• Mark Stanton

How to train for a Half Marathon - MensFitness UK

It must be understood that training programs for half marathons (or any endurance running race) are completely personal. There some key recommendations of what should be included in training for a half marathon and what works. However; distances, methods of training and frequency of training all depend on you (the athlete).

Some Considerations to take account of when you start training are:

  • Your training and race experience:- Have you done the distance before and is your body used to running the miles.

  • Your goals:- is your aim to just complete your first half marathon, do you have a target time or are you pushing to improve your PB

  • Your schedule:- How much time can you commit to training each week? There is no point setting your mind on a 6 day a week training program if you only have 2 days available to train.

Baring these basics in mind the answers to the following will try to cover 3 main target groups:

  • The First time Half Marathon runner

  • The Progressing Athlete - Someone with race experience but looking to build on a time.

  • The Experienced athlete - Someone who has a background in running and is pushing to shave fractions off of their PB.

1. What sessions do you need to do?

  • Long Run

Purpose: to build up the miles in your legs. The best way to get fit to run, is to run more. Running is a stressful activity for your muscles, joints and bones so you need to gradually build up the amount you do so your body can adapt to tolerate the half marathon distance.

Example session: 1 hour Steady pace run, set your speed so you feel able to hold a conversation whilst running.

Progression: Add 10 minutes every other session. Your initial target should be to run for longer than your target race time.

  • Intervals

Purpose: To develop speed and tolerance of working at a high intensity (threshold training). This is Done through repeated high speed intervals with adequate rest to allow for good repeated performance while testing the cardiovascular system and metabolic processes.

Example session: 1 minute fast run, 1 minute rest x 10-15 reps

Progression: 2 minutes fast run: 2 minutes Rest x 6-10 reps

Further progression - 4 minutes fast run : 3 minutes rest x 4 reps

  • Tempo

Purpose: To bridge the gap between speed work and long slow runs. Tempo runs are used to train at a fast pace for an extended period of time. This prompts your body to adapt to be able to maintain a higher intensity for longer without a rest. Physiologically this will improve your lactate threshold meaning you will be able to maintain a faster pace for a longer distance

Example session: 10 minutes warm up run (easy pace) 20 minutes fast paced run at ‘Tempo’ pace. This should be uncomfortable and you should not feel able to talk during this effort. The aim is to complete the effort though so learn to pace yourself. Finish with 10 minutes easy run for a cool down.

Progression: increase the Tempo pace duration to 30 and then 40 minutes. If you are getting faster through training you should find you are running further in each session anyway without increasing duration.

  • Strength and Conditioning

Purpose: To make your body more ‘robust’ to tolerate the stresses of running, therefore preventing injury. S&C can also to keep your body mobile and increase running specific strength which in turn can contribute to improved running mechanics and economy as well as power output.

Example session:

  • Active stretches

  • Isolated Glut, abductor and core Activations

  • Bilateral and unilateral Compound exercises (i.e. Squats, Lunges, Romanian deadlifts, Single leg balances, hops and squats)

  • Multi-planer core work (Plank, Side Plank, rotations, Palov Press etc)

  • Static Stretches through problem areas (including Hamstrings, Gluts, Calfs, Hips and Lower back)

Progression: Increase weights, do not be afraid to go heavy if under supervision. Heavy lifting has been proven to aid endurance performance. Advanced training can include running drills and plyometrics to aid with running economy and efficiency of ground contact.

2. What is the most important session?

This Depends on your current training status, training/competition history and goals for upcoming races. If this is your first race I would suggest that the longer steady runs will be the most important as I said earlier: to get better at running; run more.

Then Tempo runs even for a first timer will be useful to learn to effectively pace and push yourself. For advanced runners who have a good training base and can easily cover the distance Intervals and Tempo runs will become the focus to develop speed.

For all levels of athlete, there should always be some inclusion of S&C at very minimal just stretching and Glut/core work to aid the body in recovery and prevent injury.

3. How many sessions/how much distance.

This is entirely down to the individual athlete. I would recommend aiming for minimum three running sessions per week and one S&C session.

For a 1st time runner 2 of these runs should be working on building up distances at a steady pace while the other one would be more tempo based. As you progress one of these sessions could switch to another tempo session.

More advanced runners would add interval sessions and tempo runs in depending on what they need to improve and can use longer slower runs on recovery days.

As for mileage a good guide if you are doing 3 runs per week is working up to around 30 miles per week, if you are doing quality work then you should not need much more than this. A lot of top coaches use a maximum of 10% increase each week on total mileage so working back a ten week program could be something like: 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 30miles.

I would complete your interval and tempo sessions recording the distance you cover then finish your week with a long steady run to reach your mileage target.

4. How do you get faster?

There are three main components to running faster, these are:

  • Running Economy (technique)

How efficiently do you run? Do you waste energy decelerating each step or are you too stiff to extend fully through a stride. If you can get your body working efficiently then you expend less energy and can cover more ground faster for less effort. This can be improved through technique coaching, mobility and strength programs.

  • Strength and Power output

How much force can you apply to the ground with each step? The more powerful you are the faster you can run. A strong core also provides a stable base to push off from meaning less wasted energy. This can be improved through both specific S&C and speed intervals before learning to endure that new speed through tempo running.

  • Ability to tolerate work (a combination of Metabolic conditioning, Cardiovascular and muscular endurance)

The metabolic pathways are the methods by which your body produces energy, while your cardio system provides 02 to the body to allow these pathways to function. Finally the muscles can adapt to endure repeated stress and elevated levels of chemicals related to fatigue. So this is where longer intervals and tempo runs condition your body to be able to sustain a faster pace, training the heart, lungs to provide the muscles with the requied O2 and fuel to maintain an increased effort.

5. Where do most people go wrong.

The biggest issue I find with runners is with rest and progression. Less experienced runners try to do too much too soon while their bodies are not used to the stress, therefore they break down injured. While even experienced runners seem to have a negative view of rest.

My best advice is listen to your body rest when it needs to and allow yourself to put quality training in not just quantity. Keep your training program fluid so if you are not feeling tip top then swap in an easier session or a recovery day.

6. Learn from the elites:

Some of the training the elites do is out of reach of Joe blogs but there are a few key lessons to be learnt.

1. Quality over quantity: - first and foremost a half marathon is a race (against yourself or others) so speed is key not how far you can run. Train to get fast at the distance. Don’t just pound out pointless mile after mile. Each session should have a goal and justification.

2. Rest and recovery. We may not all have access to recovery pools or ice baths or massage (all of which may or may not work) but we can look after ourselves fine.

I do like the quote “the difference between amateur and professional athletes is the quality of rest not the quality of training”. Amateur athletes still have to work and function between training but give yourself the best chance to recover.

Simple things like stretching and or foam rolling before bed can make a huge difference as does cold water exercise, swimming or running so get down the pool as much as possible to de-load joints and muscles and flush out any nastys from muscles after training.

Thanks for reading, any questions please do comment below or get in touch.


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