Run a perfect race
Whether you are using the Perkins Great Eastern Run as stepping-stone to marathon success or as a standalone target race it really is great racing distance. Half marathons are the perfect way to push a few boundaries, run further or faster than before, yet are also a very realistic and achievable goal to work towards.
Don't take it lightly though; putting in some serious training miles and key workouts is a must to achieve a better half marathon.
Getting to the start line - your training:
A strong aerobic foundation is the mainstay of a strong half marathon. Over the last couple of months you should have been starting to rack up some steady road miles and learning more about what it means to run for longer.
You will probably have been heading out for a few runs each week, all at easy or steady pace and started to build up your longest run of the week. This is all great 'aerobic base building'. Yet if you're looking for that extra edge, to feel fitter and be better than before, or you'd like to make sure that you're not just going to finish but to do it to the best of your ability then you should know exactly what ingredients you need to include in your training week.
Pushing boundaries: push the pace:
Threshold running is your best friend for a great half. Running a better half marathon means being able to push the boundaries of comfort a little further that you might think is possible and running on the edge of your aerobic tipping point as effectively and efficiently as you can.
It's not like a marathon with its focus on controlled economy, nor a 5k where you are trying to run much faster. Running a great half marathon means opening the discomfort door a little wider and letting regular threshold running in. Threshold running is the type of running training you know you should do, but often don't! It's a pace typified by 'controlled discomfort' where a short snatched sentence is the most you can manage.
If you can speak with effortless flow you're not running fast enough, but if you're gasping for every breath you're over cooking it. Controlled pace in training brings about a stronger pace come race day. The fitter and stronger you get, the easier (relatively speaking!) your threshold runs will feel and you'll be able to cover a greater distance in the same time and at the same (or ideally lower) effort level.
Start by building the amount of time you are able to run at 'threshold' pace for by including some rest breaks then work towards being able to hold this intensity (pace/speed) for longer continuous runs.
Get to know your race pace:
The right training should see you really understand your pace and arrive at the start line with a clear grasp of how to run at your target race pace – whatever that might be. If your goal is to run sub 2 hours for the half marathon there's little point in not knowing what running 9min 09sec per mile feels like. Don't spring any surprises on your body on race day; it won't thank you for it by mile 9!
Understanding and experiencing your target race pace in your training will give you the confidence to set a challenging finish goal. But don't try and run the full half marathon at race pace in your training in the event build up. Assessing and understanding your potential race pace comes with repeated exposure (i.e., training) at paces close to your goal often with rest periods in between.
Knowing your race pace will help you practise this in training and get it right on race day. Try measuring out a mile course and running it at pace you think is a realistic race pace. What time did you do? Do you (honestly) think you could hold this pace for 13.1miles?
As the race draws closer practice this pace by completing longer runs (3-5-7 miles) at this pace. With the right training comes the best grasp of the right race pace. Get your race pace wrong in the early stages and the second half of your race could see you struggling, rather than finishing strong!
The biggest mistake many runners make is not including enough training of sufficiently high intensity to make a real difference come race day. Remember, your training is done to make your race day feel easier! Dull training is all done at the same pace, with little variety and stifles motivation.
Exciting training on the other hand is full of change, highly motivating and fun and much better for you! High intensity or 'speed training' really helps teach your body to tolerate anticipated race day pace, intensity and duration. Interval (or repetition) running really strikes firmly at the heart of this and is a cracking ingredient for a faster half marathon.
Great half marathon intervals build strength endurance, are between 3 and 8 minutes long and should be run at a pace that is quicker than half marathon and threshold race pace. They should be separated with varying amounts of controlled recovery depending on your phase of training.
Races as training. Mind over matter:
If you are using the half marathon as a 'training race' to run at marathon pace then you need a strong mindset. Don't be dragged into a much faster pace, know what your race goals are for that day and stick to the plan. If you know you are not disciplined enough to hold back the pace, then maybe a training race will not be the way forward for you.
