The Best Training Techniques for Scoring a Half Marathon PRApril 23, 2018
You cross the finish line after 13.1 miles, and now you’re ready for another go—and a faster record. Many training plans meant to help you snag that half marathon PR include days for speed intervals, cross-training, fartleks, tempo runs, and long runs. Those words may sound like secret runner language. Really, they’re all just different terms for pushing (or scaling back) your pace on the road. And there’s a place for most of them in your schedule. Here’s what the experts say about the strategic runs to add to your calendar, so you can score a shiny new half marathon PR come your next race.
Your Overall Schedule
“The most important thing is making sure you have the right combo of speed training, endurance training, hill repeats, strength training, and rest days. And be careful that you don’t overtrain,” says Aaptiv trainer and Ironman finisher Rochelle Moncourtois. That may sound like a lot, but most runs require just one day a week. Plus, contrary to popular belief, Moncourtois says that to run faster, you probably need to run less.
Moncourtois suggests this schedule: One day of speed training, one day of a tempo run, one day for a long endurance run, and add in hill repeats every other week. That means three to four days of running and two days of strength workouts or cross-training. Don’t forget at least one complete rest day. Follow this schedule for about eight to 12 weeks, building up your speed as you go. Now, as for what those training and rest days should look like …
Intervals for Speed Training
Yes, running a half marathon takes endurance. But to get to the finish line faster, you need to mix in speed intervals. Recent research demonstrates that doing so will improve your time to exhaustion, allowing you to go stronger for longer, and it will kick up your power performance.
Aaptiv trainer Ackeem Emmons says intervals are the best way to get that half marathon PR. “Intervals allow you to get comfortable with both sides of the spectrum—speed and endurance,” he says. “The more you practice, the more you improve.”
Moncourtois recommends building up the distance or time for each interval throughout your half marathon training plan. For instance, in the first week, you may do three 400-meter pushes. Then four 400-meter sprints the next week, five the following, and so on. Or if you’re going for time, say a one-minute sprint and one-minute recovery, you may do eight rounds the first week, ten the next, and so on.
As for your pace during those sprints, consider your goal. If you clocked your last 13.1 in two hours and ten minutes, and you hope to break two hours this time around, then shorten your sprint speed by one minute (for example, a nine-minute mile to eight minutes).
Your Medium-Distance Runs: Tempo Style
Make your midweek run tempo-based. This means pushing your pace for an extended period of time (but not as fast as a speed interval). You should clock about five to eight miles during this run, Moncourtois says, and increase the mileage each week. An example of a strong tempo run is five minutes of light jogging, ten minutes at a pace that’s 20-30 seconds faster than your half marathon goal pace, and then ten minutes of light jogging. As the plan progresses, you’ll add more time to that tempo section, which also equals more miles.
Slower Endurance Runs
A common mistake people make when training for distance races is going too fast during that long run. Moncourtois suggests taking your stride a full 60-90 seconds slower than your goal pace during this long run, in which you’ll build mileage each week. “Make sure you pull back on that long endurance day. A lot of people have a hard time with that. But you don’t have to go faster during all your training to go faster in the race,” Moncourtois explains. “You want to keep your heart rate steady throughout the run. The goal is to feel like you can still keep going at the end.”
Cross-Training and Strength Training Days
Keep your body active and strong—without repeating the same motion of running over and over. To do this, you’ll need to save some days for weightlifting and cross-training, aka any type of cardio that isn’t running. According to Moncourtois, that could mean boxing, spinning, swimming, or rowing because you’re still working on your endurance but switching up the muscles you use.
As for strength, try exercises such as squats, lunges, and push-ups to build muscles that will help you perform better on the road, Moncourtois suggests. Core exercises are particularly important for runners, so don’t ignore activities such as planks, sit-ups, and Russian twists.
Rest Days Are Just as Important
Don’t think of a rest day as an indulgence—it’s a crucial part of the plan to get you to the finish line faster. “Rest and recovery are just as important as training,” Emmons says. “To put it simply, we break to build. Adding excess stress and load to the body does help you get stronger and faster. But it’s only when you rest and nourish the body that you get optimal results.”
On these days, limit your activity, but feel free to spend some QT stretching with a foam roller or on a mat, Moncourtois says. Then go chase that half marathon PR the next day.