Ask The Expert

How To Run A Half Marathon (Expert Tips)

We asked a selected group of experts for their tips when it comes to training for and preparing for a half marathon

How To Run A Half Marathon
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Are you thinking of running a half marathon?

A half marathon is 13.1 miles or 21 kilometres, and it’s one of the most popular distances for both elite level and amateur runners.

So, what are some of the key things to bear in mind as you target the half marathon distance?

We asked a selected group of running and fitness experts for their top tips when it comes to preparing for and running a half marathon.

Here is what they said.

A Half Marathon Can Be A Perfect Distance

Rachel Cliff, Long Distance Runner and Tagalong Pro Running Coach

For many runners, the half marathon can be a perfect distance: it’s long enough that the race itself and the training leading into it will be a journey, while still being short enough that you have less of the risks and heartbreak associated with the gruelling full marathon.

Runners who have traditionally focused on the 10k might find their shorter personal bests actually improve after running a half marathon, or it can be a great stepping stone on your way up to a marathon, if this is an eventual goal of yours.

As an elite athlete, a half marathon is always a treat because it is not an Olympic distance, so the pressure is somewhat lower in this event and it can serve as an opportunity to test yourself.

I ran my first half marathon in Vancouver in 2014, and between 2017 and 2020 I raced the distance 11 times. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.

Training: Equally, if not more important, than the race is the training to get there.

What your training will look like depends largely on your prior experience, injury risk, and goals. Because of this, it’s often best to work with a coach who can tailor an appropriate program for you. That said, your training should generally be divided into four parts:

1) Easy runs: Over the course of your program, you can use these runs to round out your weekly mileage and get your body used to running more.

As a general rule, it’s best to increase your overall volume by about 10% each week then take a lower mileage week every third or fourth week to let your body adapt to the training. Easy runs should be stress free, fun, and, as the name suggests, easy.

2) Workouts: Depending on your experience level, 1 to 3 sessions a week could be spent doing a workout where you do some intervals or a portion of your run at, or faster than, your goal pace.

If you want to try any fuelling during your half marathon, the workouts and long run are the time to experiment with this.

3) Long run: Once a week, try to run for longer than your other days. If you’re an experienced runner, these runs should be longer and slower than your goal race.

If you’re a novice runner looking to run your first half marathon, you can use this run to build stamina and save the half marathon distance for race day.

4) Recovery: When training for a half marathon, go easy on your body! Stay hydrated, well fuelled on a balanced diet, be sure to get enough sleep and remember to see your physio or take a day off if anything comes up.

Getting to the start line healthy is key; never underestimate the importance of recovery!

Racing: On race day, smile and remind yourself that the tough part is (mostly) behind you. The key here is to not overthink things.

Lay out your race kit, fueling and backpack the night before – it will help minimize your stress the next morning. Do not try anything new nutrition wise the night before the race.

Fuel using a similar type of meal that sat well during your training, same with your race day breakfast. Be sure to look at a course map and visualize how you want to feel at each 5km (3 mile) marker so that when the race starts you can stick to your plan.

It is always helpful to set an A and a B goal so that if race day doesn’t go as planned, you can still build momentum from the experience.

One of my favorite parts of these longer races is that because you need to pace yourself. the first half of the race typically feels in control and fun, so be sure to smile and enjoy the scenery & race atmosphere while you’re out there.

I find that by the time the race gets tough I’m already committed to the process so the pain is not too bad!

Most importantly, be sure to congratulate yourself after the race; whatever the outcome, completing a half marathon is a huge accomplishment!

Man Running On Road

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Build Up Slowly

David Nickum RRCA Running Coach and Owner Of onthegofitnesspro.com

1) Build a base: Building an aerobic base is the most important thing you can do as a run for any distance over one mile.

This is because aerobic training helps develop slow twitch muscle fibers. Slow twitch muscle fibers allow energy to be produced faster which will help prevent fatigue.

2) Lose weight: Being five to 10 pounds lighter can help with running economy which allows us to run faster without as much effort.

Experts suggest that most people expect around two seconds per mile of improvement for every pound of weight that you lose. So if you’re able to drop 10 pounds, this can make a huge difference.

If you’re already at a low weight, this tip doesn’t apply to you.

3) Build up slowly: When starting a half marathon program it’s important to start slow. If you go out and do 40 miles a week without a proper build-up, you will end up burnt out or injured.

If you’re new to the half marathon try starting with 10 miles a week. Add 10 per cent to your mileage until you get to the desired volume.

4) Use the 80/20 method: One of the biggest mistakes that people make is that they run their easy runs too fast and this leaves them burnt out when it’s time to do things like speed work or tempo runs.

Make sure to run your easy runs easy at a conversational pace or a heart rate below 150BPM. Using the 80/20 method will help prevent plateaus and keep the training fun.

Man Running

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Give Yourself Plenty Of Time To Train

Jordan Duncan, Owner of Silverdale Sport and Spine

When preparing for a half marathon, beginner runners will want to make sure they have plenty of time to train.

There are many excellent training programs in books and online, and I would suggest finding one that suits you.

Most half marathon training programs are three to four months long and they often require a starting point of being able run two to three miles without stopping.

Working up to this entry level milage is a great way to jumpstart your training. These programs gradually increase weekly mileage, thereby decreasing the likelihood of overuse injuries.

With respect to training, you will get out what you put in. Set aside the time, follow the program as best you can, and you will set yourself up for success on race day.

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