Anyone who knows me will know that the half marathon is without doubt my favourite race distance. Don’t get me wrong, the thrill of finishing a full marathon is incredible but for most people finding the time needed to train for a half marathon is far easier than that needed for a full marathon. You’re still looking at a structured 12-16 weeks but you are far less likely to lose friends, fall out with family members and falling asleep at work. The Brighton Half Marathon (my neck of the woods) falls mid to late February, so the weather is normally the biggest challenge buy hey, that’s what base layers are for. Sop, without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the most important elements of training for a half marathon.
Estimated Finish Time
Whether this is the first time you run a half marathon or a long awaited opportunity to try and beat your PB (personal best), the key word from this point on is preparation. Successful preparation relies on having a clear goal. “I just want to finish” may have been what gave you the confidence to sign up, but in our experience one of the most important ways to avoid injury and enjoy the day is calculate your estimated finish time and organise your training around it.
How Do I Calculate My Estimated Finish Time?
Your target finish time can be calculated easily from your current 5k time (3.1 miles). The hugely popular parkruns (free, weekly, 5km timed runs all over the UK), provide a wonderful, fun orientated opportunity for you to get used to running in a timed event and more importantly see how long it currently takes you to run 5k. The table below shows an estimated finish time for a half marathon based on your current 5k time, presuming you do a suitable 16 week training program.
These estimated finish times are created using surprisingly accurate scientific logarithms. Some sites online provide calculators where you just enter your recent 5k time, hit the button and bingo… there’s your estimated finish time for a half martahon. Check out the Runner’s World Race Time Predictor by clicking on the link.
Once you have an estimated race time, you can now calculate your estimated race pace. This is important because despite what you may think, training for a half marathon is not just about running a bit further every time you go out until you finally reach 13.1 miles. To be able to last the 13.1 miles without fatiguing, your weekly sessions are going to use different paces.
Pace is measured in how many minutes it would take you to run a mile. Most of us could probably run 100 metres in under 15 seconds, equivalent to a 3 minute 45 second mile pace. However, only a handful of runners in the world can maintain that pace for a whole mile. Elite runner Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea maintains a 4 minute 28 second pace for 13.1 miles, which is why he holds the half marathon world record of 58 minutes 23 seconds. Florence Kiplagat of Kenya runs a half marathon at 4 minute 35 second pace, setting the female half marathon record of 60 minutes 5 seconds.
In the table below, we have expanded the original table to include your current 5k pace (in miles and km) and corresponding estimated race pace. The pace you run your half marathon will obviously be slower than the pace you run 5k in. This is massively important in half marathon preparation as many new runners merrily set off at their 5k pace thinking that eventually they will be able to maintain that for 13.1 miles. It doesn’t happen that way. In fact, you may be pleasentkly suprised at how slowly you need to do your long run sessions (see on)!
You can also calculate your estimated race pace by using an online calculator. Just enter your estimated race time, hit the button and bingo… there’s your estimated race pace. Check out the pace calculator at Coolrunning by clicking on the link.
Ok, congratulations if you have got this far. Armed with your estimated race time and pace, you are already far better prepared than a lot of runners going into a half marathon. Let’s now see how all of this fits into building a training plan. A quick search on Google results in a multitude of training plans offered for all race distances; plans for beginners, intermediates, advanced; plans lasting 10 weeks, 14 weeks, 18 weeks; plans for the busy girl, busy mom, super dad… the list goes on. There is no magic generic formula that will provide you with the perfect training plan. How you best organise your training, the time of day, choice of day, order of days, quantity and position of rest days, etc. is individual to you.
What is important is that you choose a plan that incorporates a suitable combination of aerobic fitness training and neuromuscular fitness training. This may sound complicated but at the end of the day it just boils down to having a suitablemix of short fast runs, slow long runs and strength training.:
Aerobic Fitness – the ability of the body to use oxygen
To sprint a short distance (less than 200 hundred metres), your body uses a rapidly produced but short lasting supply of energy that does not need oxygen (anaerobic). However, when energy is required for a longer lasting distance run, the body uses an aerobic system (requires oxygen) as the amount of energy released is far greater, plus the system can use fat, the body’s most abundant energy source. The greater your ‘aerobic capacity’, i.e. the ability of your body to use oxygen (also known as VO2max), the more energy can be created. Building mileage volume is vital for aerobic capacity improvement, and this is achieved by combining what you do in the rest of the week with one weekly long run, initially at a pace 30 seconds slower than your estimated race pace.
Keeping your legs moving in an efficient manner and resisting fatigue is dependent not on your aerobic capacity but on your neuromuscular system, i.e. communication between the brain and your muscles. Once you fatigue, your running form starts to deteriorate and even if you have the aerobic capacity to continue, the fall in running economy will hinder your overall performance. Therefore, although aerobic fitness is a huge factor in distance running, neuromuscular fitness must be developed alongside. This is where you will need your sprints (elevated pace), hill sprints (maximum pace) and conditioning exercises (including plyometrics and technique drills).
Training Plans Are Not Set In Stone
Though it is important to follow a training plan, it is even more important to remember that it is not set in stone. A training plan cannot predict how your body is going to react from day to day. You have to learn to listen to your body and be prepared to make adjustments if needed. This does not of course mean stay in bed if you are a bit tired, but be ready to replace say a planned session of steep hill sprints with an easy run if you suddenly find yourself with unexpected muscle/joint pain, or unfamiliar levels of fatigue.
Warm Ups, Cool Downs and Conditioning Exercises.
We cannot stress enough how valuable a tool the warm up can be in both reducing risk of injury and an opportunity to add a few important strengthening exercises which will allow your body to efficiently stabilise your joints during running and maintain good form. Too many runners think that by sacrificing the warm up, cool down or strength exercises they will gain more time to devote to maintaining a high weekly mileage. Although progressing to a suitable weekly mileage volume is necessary to improve aerobic capacity, neuromuscular fitness is just as important if you wish to increase your mileage whilst maintaining efficient form and avoiding injury. Sacrificing the warm up, cool down or strength exercises is not the answer. You’re better off running for 15 minutes less if that’s what it takes to fit in your warm up/cool down. Alternatively, try getting up 15 minutes earlier!
The following videos will give you some ideas of what to incorporate into your warm ups. There is also a demonstration of Foam Rolling for use in cool downs and recovery:
DYNAMIC WARM UP PART 1: THE LUNGE MATRIX
DYNAMIC WARM UP PART 2: LEG SWINGS AND TOE PUMPS
Need A Training Plan Or 1:1 Coaching?
If all of this preparation has sounded a little bit daunting, don’t let it be! At Studio57clinic we can support you in many ways, including bespoke training plans, running technique analysis and coaching:
- Creation of a training plan
- 1:1 or group strength conditioning
- 1:1 or group outdoor coaching
- Injury Treatment
- Video Gait Analysis