Over the past several years, the half marathon has surged in popularity. According to recent statistics from Running USA, the half marathon is the second most popular distance in road running, after the ubiquitous 5K. The half marathon appeals to beginner and advanced runners alike. For beginner runners, the distance is challenging and rewarding but less intimidating than the marathon. Experienced runners find that the half marathon provides a mix of speed and endurance, making it the happy medium of road running.
Whether you’re running your first half marathon or you are training for a big PR, taking a smart approach to half marathon training and racing will help you enjoy the experience and run your best race – whatever that may be – on race day.
Nutrition during Half Marathon Training
The phrase “racing weight” bears many connotations, but in short, it’s the weight at which you race your best performances. Racing weight means you are fueling your body well for the distance, rather than depriving and undereating. Some runners aim for their racing weight during a half marathon, some focus on nutrition and how they feel without weighing themselves, and others disregard racing weight altogether.
Your dinner the night before a long run achieves multiple purposes. Choosing bland foods will prevent GI distress and carbohydrates will store as glycogen for energy on your run. Most of all, you want to practice what you will eat the night before the race before some of your long runs – because the night before a race is not the time to determine if pizza will help you carb-load or upset your stomach the next day.
Your muscles only store enough glycogen for 2 hours of running and you don’t want to bonk on a run. Bonking results not only in a bad run, but it can stress your immune system and depreciate your confidence in your running. First time half marathoners will want to fuel for long runs of 90 minutes or longer, while experienced runners may choose to fuel less often on runs. Runners on all levels will benefit from practicing their race day fueling in at least one long run.
Half Marathon Training Tips
Running is simple, but training for a race can be complicated. From running too often at goal pace to following a hodgepodge training plan, you want to avoid these common mistakes that sabotage your half marathon training and racing.
The rule of specificity means that your workouts and training directly target the physiological demands of your goal race distance. For the half marathon, longer intervals, tempo runs, and long runs will build both the speed and endurance needed to race your best 13.1.
Whether your goal is 1:45, 2 hours, or 1:30, this post explains the steps you can take in your training to reach your half marathon race day goals.
Half Marathon Racing
The half marathon can be a tricky distance to race since you are running very close to your lactate threshold for a prolonged duration of time. Start too fast, and you will crash and burn during the final 5K. Start out too slow and you won’t be able to make up lost time during the final few miles. For most runners, pacing a strong half marathon means attempting to run negative splits by holding back over the first few miles and then pushing over the last few miles.
While specifically training for a half marathon will produce the best results, you can also use a half marathon as a tune up race before a marathon. A tune up race is best done 4-8 weeks before your marathon, which gives you enough time to recover before race day. A tune up half marathon can be used as a fitness test, practice race, or as a hard long run during marathon training.
Even if you don’t use gels for an average easy 13 mile run, fueling during the half marathon race itself has a significant ergogenic effect. The faster you run, the more carbohydrates you burn, so a half marathon race requires more energy in the form of carbohydrates than an easy-paced long run does. I’ve done up to 16 mile long runs without fuel, but during a half marathon I take two gels – and let me tell you, those extra carbs feel like rocket fuel mid-race.
And don’t forget to recover well after your half marathon!
What training and racing tips have helped you run your best half marathon?