How to Train For the Half Marathon
Why the Half Marathon?
In 2008, Running USA reported that the half marathon is the fastest growing type of race. Last year consisted of 1.8 million finishers, a 14 percent increase. It’s a challenge for those who don’t have the time to make a full-commitment for a marathon and a stepping stone who those who do want to run a marathon.
Long distance races surprisingly are where the most mistakes are made. These problems stem from many things such as over-training and improper nutrition intake. Many runners also train inefficiently or incorrectly for races, not allowing them to reach their full potential. To prevent runners from suffering preventable injuries and inefficient training methods, here's what three-time Olympian Troop Lee and recreational runner/coach Michael Madison have to say about this unique race.
Preparing adequately is fundamental to achieving a personal best. Without enough training and effort put into preparing for the race, running a fast half marathon is practically impossible.
“There’s a difference between nagging calf tightness and fatigue from running, pain from a hard workout is temporary but pain from injury is there throughout the day so being aware of that can help you be proactive to resolving the issue.” - Michael Madison
Long runs, tempo runs, and interval runs are very different workouts but each run is vital for running a personal best for the half marathon. A long run is a slow moderate run that covers a distance longer than how much a runner typically runs. A tempo run is a steady fast-paced run that should be challenging but not too demanding.
Interval training consists of a series of short high-intensity bursts of energy with a brief to moderate amount of recovery time in between each burst.
“Intervals are the best way to build up endurance quickly,” Madison, who coaches and makes his runners do fartleks frequently for interval sessions.
Weekly mileage is an important aspect of training, too few miles could
result in a sticky situationwhile too many miles can leave someone injured or incapacitated right before a race.
“A good rule of thumb is not building up more than 10 percent from the previous week,” Madison said.
Troop and Madison both agree that weekly mileage should be based off of
previous mileage and the runner’s endurance base.
“I am at the very pointy end as [running] is my profession and I am running 120 miles a week,” Troop said. “Running 25-50 miles [a week] is a good start for the beginner to intermediate runner.”
It is generally agreed by coaches that a higher weekly mileage will strengthen a runner’s endurance base but too much too quickly will inevitably lead to an array of injuries, it is also important to understand that the quality of runs matter as much as quantity. It is also critical for runners to listen to their body as they run.
“You need to be careful that the pain does not lead to a major injury such as a muscle tear or a bone fracture,” Madison said. “Intervals should focus on quality for the ‘on’ and making sure you go easy on the slow because that’s the rest which allows you to improve during the ‘on’.”
Interval training sessions can be further split into two groups, with similar but distinguishable objectives.
“When you are trying to run the intervals fast it is good to have a longer recovery to help with your speed. When you are aiming for more of a quantity session, have a shorter recovery to help improve strength,” Troop said. “An example of interval workouts for my track athletes in
the winter could be 4-5x5 minutes with a two minute jog but in the track season we could do 12x400m with a one minute jog. One is strength/endurance and the other is speed/endurance. Both play a part in an athlete’s development but need to be implemented at the right time in your training cycle.”
Tempo runs train the body to maintain speed over distance and to use oxygen for metabolism more efficiently and is a run at a moderate to fast speed at a constant pace.
“You want the tempo run to feel like you ran solidly for a duration of time and were running in control,” Troop said. “A good way to know you are running too hard is if you feel like you will not be able to hold/sustain the pace. You should feel like you have just a little bit more left to give if you really had too.”
To find a pace for tempo runs, Madison suggests doing a 2400m test and plug it into the calculator found at gilbertsgazelles.com/calculator. He also advises running two miles warm-up before running four to seven miles at tempo pace. Troop suggests that tempo runs should be based on perceived effort.
“They are based more on feel rather than time/distance,” Troop said. In the end it depends on the runner, some may find that having a set pace can be distracting while for others it keeps them going.
While the half marathon doesn't require nearly as much endurance as the full marathon, it still crucial to running a fast half. When Madison is coaching his group, they do a long run every weekend that rotates between a “long” and “recovery” run.
“A typical half marathon progression would be 10 miles, then seven, then 11, then seven, then 12, then seven, etc,” Madison said. The recovery long runs are the same through the training, but the long runs increase by a mile each time. Troop also recommends doing a long run once a week, but he also reminds runners that it depends on the their fitness level and running goals. “A long run for someone may be five miles whereas for me a long run will be 20-22 miles,” Troop said.
For more information regarding these types of workouts, click on the link below:
Austin isn’t as nearly as cold compared to northern US cities such as Boston, but often it keeps many runners indoors.
“It’s never too cold in Austin to run,” Madison said. “Maybe sub-20 degrees but we never get to the point.” During the winter Troop recommends running during the middle of the day because it will be slightly warmer.
“But I have all day to train. Some people have jobs and when they have to
train it is dark,” Troop said. “Running on a treadmill in really cold weather can help.”
Whether someone should run indoors and outdoors depends on their schedule and personal preference/toleration.
In the summer, the afternoon running groups of the Glibert’s Gazelles foundation frequently run in temperatures above 100 degrees, the runners are constantly monitored to make sure they are hydrated.