Remember for you it is about the marathon and that is the day that counts. Don't worry about what other people do, or what they think when they see your half marathon result! Run your race. Where your half marathon is being used as a 'practice' race or as a 'B' goal to your later marathon or your 'A' goal you should allow at least 4 weeks between performances.
It's a good strategy to have 2 halves in a marathon lead up. The first is a training race, perhaps 8 weeks out from the big marathon day. It helps act as a benchmark for you, lets you practice pace and routines and gives you an indication of where you are training and preparation wise. You might even like to turn it into a long run and do few easy miles post race.
The second race, 4 weeks later, could be used to repeat these strategies to see how you have progressed or alternatively as a real 'go for it' race where you find out how fit you are. It's always tricky to accurately predict marathon targets from half marathon performances but you can use them as a goal. There are many other factors that influence race results.
For example, don't choose the hilliest half in Britain to try and run a half marathon personal best or predict a flat marathon time! As a very simple guide, you should be able to run a half marathon race (with a taper and with focus) 5-10 minutes faster than your marathon half-way target split time. (e.g. target marathon time = 4 hours Half split = 2 hours. Half marathon race time = 1hr 50-1hr55).
Running a fast half marathon is as much in the head and the heart as in the legs and lungs. Although your engine might be capable of running faster than you've run before if your mind isn't ready to go the distance then you may stutter mid race. Confidence to run fast in a race comes from confident training.
Give yourself race day confidence by completing workouts in training that prove your goal is attainable – just! Although negative thoughts may creep in mid-race when your legs are burning and your heart is pounding remind yourself that you've been here many times in training and can handle the pressure and the pace right through to the finish.
If you are doing a training run then the taper is not important for you at this point in your training as the aim of the race is to learn how to run at marathon pace on tired legs.
If you plan to race at your best then under no circumstances should you complete your hardest run in the last week leading into your half marathon. Your training has been done in the months and weeks prior to the event not in the final few days before it! Ten days before the event you will just want to 'ease down' or 'taper'.
This involves a reduction in the volume of your running in the week leading up to the race. Run for less time and less often than you would in a normal week. Practice your race pace for 2xhalf mile efforts and include a few short (30 seconds) acceleration runs 3 or 4 days before you race.
Don't be tempted to 'test yourself out' in the final few days before you race - if you've completed the training and the 'miles are in bank' your race will be a success!
Fuel your run - energy and hydration:
Don't think it's only marathon runners who need to think about energy and fuel to race well. It's important for half marathon running too. Only the faster runners (those inside 1 hour 20 minutes) can really consider taking on board no fuel during the run. The longer your run for the more important fuelling yourself becomes.
Everyone, regardless of target time needs to focus on pre race energy. Your body needs energy to run and this energy comes from the food you eat. On the day of the event you'll need to eat some breakfast. A full cooked breakfast 30 minutes before isn't a good idea! A light breakfast, some cereal, a bagel or toast 2 or 3 hours before the event is better and kick starts your metabolism and supplies your body with energy.
It's best to practice what you eat and when in your training runs pre-event to find out what works for you. Being a relatively small amount dehydrated (just 2%) has been shown to have a marked effect on endurance running performance so keep your fluid levels topped up pre race.
Have an energy drink on hand to sip in the hours before the race and take advantage of the energy drink stations out on the course to keep hydrated during the race. If you are running a marathon, halves are great races to practice your re-fuelling and hydration strategies and see how they affect your body. Use feed stations to practice drinking on the go.
Start line jitters:
It's natural to feel nervous on the start line when surrounded by other runners. The start line of any race isn't renowned for being the most positive place as runners share injury and ailment sob stories and tales of how bad training has inevitably gone over the past few weeks.
Remember, all is not as it seems, appearances can be deceptive and too much tight lycra and too many tight shorts don't make a great runner! Although we all like to be great listeners now is a time to block out the moaning and focus solely on your race. Clear your head and remember your reason for and focus on your target goal for that day.