Q: What’s the most effective way to train to shave time off my half-marathon PR?
A: So you’re determined to max out every ounce of fall’s weather and squeeze in a final half marathon before you’re forced to treadmill train. After all, who wouldn’t want to enter the winter swiping one last strong finish under his belt?
But beware. Overtraining or training the wrong way could dock minutes off your time. According to running coach and former Olympian Jack Daniels, who’s now an associate physical education professor at A.T. Still University, you should stay away from sprints in training. “You won’t be running the race that fast,” he says. “Plus sprinting makes you lose all form and good mechanics.” Finish your endurance season strong with these nine tips on shaving time off your half-marathon PR.
1. Go On ‘Easy Runs’ – Make sure to build an easy run into your weekly training. Give about 70 percent effort and try to cover a third of your weekly mileage. Although the speed might feel sluggish to you, don’t worry; it’s a good thing. You heart works the hardest (and best) when you’re working at a 60 to 65 percent effort.
2. Master The Mechanics – Consistent breathing is just as important as a steady stride, so practice your breathing mechanics with repetition runs. Here’s how you do it: Run for 30 to 60 seconds, then fully recover for three times the length—this will ensure you focus on good stride, relaxed form, and easy breathing with every rep. You can run between 5 and 10 repetitions a few times per week, but just make sure they make up less than five percent of your weekly mileage.
3. Catch Your Breath – Skip the urge to take quick, shallow breaths. Instead, follow a 2,2 breathing rhythm. Take two steps (right, left) while you breathe in and two steps (right, left) while you breathe out. Not sure if you’re running too fast? Try this test. On an easy run, you should be able to follow a slower 3,3 breathing rhythm. Can’t? Slow down.
4. Train Anaerobically – Once you’ve done a few races, push yourself with interval training. Run hard for three minutes, then rest for two at a speed you could race at for 12 to 15 minutes. New to intervals? Try running relatively hard for ten right foot falls, then walk for five or push yourself to jog for ten. Repeat by increments of 10 up to 100, and come back down. Because you’re not tracking miles, this workout gets your mind off of immediate mile markers.
5. Push Yourself – For the biggest benefit, train with threshold training. Go out for runs that incorporate sets of six to 20 minutes at a pace 12-20 seconds faster than the pace you’re planning to run the half. (If you’re running shorter sets at pace, run 4-5 sets. Or, choose 1-2 sustained sets at for a longer time frame.) This sustained pace at threshold mimics the benefits of explosive cardio training, so your legs will get used to the pace and you’ll be able to run more comfortably in your desired race pace on race day.
6. Forget Runs Less Than 30 Minutes– A 10 to 15 minute run means you’re likely spending more time showering and changing clothes, so for a real benefit, pick up the mileage and put down the soap. Try to get to the point where the least you run is 30 minutes. That way, you’ll have a solid sustained cardio foundation to work from on race day—the extra mileage pays off because your body will be used to sustained running. Anything below 30 minutes will likely be a waste of time.
7. Focus on rate, not length, of stride – Don’t try to lengthen your stride (it’ll happen naturally as you become more fit). Instead, focus on turnover rate—the number of steps you take per minute. “All good runners turn over 180 times a minute, which is about 90 right foot falls per minute,” says Daniels. “But beginners tend to lope along instead of rolling along at around 80.” The slower your turnover, the harder you're hitting the ground upon return, so shuffle—don’t bound.
8. Land Naturally – Forget the forefoot hype. Seventy to 75 percent of mediocre runners land rearfoot or midfoot, which tends to be more comfortable and economical. Running barefoot or training in a minimal shoe? The lack of cushioning promotes forefoot running, which puts more stress on your calf muscles—not ideal if you’re prone to shin splints. Rearfoot striking, on the other hand, can put more stress on the quads and knees.
9. Think big picture – Look towards the long term instead of focusing on just one race. Have a non-time related goal for each run. Try to start slower, run with a partner, breathe through the whole race, or turnover faster. You’ll accomplish your goal and won’t even worry about finish time.