-out progresses.
If you were to do 8 repetitions you would likely use 160 as your maximum heart rate for the last 3 repeats as well.
There are gray areas when it comes to maximum heart rate because everyone is at a different level of fitness, but this is an example you could use as a guide.
Just work with it until you find a workout that suits you.
A good amount of intervals to do for starters is about 5 with a maximum of 8 if you are quite new to them.
Once your high intensity interval workout is done have a good 20 minute cool-down run.
INTERVAL TRAINING WITHOUT A HEART MONITOR
If you choose to do your interval training without a heart rate monitor you can do the same number of intervals as suggested above, but you will be using your watch as a guide and not your heart rate monitor.
Do the 20 minute warm-up and then begin your interval training. A good starting point is running for 60 seconds at close to your race pace and then resting for 90 seconds.
Repeat this 5 times or for however many intervals you choose to do. The intensity of the work-out can be changed in 3 ways as you progress over the weeks.
You can do more repetitions, you can do longer repetitions, or you can decrease the interval between repetitions.
Even just 4 or 5 weeks of once a week interval training would be a big help to your half marathon training should you decide to give this training method a try.
Remember to have all your interval training and long runs done as you reach the two weeks to go mark for your race.
Regardless of how you decide to structure your half marathon training, be sure to taper and rest properly for two weeks in order to have your best effort come race day.