Run­ning your best in a half-dis­tance race is not a sim­ple task. The half-dis­tance might be one of the most chal­leng­ing races to pre­pare for and ex­e­cute well be­cause pac­ing can be a real chal­lenge.

It’s com­pli­cated be­cause the half-dis­tance falls into a very awk­ward space be­tween our two ven­ti­la­tory thresh­olds. The first thresh­old is at about 65 to 70 per cent ef­fort. The sec­ond, more eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able thresh­old hap­pens around 85 per cent ef­fort. A full-dis­tance race is best ex­e­cuted around the first thresh­old. Shorter events, like an stan­dar­dor sprint-dis­tance, are best ex­e­cuted just be­low, at, or just above the sec­ond thresh­old. Therein lies the prob­lem – a half-dis­tance race lands some­where in the mid­dle, which can make the for­mula for suc­cess a tricky one to fig­ure out.

The length of time it will take you to com­plete the race is usu­ally a good place to start. If you plan to fin­ish in six hours or more and are ex­pect­ing to run the half-marathon around two hours, you will likely need to race around that first 65 per cent thresh­old. If you are a pro­fes­sional or one of the top age group ath­letes and fin­ish­ing around four or five hours with a half-marathon time in the 70- to 90-minute range, you can def­i­nitely push the ef­fort up be­tween the two thresh­olds more ag­gres­sively.

Once you have nailed down the ef­fort that is ap­pro­pri­ate for you it be­comes eas­ier to ap­ply spe­cific train­ing loads and nu­tri­tion strate­gies that will help you max­i­mize your per­for­mance. Train­ing speci­ficity, im­pact tol­er­ance, speed work, nu­tri­tion and your men­tal game are a few of the key fac­tors to con­sider when aim­ing for a fast half-marathon in a half-dis­tance race.

The first step is to prac­tise run­ning at your goal pace, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing brick ses­sions (run­ning off the bike). Dur­ing the six- to eight-week lead in to your race you should be ex­e­cut­ing a work­out once a week that mim­ics the pace and ef­fort you want to sus­tain. This in­cludes a longer bike work­out with ap­pro­pri­ate length intervals at the wattage and/ or heart rate you wish to sus­tain on race day. Dur­ing th­ese rides you should be prac­tis­ing your nu­tri­tion to make sure that you are tak­ing in suf­fi­cient amounts of car­bo­hy­drate, wa­ter and sodium. The run off the bike does not need to be long. Build­ing up to a set of six one-mile re­peats at your goal pace on a short rest in­ter­val is more than suf­fi­cient to pro­vide a train­ing stim­u­lus.

The lim­it­ing fac­tor, when run­ning off the bike, usu­ally has as much to do with your abil­ity to han­dle the im­pact and fa­tigue in your legs as it does with your aer­o­bic fit­ness. Hill run­ning (both up and, in par­tic­u­lar, down) is a great way to build up this tol­er­ance. Down­hill run­ning in­creases the im­pact on your body and acts as an added stress. A word of cau­tion, though: that in­creased im­pact from down­hill run­ning can po­ten­tially lead to in­jury. Make sure your plan is pro­gres­sive and that the length of time spent run­ning down­hill is mon­i­tored closely. The grade should not be overly ag­gres­sive, ei­ther. A gen­tle de­cline is enough.

Long runs are also a great way to de­velop your abil­ity to han­dle the stress on your body. Make sure that you do some of your run­ning on pave­ment (if the race is go­ing to be on roads). Your long­est run should def­i­nitely ex­ceed the time you ex­pect to run dur­ing the race. If you plan to be in the 70- to 90-minute range, your long run can be about two hours. If you es­ti­mate that you will run two or more hours dur­ing the half-marathon, your long run can be closer to two and a half hours. The risk of in­jury usu­ally in­creases with in­creased mileage and may start to out­weigh the phys­i­o­log­i­cal gains you will make run­ning be­yond two and a half hours.

In­clud­ing some speed work is also a great strat­egy. In the con­text of this ar­ti­cle let’s con­sider “speed work” as any­thing faster than your goal race pace. Once a week con­sider in­clud­ing a work­out with shorter, faster intervals at, or ex­ceed­ing, your sec­ond thresh­old. Any­thing in the two- to five-minute range, with equal rest, for a to­tal of 15 to 25 min­utes of work is suf­fi­cient.


Nu­tri­tion for your best half-marathon starts on the bike. You must con­sume car­bo­hy­drate, wa­ter and sodium on the bike if you want to have suc­cess on the run. Fo­cus on small amounts, fre­quently, and aim for roughly 1 g of car­bo­hy­drate per kilo­gram of body weight, along with 500 to 1,000 ml of wa­ter and 500 mg or more of sodium per hour. This can usu­ally be cov­ered by a bot­tle of sport drink

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