7 steps to improving your half marathon time

If you’re taking on the full SuperHalfs series, it’s only natural that you’ll want to try to improve your finishing time over the course of the five events. 

The half marathon distance should not be underestimated, as it can be hard to get your pace right over 13.1 miles. You can’t go out as quickly as you might do for a 10k, but at the same time the slower pace you’d approach a marathon with won’t work either. 

So how do you judge it to perfection to make sure you secure a new PB at every SuperHalfs event?

Keep your training sessions varied

If you do the same training sessions week in, week out, two things will happen.

First, you’ll quickly become bored of training, and you’ll be far more likely to skip runs or not give your sessions the full effort they require.

Second, your body will get used to the consistent routine of similar training sessions, and your progress will grind to a halt.

The key to improving as a half marathon runner is to vary your workouts and use training days for different sessions. Keep it varied, and more importantly keep it fun, and the improved speed will come naturally.

Long runs for endurance

Long runs are the bread and butter of a half marathon training programme, and you should be doing one most weeks.

They should be run at a steady, slower pace to build up and maintain your endurance and mileage. Aim for something around 90-120 seconds per mile slower than your target race pace. This might feel slow, but you’ll be glad of all of these steady miles you have in the bank come race day.

Long runs are fantastic for building up your endurance levels, and will benefit you in a whole host of ways both physically and mentally.

If you’re an experienced half marathon runner, you could even gradually increase your weekly long run to over half marathon distance to improve your endurance levels even further.

Practice running at your lactate threshold

Tempo runs are training sessions run at a pace that is at your lactate threshold. What’s that? Well, it’s the level at which your body is just about able to dispose of the lactic acid generated in your legs by the speed of the run. 

It’s a fine balance though. 

Too slow and you won’t reach the threshold. Too fast and you will hit the lactate wall in your legs and be forced to slow down. 

Practice makes perfect on this one and you will hear many runners refer to this session as comfortably hard. You can just about talk (a few words), but your running is so steady, you need to concentrate on breathing more than talking. 

Aim for a pace approaching 10-30 seconds a mile slower than your 10k pace.

Work on speed with interval sessions

These are shorter more explosive sessions where the idea is short bursts of speed work to hone your overall aerobic/anaerobic fitness. 

With endurance and tempo training already under your belt, this kind of training is designed to improve your leg speed and get your knees up. In segments, you are running faster than your regular race pace and you will definitely need recovery time (probably twice as long as the interval itself) before repeating the interval. 

Why does this matter? Well come race day, depending on your progress, you may need to step it up at some point in the race to eclipse a PB. If you’ve done this kind of training, you will have another gear in the locker. 

Fartlek training is a popular variation on interval training. It is more unstructured and flexible, but includes variations of pace, alternating between speed and a slower jog for intervals of your own choosing.  

Try hill runs

Top athletes swear by hill runs as a great way to build up your tolerance to the old enemy lactic acid. 

Running up a fairly steep gradient at a steady pace will help the body’s ability to clear build ups of lactic acid, with the added benefit of strengthening leg muscles. Don’t push yourself to a full sprint - you need to pick a speed that will allow you to maintain a consistent pace for the whole hill interval.

Follow this up with a gentle jog back down. This is a great cool down after your first burst up the hill. And of course, once that recovery is over, you do it again, and again and again…

Perfect your half marathon nutrition

Any attempt at a long distance event needs to be fuelled by good nutrition and it is especially true if you are running multiple SuperHalfs events and trying to set new PBs. 

To get the best out of your body you have to give it the best kind of fuel. This needn’t be complicated. Simply aim to give your body enough calories to fuel your training, and try to ensure that the majority of those calories come from nutritious, non-processed foods.

Staples of your diet should be carbohydrates for steady energy release (oats, brown rice, sweet potato), protein for muscle building (lean meats, greek yoghurt, nuts) and healthy fats for improved energy reserves (olive oil, avocado, egg yolks).

Rest and relax

With a varied programme of training, make sure you follow the rest days in your training plan. There is no point exhausting yourself in your own personal pursuit of the half marathon holy grail, if you get to the start line of every SuperHalfs event a spent force. Rest and relax sufficiently after every race and training session, giving your body the time it needs to recover. Remember this is supposed to be fun!