Half Marathon Strategy

The Competitive Runner's HandbookThe following text is adapted from The Competitive Runner’s Handbook by Bob and Shelly Glover.

If you buy ONE running book in your life… buy it.  It has the answer to any question I’ve ever had about running, everything from starting out running right the way to running marathons!

Half-Marathon Logistics
Since a quick start isn’t needed and the length of the race is quite long, minimize your warm-up run. Running a few miles before the race hastens glycogen depletion. Jog a half-mile to a mile to loosen up. Include a few easy strides if starting faster than training pace. Racing shoes may be okay for those racing at faster than 7-minute miles. Lightweight trainers offer more cushioning for runners pounding the pavement for one and a half hours and longer. Hydrating during the race is essential, especially in warm weather. Glycogen depletion becomes a factor in races over an hour. Carbo-load going into the race and fuel up during it.
Half-Marathon Race Strategy
Racing half-marathons involves a compromise strategy between that of the 10K and the marathon. As with the marathon, it is important to be patient in the early miles. The pace may seem too easy after racing 10Ks and zipping through speed workouts at 5K pace and faster. But if you start too fast, you’ll use up extra fuel. The last few miles can really drag out if your glycogen tank is on empty. Sure, you won’t struggle for as long or as painfully as in the marathon, but a too-fast start will still bring enough agony that you’ll regret it.
The key is to run slightly below your lactate threshold (LT) so you don’t fatigue an hour or so into the race due to lactic acid accumulation. Push the pace above your LT (about 85-90% of maximum heart rate) at the start or along the way and you’ll regret that, too. The higher your LT, the faster you can run at half-marathon pace.
The first mile or two sets the tone for your effort. Going out too fast sets you up for failure. If you go out a bit too slowly, you have adequate time to make up for it. So it’s better to err on the side of caution. Don’t line up too far back in the pack. You’ll lose time getting to the starting line and weaving through slower runners. Look at the first mile as a warm-up. Run it at goal pace or slightly slower. This settles you safely under LT pace. Then you may choose to run slightly faster—but no more than 10 seconds a mile faster than your goal pace—to give yourself a bit of a cushion and boost your motivation to keep working hard.
By the second mile, start looking for your competitors. Try to flow along with a pack of runners if they’re running a pace that’s about right for you. Draft off the other runners, saving energy. Resist the urge to race too early. Don’t be lured into chasing your competitors if they’re going too fast. Let them go. Most likely you’ll catch up to them later—at your pace. Holding pace with reasonable effort shouldn’t be a problem for the first half if you’re properly trained, unless you tense up due to panic. But can you hold back the pace to reserve energy for the second half? Concentrate on staying relaxed. You have some room to let your mind wander, but don’t let your pace slip.
If your goal pace is tough during the first few miles, you’re in trouble. Either your goals were way higher than your fitness level, the course or weather are too difficult, or you’re just having a bad day. Try slowing the pace slightly. Perhaps you’ll feel better later in sufficient time to get back on pace. If not, adjust your pace and time goal. Stubbornly pushing ahead during the first half will lead to an even slower, more miserable second half. Look around you. You may be still doing well compared to your peers even if you’re not able to hold your desired pace.
To achieve your goal time you need to push the effort over the second half like you do in the middle miles in the 10K. This requires mental toughness since by halfway through the race you’re in unfamiliar territory with holding a pace at or near lactate threshold. You’re well beyond your 20- to 30-minute tempo runs. Move from runner to runner to help maintain a good pace, or “hitch a ride” when a competitor goes by you. Don’t be satisfied with just holding your place. Most likely many of the runners around you are slowing down. This presents a mirage. You think you’re on pace but you may not be if you’re slowing with them.
The first 10 miles are for pacing, the final 5K for racing. Use the 10-mile mark as a motivational landmark: It’s now only a 5K race. Reel in runners. Use runners up ahead as targets. Increase the effort slightly to gain ground on your competition and to keep from slowing from your goal pace. But don’t surge too much. That could push you over the threshold. The goal here is a steady push at your limit.
Gather your physical and mental resources for the final mile. You won’t be able to push it in as fast as in shorter races, but still you can gain ground on your competition and slice seconds off your finishing time with a strong final mile. Reflect on how hard the last few reps were in your mile intervals and the last mile in your long runs. You made it through the discomfort then and you will make it to the finish line of the half-marathon with mental toughness. Fight off fatigue by relaxing and focusing on good running form and controlled breathing.
Position yourself to change into your final gear over the last quarter-mile. That’s just a lap of the track. Even though you’ve been running for well over an hour, you can muster the energy to push for another 2 minutes or so. Remember this as you’re getting close to the finish line: In long races seconds don’t count as much as minutes, but a second or two can make the difference in being, for example, a 1:30 half-marathoner or a 1:29 half-marathoner. That is, run 1:29:59 and you can say you’re a “1:29 half-marathoner.” At 1:30:01 you’re just a “1:30 half-marathoner.”
Breaking Barriers–Goal Setting
Following are some time goals to motivate you. Running the approximate times listed for intervals and race distances predicts your ability to break the corresponding half-marathon time barrier.
The Sub-1:15 Half-Marathon (5:43 per mile)
Intervals: miles in 5:04-5:20, 3/4 in 3:42-4:00, 1/2 in 2:24-2:28.
Races: 10K in 34:20, 10 miles in 56:50, marathon in 2:41

