Racing a half marathon
This is my favourite distance. The UK’s largest mass participation road race is a half marathon (the Great North Run, from Newcastle to South Shields) which reflects the popularity of the distance. It is sufficiently far to be a serious challenge, even to experienced runners.
But you can recover from a half marathon in a fortnight, unlike the marathon, from which it can take several months to recover fully.
The half marathon pace is very close to your aerobic threshold (see Chapter 10), which means that running at this pace enhances your overall aerobic performance, and so improves your fitness and running at all distances. The half marathon is also an essential stepping stone for anyone interested in running a full marathon. It builds confidence and racing experience, and helps you to judge what you will be able to achieve in a longer race.
Training for the half marathon
If you want to train seriously for a half marathon you will need to do at least 16 weeks of training, beginning with at least of month of aerobic running. Beginners should be running 30 miles a week, and serious runners nearly 70 miles a week. Runners of all standards need to include a long run at least three times a month, of between 10 and 18 miles.
Speed training for a half marathon inevitably involves slower, longer repetitions that the 10km, with efforts between 800m and 3km. It is a good idea to race a 10km in the build-up to your half marathon, to test your endurance and sharpen your speed.
You should reduce your running considerably in the last two weeks before a half marathon race. This tapering will help you to build muscle glycogen and rehydrate, and ensure that your legs are fresh for the race.
Racing the half marathon
Because this is a long race, you don’t need to warm up much before the start. Your task is to preserve your stored energy. You may want to jog for half a mile before the race to loosen up your muscles and get your metabolism going, but you should not do any intense running before the start.
All runners should drink water during a half marathon. The general guidelines on drinking during races apply: drink little and often, right from the gun. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to start drinking.
The half marathon is long enough to give you plenty of time to catch up if you start slowly. The pace of a half marathon will generally seem slow at first, because you are used to running faster for short runs. But if you go off too fast, you will pay the price in the closing stages of the run. You are racing at your aerobic threshold – if you push too fast you will kick into anaerobic metabolism and lactate build-up, and once you have “blown” you will find it very difficult to regain your equilibrium.
“Don’t worry about the miles you have that are behind you: only think about the miles you have still to go. Keep focused on what is ahdead. That is the best way to get your pacing right.”
Nick Slade, ultramarathoner
So go out slowly, and ease in to the race. Try to get in step with some other runners who are going at about your pace. Let runners go past you for the first few miles: you will probably overtake them in the last few miles. After the second or third mile (not before) you should reach your target pace, which you can hold for most of the race. Try to avoid sagging during miles 6-9. Don’t just keep pace with the runners around you, because they might well slowing down during the second half, just when you should be speeding up.
At the ten mile mark, you have only the equivalent of a 5km to complete. Begin to increase your pace, identify runners ahead of you and begin to close them down. Don’t accelerate too much – try to remain on the right side of your threshold. In the final mile, push hard, and remember all the speed work you have done on the track.