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Five Immediate Things You Can Do To Improve Your Half-Marathon PR

half marathon runningThis article is a guest post written for the 100 day marathon plan blog by Duncan Larkin, 2:34 marathon runner and writer. Enjoy !

At 13.1 miles or 21.097 kilometers, the half-marathon is a race distance that most aspiring marathoners tackle first. The pros benefit from half marathons as well—using that race to “tune up” a month or so before their peak marathon in the spring or the fall.

If you’ve already taken on the half, here are five things you can try out in your race preparations that can help you set a new personal best:

1. Train for the course you will be racing.

Approximately six months before your goal race, decide just where you intend to run. If you’re out to run faster than you ever have for this distance, then select a fast, but fair course. Do some research on the Web. Find out the average finishing times for this course. Ask friends and fellow runners who have raced it about the event. If you run well when you’re around a lot of people, pick a race with a high turnout.

Conversely, if you don’t like the crowds, go for a smaller race. Something else to consider is how many turns the course has. Remember that every turn on the course typically costs you time, so perhaps look for a point-to-point race with as much straight-line running as possible. Once you’ve settled on your goal course, learn as much as you can about it.

If possible, get out on the actual course during your training runs so that you won’t be surprised on race day, and if you can’t run on the actual course, find out its elevation profile and train on a course that mirrors your actual half as much as possible.

The more you can properly “simulate” race-day conditions, the better prepared you will be.

2. Learn how to internalize your goal pace.

As you settle on a goal time, do you know what that time translates into kilometer or mile splits? If you know those splits, do you think you could run them by feel? You should be able to come race day and that means you should be training for your goal pace in your workouts.

A good way to do this is to conduct at least one training session a week where you practice “running by feel”. This means trying to achieve your goal pace without the use of instant pace calculators like GPS devices. Keep it simple, by usings a simple stopwatch on a measured course and try to run at least 3 miles (or kilometers) at your goal pace. Check your watch only at every mile/kilometer.

And ask yourself the following questions: How far off the pace were you? Were you too fast or too slow? Were all your splits consistent or did they vary? If they varied, why? The sooner you get to know what your goal pace “feels like” in training, the easier it will be for you come race day.

Your mind is fully capable of gauging speed; you just have to teach yourself how to use it by not relying so much on pacing gadgetry.

3. Train for your half marathon goal pace.

Your half-marathon training program should include a gradual build of miles/kilometers at your actual goal pace. How can you expect to run as fast as you hope the day of your race if you haven’t been training at the proper speed?

A common mistake that runners make is to “hope” that come race day, something will enable them to run their goal pace when, in fact, they haven’t been training at the proper pace all along. Apply the principles of gradualism in training, starting out with 1 or 2 miles/kilometers at your goal pace and increase those goal-pace workouts every week. Two weeks before race day, aim for being able to run at least 75 percent of your race distance at the proper pace.

Ensure that at least one of your workout a week includes goal-pace work. If you can’t achieve this target, then possibly reconsider your goal, because if you can’t run as fast as you need to run in training, you probably won’t be able to achieve it in your race.

Also consider signing up for short-distance races in the lead-up to your half marathon, such as 5Ks or 10Ks. Use those races as your great goal-pace workouts.

4. Find a buddy or a group of like-minded training partners.

Running a race faster than ever before isn’t something that’s going to be easy. It takes discipline, perseverance, and hard work. But it also helps to not go at it alone. There are undoubtedly many runners near where you live that have the same goals that you do. Seek them out.

A good way to do this is to speak with experts at a running store and find a local training group that you can work out with. You don’t have to train with them every day; rather, run your harder workouts with them. There’s strength in numbers and there’s also a lot to be said for the benefits of pushing each other during a workout.

Another thing you can do is find runners who are faster than you are—runners that have run the time you are seeking to complete. Ask them how they did it. What was their weekly training routine? How many miles or kilometers did they complete every week? What kind of long runs did they achieve? How many miles/kilometers at goal pace could they string together before race day? What are some race-day tips that they can share with you? What was their nutrition like in training? How about before the race? What was their fueling and hydration plan? Was there anything they would do differently that they recommend?

Pick their brains about as much as possible. And if they are willing, see if they will let you train with them. It’s always beneficial working out with someone a little bit faster than yourself.

5. Go as long as you can in training and mix up the pace to fight boredom.

Your training plan should include at least one long, slower run a week. Long, slow runs are fantastic and safe ways to build up muscular strength. They prepare the body for the rigors of race. A good rule of thumb is to increase your long runs by approximately ten percent in distance every week.

And if possible, consider going farther than the half-marathon distance in one of your training session. An “over-distance” training run like this will fill you with confidence on race day. If your spirits flag and you begin to doubt yourself out on the course, you will always be able to say to yourself that you have run farther than this in training. Don’t worry about your pace in these training runs. The key is to simply cover the planned distance. If your long, slow runs bore you then think about injecting some short surges in the middle of the runs. These surges should not last more than a minute and should be accelerations at your 5K pace.

Spread the surges out in 10-minute intervals and don’t do more than six to eight surges total in your long runs.

What are your best half marathon training tips ?

Share your views in the comments 🙂


  1. ange2001@hotmail.co.uk' says

    Thank you for the advice, some things I should have thought about sooner. I would also suggest running at the same time as race day and practicing what you are going to fuel on as you don’t want to feel heavy or run a half on empty.

    • Marius Bakken, M.D. says

      Hi Ange,

      Good point, thanks for your comment ! I agree, working hard on the right fuel + getting the body used to this during actual workouts, is one thing that many miss out on.

      all the best,

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