The Sub-6-Minute Pace Half-Marathon (sub-1:18:36)
Intervals: miles in 5:15-5:35, 3/4 in 3:49-4:10, 1/2 in 2:29-2:34.
Races: 10K in 36:00, 10 miles in 59:30 , marathon in 2:48:30

The Sub-1:20 Half-Marathon (6:06 per mile)
Intervals: miles in 5:20-5:40, 3/4 in 3:55-4:14, 1/2 in 2:32-2:37.
Races: 10K in 36:30, 10 miles in 1:00:15, marathon in 2:50.

The Sub-1:25 Half-Marathon (6:29 per mile)
Intervals: miles in 5:42-6:00, 3/4 in 4:10-4:30, 1/2 in 2:42-2:46.
Races: 10K in 38:40, 10 miles in 1:04:00, marathon in 3:00.

The Sub-1:30 Half-Marathon (6:52 per mile)
Intervals: miles in 6:01-6:20, 3/4 in 4:24-4:45, 1/2 in 2:51-2:56.
Races: 10K in 41:00, 10 miles in 1:08:00, marathon in 3:11.

The Sub-7 1/2-Minute Pace Half-Marathon (sub-1:38:15)
Intervals: miles in 6:35-6:55, 3/4 in 4:48-5:11, 1/2 in 3:07-3:12
. Races: 10K in 44:45, 10 miles in 1:14:00, marathon in 3:30

The Sub-1:45 Half-Marathon (8:00 per mile)
Intervals: miles in 7:03-7:25, 3/4 in 5:09-5:34, 1/2 in 3:22-3:26.
Races: 10K in 47:50, 10 miles in 1:19:00 , marathon in 3:43.

The Sub-1:50 Half-Marathon (8:23 per mile)
Intervals: miles in 7:22-7:45, 3/4 in 5:23-5:49, 1/2 in 3:29-3:35.
Races: 10K in 50:00, 10 miles in 1:22:30, marathon in 3:52.

The Sub-2:00 Half-Marathon (9:09 per mile)
Intervals: miles in 8:05-8:30, 3/4 in 5:54-6:23, 1/2 in 3:50-3:56.
Races: 10K in 55:00, 10 miles in 1:31:00, marathon in 4:15

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3 Responses to Half Marathon Strategy

  1. Debs M-C says:

    I agree. It’s a fantastic book. One of few (running books) I’ve actually read from cover to cover.

  2. Pingback: Take time to progress your distance running | Lorn Pearson Trains…

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