Posted by: Dean Hebert | September 16, 2008

Training: How do I get faster at the half-marathon?

Coach Dean Hebert

Coach Dean Hebert

Here is an inquiry if from a reader named Leslie B:

I have run five half-marathons and done five triathlons. I recently did a Half-Ironman. I’m doing half-marathons in mid-October and late November. I’m up to the distance. What would you suggest I do for my long runs until then? I would also like to start running faster. What suggestions do you have on interval training? My PR half-marathon is 2:11. The last one that i ran was 2:17. I guess my goal would be between 2:05-2:10. What would you suggest I do for that??

Leslie, congratulations on all you’ve done. It looks like you’re ready to take the next step in development and get faster. So, let’s analyze what you’ve done and where you need to go.
You have conditioned yourself for endurance. You can continuously move for long periods of time – in fact far longer than your current goal distance of the half-marathon. So, more endurance training is not your key to improvement, a conclusion you also have obviously come to.

The key to running faster is: running faster. (Funny how that works huh?)

The first element is targeting your goal pace. Take your goal time (2:05) and you establish your goal pace (9:32/mile). This pace plus or minus about 10 seconds (9:22-9:42/mile) must be practiced to become efficient at that pace. Efficiency is pace specific. Lots of slow running will not make you efficient at this pace.

Gradually increase the number of miles you run per week at this pace. It should be chunked into smaller runs (starting as low as 2 or 3 and up to 8 or as much as 10 in a training run… but no more). These workouts are not run every day. You still need your easy runs and/or cross-training days between these and your interval workouts.

The second type of workout you mention is indeed the other key – interval or other types of speed workouts. It is hard to establish your specific pace without doing a time trial assessment. What I can tell you is that it will be about your 5K race pace (and often just faster depending on the individual).

Each week, one workout should be on the track. (Though it can be done on the roads it is not as productive for many reasons.) You can start with 400 meter repeats and gradually increase them to mile repeats. The rest break between them will vary depending on the individual’s condition and more. It is difficult to be completely specific without doing an assessment and designing a full program for you. However, I can offer that the 400s might be a minute rest between 12 repeats and as you get to the mile repeats it will lengthen to as much as two or three minutes. But, most important is that over time you gradually increase the total amount of these quality miles until they add up to about 20% of your total weekly running miles.

There are other ways to get quality runs in also: speedplay, hill repeats, tempo runs. But, to keep things simple, I would recommend sticking with track intervals. You will be able to quantify your improvement far better and make objective (such as rest interval time or work interval distance) adjustments along the way.

Finally, use your October half to test yourself on pacing and racing this distance. Then, take your lessons learned and apply them in November for an assault on your PR!

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Coach Dean Hebert, Tempe Arizona, USA
Contributing Editor
Running Advice and News


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