Preparing for Half Marathon Success

Preparing for Half Marathon Success

If you’re struggling to break through a pace plateau, these workouts will help you build your base and get race specific.

Do you find yourself fighting to finish your races feeling strong? Are you putting in more work on the track and the roads but not seeing your average pace drop? Besides slowing down and spending more time away from Zone 3, you can do a few key workouts in your build-up that will tell you exactly where you are so that you can test your pacing, nutrition, and hydration strategies. Here are several tried and tested workouts that build confidence, test your endurance, and line you up for race day success.

From Base Building to Race Specificity

If you’re struggling to get your race time down and you’ve recently finished one or two training blocks, you likely need to take a few steps back to jump forward. When athletes come to me frustrated with the inability to break through a time barrier, the first question I ask is, “When did you last go through a base phase?”. 

As a distance runner, you are going to make the greatest improvements in your race day performance by increasing your aerobic capacity, so it’s important to truly build your base before you get specific. As you move into specific endurance workouts, any details you glossed over in your build-up will become clear as you start to get more specific. But once you’re two or three races deep into a season and the needle isn’t moving, you might need to get smarter in training for your next race. If you’ve built a solid foundation of base mileage, then these workouts and training tips will help move the needle.

Workouts for Half Marathon Success

Progression is everything in these workouts. Use this mentality to help teach yourself to negative split (aka, running faster in the second half than you did in the first half) in races. Remember, we race how we train. Train on terrain that simulates your race conditions, even if those conditions don’t allow you to perfectly hit pace in your workouts. If your race is rolling and hilly, use these workouts as simulations. Get specific!

Early Foundation | Diminished Recoveries

5x (5 minutes ON/ 1 minute OFF), 5x (7:30 minutes ON / 1 minute OFF), 8x (2:30 minutes ON, 30-45 seconds OFF)

These workouts build early general fitness, as the short recoveries don’t allow you to sustainably run faster than your threshold. At first, the recoveries can be standing static rest; but as you progress, make your recoveries active by jogging, fartleks, or broken tempos.

Progression Run 

5 miles (8 km) to 12 miles (20 km)

Becoming familiar with pace requires that you build your tolerance to threshold level efforts. When you’re early in your build, this is a great workout to start at marathon pace and progress down to your half marathon goal pace. When you’re deep into a training cycle, longer periods of half marathon pace that progress to 10K pace can be beneficial in simulating the pressure and strain of surging late in a race.

Over Threshold

2x (2 mile, 1 mile, 800m), 3x 2 mile, 4-7x 1 mile, Continuous Recoveries

To build confidence at race pace, athletes tend to benefit from having track intervals that are numerically defined (i.e., I need to hit 800 m at 3:20). Many would consider these workouts to be some of the most necessary building blocks for success. Longer sections at pace or threshold will probably fall around your 10-mile to 10K pace, which is especially taxing because static recoveries are removed. The continuous nature and “faster than threshold” work allows you to touch on 5K and 3K paces that feel fast and keep you sharp.

Specific Endurance | Continuous Mix

3x (2 mile @ pace, 800m @ marathon pace + :30), 3x (3 mile @ pace, 400 m @ half marathon pace + :30)

These intervals are long and need to be approached when you are well recovered and sharp in your training cycle, though they can also be used as a long run with a warm up and cool down. These types of workouts are ideal for testing your ability to take in fluids, consume nutrition, and manage your pace. The majority of these workouts are at your goal pace, which by now you simply can’t fake.

Testing Your Tools

If you test every piece of equipment in your repertoire prior to race day, you leave as little as possible to chance. By viewing your fitness as equipment, you can use these workouts to test yourself, your kit, and your fueling strategy to ensure that you’ve got every dialed in. The view I try to impart on my athletes is that it’s better to test new strategies, foods, and pacing in a workout where the impacts of failure are low, thereby leaving little room for error on race day. Occasionally, “failing” a workout (missing paces, stomach issues, etc.) can show you where your armor is weak. These are often great discussion points with your coach. If you never go too far, then you never fully understand how far you can go!

If you’re desperate to break through and you’re pushing yourself to the brink run after run, try taking a “run slower to get faster approach” to your running. Your mileage may be lower at first, but the aerobic benefit you’ll receive will outweigh this perceived loss. Try utilizing the workouts above to structure your training to see success at your next major race. Most athletes see a jump in fitness after four weeks, and the biggest jumps are made between four and 12 weeks.

If this seems like a lot of work, TrainingPeaks has a number of amazing coaches that you can get matched with who can help you reach your goals faster than you thought possible. To find a coach that’s a good fit for you check out the TrainingPeaks Coach Match Service.

Andrew Simmons

Andrew Simmons is a USATF Level 2 and TrainingPeaks Level 2 certified coach and the founder/head coach of Lifelong Endurance. Athletes who want to improve their race times in distance running have found major success with his Individual Coaching and Training Plans. Andrew resides in Denver, Colo., where he still trains as a competitive amateur. Follow Coach Andrew on Facebook , Instagram, and Twitter.