You’ve done a handful of 5K and 10K races. You’ve heard your friends and every magazine out there tell you how fun and manageable a half marathon is. You are ready for a new challenge, and the half marathon is the next logical step. Despite all of this you’re still nervous, and I don’t blame you!
While I am here to tell you the half marathon is not an impossible distance, you should not step on the starting line without making sure you are fully prepared to take on the day. Like anything, there are a million and one ways to get from point A to point B. That said, if I could emphasize one thing in the half marathon, it is the art of pacing. The half marathon is a distance that unlike shorter distances requires you to be very conscious of pace. If you go out too fast in a 5K, you can usually muscle through a painful last half mile (and that is usually all you will have to muscle through). If you go out too fast in the half marathon, you could be suffering for a long, long time.
Here are three fundamentals to incorporate into your marathon plan that focus on the specific requirement of sustained and controlled pacing for this long-distance event. Be sure to include these workout types in your half marathon training to hit the start and finish line strong.
1. The Long Run (with a twist)
The long run in half marathon training has a lot more flexibility than the long run for the marathon. Since the half marathon is physiologically less taxing, I like to be very creative with long runs. I believe through this creativity you can train good pacing. I have two main ways I like to mix up the long run:
- Broken effort or “two-a-day”. Here you simply run twice with at least four hours in between runs. You can break this up as a longer run in the morning followed by shorter run later in the day, or as equal-distance runs. When starting out, keep the pace of these runs aerobic and stay in heart rate zones 1-2. You are simply adapting to the pounding and getting trained on smart pacing. Examples may be five miles in the morning followed by three miles in the evening or four miles in the morning and evening.
- Long run with a fast finish. Here we simulate race day fatigue and, again, pace awareness. In the first three-quarters of your run, you should be at an aerobic pace, so stay in zone 1-2. In the last quarter, you will gradually build your pace every few minutes such that you simulate that “tired leg” feeling so common in the final miles of any long event. When you do this think “light feet, fast feet” — relax your shoulders and breathe.
2. Tempo Efforts
The key to a good tempo-based run is pacing. An effective tempo run is sustainable and controlled. There are many ways to execute a good tempo-based workout, and to start I suggest two forms:
- Shorter 10K paced/tempo intervals. Examples include a 4-mile tempo at 10K pace/effort or 3-5×6-8 minutes at 10K pace with modest recovery (around one quarter of the work interval).
- Longer sub-half race pace tempo. Start with approximately half of your race distance (6-7 miles) and run at slightly under goal race pace (10-ish minutes per mile). You can progress this by adding distance or increasing your pace slightly. Be careful not to turn this into a 10K race.
3. Progression Runs
If there is one workout that will teach you pacing, it is the progression run. The name of the run is a dead giveaway as to how it is set up — you simply progress your pace from start to finish. A well-executed progression run has each mile slightly faster than the last. To do this you cannot start too fast and you have to be very aware of your effort and pace.
- Start modestly with a 4-5 mile progression and build to make a long run into a progression run (but do not confuse this with a long run with a fast finish). The first mile should be a warm-up and the second is still a very gradual build into comfortable pacing. From this point on, make each mile a controlled effort to notch the pace up slightly. When you finish a progression run you should feel like you are finishing strong, almost like you could extend the run another mile or two without strain.
These workouts are foundational in nature. They make up the backbone of a good half marathon training plan. If you can effectively execute these workouts you will have a heightened sense of proper pacing and confidence in your body’s capacity to shift gears when needed. Above all, your legs will be ready to tackle 13.1 miles with conviction!