“Key to running in heat is nutrition and hydration beforehand plus knowing your limits,” Madison said. “The times will never be as fast in the heat but you are making your body stronger and faster to run in colder weather.”
For runners less-accustomed to running through the extreme heat in the summer, Troop recommends running in the morning or at night.
Example Workouts Provided By Michael Madison
2 miles warm-up
20 minute warmup
3-4 miles running 1 minute fast (80% effort) and 1 minute slow (40% effort)
1 x 10 minutes at half marathon goal pace w/ 2 minutes rest
1-2 miles cool-down.
3 x 5 minutes at 10K pace w/ 1 minute rest between
A three-time Olympic marathoner runner from Geelong, Victoria, Australia, Lee Troop started his career as a long distance track runner. In 1999 he broke the Australian 5000m record,switching to marathon distance in 2000. He placed 27th in the 2004 Athens Olympic Marathon race with a time of 2:18:46. His personal best for the marathon distance is 2:09:49 (4:57 mile pace) and now lives in Boulder, CO.
Michael Madison started running in eighth grade for his school’s track team and ever since he has been running. In 2003, he made it into the state meet for the 400m. He currently is an assistant coach and business manager for Gilbert’s Gazelles, a foundation dedicated to improving living conditions for the inhabitants of Burundi. His best half marathon time was approximately 1:14, a 5:40 per mile pace.
I would like to personally thank both of these individuals as they both have extremely busy schedules and yet they took the time to provide advice and tips.
Week Prior to Race Day
The week prior to the Sunday morning of the race is susceptible to mistakes that could endanger the prospect of running a personal best. The week before the race should be tapered and the mileage reduced by 30-40 percent. Madison Madison advises carb loading on Saturday and and drinking at least 60-70 percent of one’s body weight in ounces (i.e. one ounce per pound so a 150 pound person aims for 80-90 ounces), meanwhile Troop suggests drinking two liters of fluid a day. The week before the race, the runner shouldn’t stop running altogether.
“The intensity should be the same but not for as long,” Troop said. “Getting more rest and sleep is important, maybe a massage to flush the muscles, stretching and hydrating. Nutrition is focused around getting value for the week of all training so not much needs to change for the half marathon. Cross training is a personal choice.”
Troop advises against paying attention to hydration just the day before
“Hydration comes from the days leading in and you need to be adequately hydrated,” he said. “A good rule of thumb is not to excessively hydrate leading into your race and if your urine is clear, you are over hydrated. You want there to still be a yellowish tinge. By over hydrating you will pass through all other nutrients and minerals that your body requires.”
Because the half marathon takes more than an hour to run, carbo loading is strongly suggested. Slower half marathon runners will definitely benefit and the general rule is four grams per pound. Madison ran his personal record of 1:14 at an approximate pace of 5:40 per mile after using carb loading as one of his pre-race routines.
“For a half marathon, carbo loading is not critical as the marathon. For
the half marathon it is still relevant but you can get by with carbo loading
just in 1 meal the night before.” - Lee Troop
How Many Times Have You Ran the Half Marathon?
During the Race
During the race, the most important things to pay attention to is pacing and hydration. Personally, Madison said he does not drink anything during a half marathon (or on long runs under 16 miles).
“My body is very much used to it,” Madison explained.
Someone whose body isn’t as adapted or someone who runs slower half marathons should drink water or gatorade during the race. He also recommends taking a GU energy gel every 45 minutes of running in a race.
“We tell our runners to just get one cup at the water stop and keep moving, alternating between water and gatorade at each one,” Madison said.
“Every race will have a drink sponsor so it is good to find out who it is and trial the product in training before using it on race day,” Troop said. “The hotter the weather the more water and/or drink with a higher sodium concentration but if the weather is cooler, then you can focus on having more of a carbohydrate concentration. In racing you should try to consume 150-200mL each five kilometers.”
Post Race Recovery
The day after the half marathon leaves some runners moderately sore while others stuck in bed all day. It’s important to get back to training as soon as possible, but returning to training too quickly can result in serious injuries.
“A runner should focus on maintaining range of motion and flexibility which can be achieved through dynamic stretching, yoga, light runs, and proper nutrition/hydration,” Madison said. “An ice bath is a good recommendation as is a general massage to flush everything out of your muscles. If you have done at least two to three half marathons, returning to running after one to two days shouldn't be a problem.”
“For me, I would do a 20 min warm down, hydrate, get a massage within 48 hours and easy running for two to three days to absorb the race,” Troop recalled. “Some may be too sore to run for four or five days so cross training, massage and keeping up good hydration is
Madison and Troop both advise listening to your body during runs, paying attention to your body can give many hints and clues. It can prevent many debilitating injuries.
“You need to be careful that the pain does not lead to a major injury such as a muscle tear or a bone fracture. You should consult a physical therapist when running in pain and discomfort,” Troop said.
“It’s something you have to learn with your own body. Smarter runners know when pushing is helping or hurting and they build up that knowledge over time. There’s a difference between nagging calf tightness and fatigue from running. Pain from a hard workout is temporary but pain from injury is there throughout the day so being aware of that can help you be proactive to resolving the issue,” Madison said.