Improve Your Half Marathon Time!

Om die Dam 2016 - Image Supplied

Om die Dam 2016 – Image Supplied


Old Mutual Virtual Coach Norrie Williamson explains how runners can improve their half marathon times.

When a runner experiences a stagnation of performance even though they are training regularly, it tends to indicate an imbalance in the training, or a need to change the training format to challenge the runner outside his or her current range of ability.

Without more information on the current training, and runners details, it is very hard to pinpoint what particular aspect or combination of aspects may be holding the runner back. For this reason a generic approach is presented that looks at possible training and racing flaws which hopefully may ring bells and lead to further analysis and change.

As with all distance racing there are two facets that must be trained: endurance and capacity.

It is one thing to be able to keep moving for the overall distance, but the ability to finish in a set time is dependent on our speed over the shorter distances – our “capacity” to run fast.

Endurance is achieved by easy low intensity running for extended times normally in excess of 75 minutes and a maximum of three hours.

The speed is typically developed through intervals and tempo runs.

A great way to commence an assessment of your training is to complete a mile test: Running as hard as you can to your best mile (1.6km) time, preferably on a standard track (but flat road, or grass is a second option) provides a reasonable and quickly achievable guide to current running potential:

For a 90-minute half marathon you would expect the 1.6km (mile) to be around 5:30 to 5:50.

If you are unable to get this time then it is probable that the quality work is missing from your training.

Many runners simply focus on running distance for all their training, and don’t put in the intervals, hills, and similar runs over 100m to 3000m that will not only add capacity, but also improve running muscle strength and improve style.

Quality Sessions 

This training needs to be at relevant paces to your current ability, so intervals of 500m and up will tend to be around 4 minutes per km which is the sort of 10km pace that you should be capable of. (A 40:15 to 40:45 time for 10km will typically equate to a flat 90 minute half marathon).

Shorter intervals would target a pace of 3:50 or 3:55 per km – which would see 400m being covered in 92 seconds.

The very short intervals of 100m and 150m are more about focussing on style and tend to find their own pace as the session goes on, but would be around 21 and 22 seconds per 100m, and typically would commence around 23 seconds and gradually feel easier as the session builds – not because of effort but due to fluidity of motion.

Of course, as the race gets closer a session where you run 6-12km at the projected race pace will help you to become comfortable at race pace. So 8km in 34 minutes in this case would assist towards a 90 minute half marathon. Running faster than this is destructive as it becomes more of a race, and given the distance and effort of these sessions it is best to restrict them not closer than 10 or 14 days.

Introducing two to three quality sessions, which mix these paces and distances, will generally bring the required improvement in the mile time to bring you on to track for the 90-minute half marathon.

Perfect Your Pacing 

On the other hand your mile time may well fit into 5:30 to 5:50 range but you still can’t hit the 90-minute target.

The most likely cause in this case is poor pacing. Have a look at your race splits over the flattest attempt to break the 90-minute barrier… how fast did you run the first section? Were you battling over the final 5-6kms?

This would be the most common error.

The ideal way to pace is to commence very slightly slower than desired pace for say 3-4km, then move into the desired target pace for the majority of the race, and finally to allow yourself to run as you feel and are able for the last 5km.

Since a road course is not usually pancake flat, we use effort as a guide, and so although the paces will be faster on the down and slower on the up, the race would start with slightly easy effort, move to average effort, and then you run as you feel for the final section.

All runners need to be sure they are training sufficiently in endurance training areas and in the case of a 90-minute half marathoner, the easy and long slow distances weekend runs would need to be around 5:05 to 5:15 per km for between 90 minutes to 2.5 hours. Note that this is around one minute per km slower than the targeted half marathon time: running faster has less benefit in endurance.

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This story supplied by the Old Mutual World of Endurance.


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