How to train for a Half Marathon Part 2: Peaking
This is the second part of our half marathon special from HIGH5's Running Experts, RunningWithUs. It covers the second phase of your training in the build up to the big day with top tips on running economically and staying healthy.
The crucial phase 4-6 weeks from race day is when you will start to really push your training forward as you see the fitness gains from those early foundation weeks bed in. Consider some of our top tips for these crucial weeks:
The economy matters
‘Running economy’ in simple terms relates to the energy demand and how much oxygen you need to run at your given race pace. Through careful training you can run your desired race-pace whilst minimising energy or oxygen consumption. Include some race pace efforts into your long run. Testing your energy systems by running your planned race pace towards the end of your long runs can be a great way to improve your running economy.
Try these sessions:
A) 1hr 45 minutes with the final 60 minutes run as 3 x 15 minutes at half marathon pace with 5 minutes recovery
B) 21km with the final 10km as a 10km race at half marathon pace
C) 25km run as a progression of 5km easy / 5km half marathon pace / 5km easy / 5km half marathon pace / 2km hard / 3km easy
Use your week
It can get tempting to focus on your long run as the key measure of your fitness before your half. In fact using your midweek runs cleverly in these crucial weeks will have as much of an impact as the long run. Break your routine of just easy and steady mid-week efforts by getting out and trying something with a bit more quality.
If you are short on time around work, focus on quality. A lot can be achieved in a 45 minute run! 15/15/15 is our favourite for a highly effective, short mid-week session – that's 15 minutes easy, 15 minutes steady, 15 minutes at 3-4 word answer effort. Or 45 minutes with the final 25 at half marathon pace. You could even try an interval session, such as 8 x 3 minutes: run the odd numbers at a little faster than half marathon pace, the even numbers at 5km pace and take 75 seconds for recovery.
These crucial last few weeks can be a delicate time. You will be fitter and stronger but also carrying some fatigue and soreness from training. It can be tempting to keep pushing, adding more volume, but you may find that you are regularly picking up niggles, or getting sick.
Cross trainers, rowing machines and aqua jogging can supplement your running and even replace sessions if you are injured. Maintain the same time and effort levels as your running plan. Use a heart rate monitor to hit the same efforts your would if you were out running. Also ensure you are recovering well immediately after hard sessions. Consider using HIGH5 Recovery Drink in the crucial 10-20 minute window after these harder sessions which will help stimulate and promote the recovery process.
Don’t get daunted by the volume and the goal. 12-16 weeks of training can seem a lot, so try to break down your half marathon goal with intermediate target races. This will also allow you to get used to running around other people and learn the patterns and routines you will want to replicate on your main race day.
Enter a 5km race, perhaps a parkrun, 4-6 weeks into your plan. Then try a 10km race, 3-4 weeks before your target half marathon. You might even consider running a 10km race at your planned half marathon heart rate, with 20-30 minutes easy running before, and 20-30 minutes easy after the race to make a tough, but confidence building long run. Racing in training is also a great time to practice your race day nutrition. Using HIGH5 Energy Gels at the start and half way through your 10km, will help you feel confident and strong with your strategy on race day itself. Also check out our half marathon nutrition guide.
Sharper, fresher, faster
Tapering simply means cutting back your training in a planned way to ensure you arrive at the start line fit, strong and fresh. We recommend maintaining the pattern of training you have established through the last 10-16 weeks of your training. So if you currently run 3, 4 or 5 times a week, continue to run 3, 4 or 5 times a week in the final two weeks before race day. Combining a familiar pattern of training with a reduced volume and a drop in the intensity on each run, you will find you can build up your energy levels without getting rusty.
Aim to reduce the volume of your training by about 30% two weeks out from race day, and to about 50% in race week itself. Also check out our article on tapering.
Sleep your way to success
When you sleep, your body moves through different sleep cycles. The magical, deep sleep phase is when growth hormones are released. This will help you recover from your training, build more muscle and help cellular regeneration. However it takes several hours to get to this phase of your sleep so if you are regularly getting less than 8 hours a night you are limiting your body’s ability to adapt to all the hard miles you have put in.
Aim for 20-30 minutes more sleep a night during your taper. Banish smart phones, tablets, TVs etc from the bedroom. Limit big meals, alcohol and caffeine late at night and aim to get into a good, regular pattern of early nights in the final days before racing.
Whilst you want to arrive at the start line fresh, it can be easy to cut back too much and feel rusty and sluggish when the gun goes off. Aim to maintain some lighter faster sessions in the final two weeks to keep the legs moving!
On the Saturday 7-8 days before your race, consider having a go at a parkrun. Aim to run hard and get the legs moving. This will build confidence and help you to remind yourself of your pre-race routine.
You body needs good stores of carbohydrate to race well over the half marathon distance. Ensure that your not getting hungry at any point in the final 3-4 days before the race and digging an energy hole for yourself.
Try this: Monitor your fuel intake closely and aim to snack every 2-3 hours on high quality carbohydrates. HIGH5 Energy Bars can be a great option if you feel you are struggling to get solid carbohydrates in. HIGH5 Energy Drink is another great option in the final two days before the race to top up those energy stores.
Take away tips:
1. Build up your strength
2. Include a threshold run once a week
3. Be patient with your training and increase gradually
4. Increase your running economy
5. Cut back in the last few weeks, but stay sharp
Vincent Boit in 2015
Amanda Crook in 2013
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