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Training For The Half Marathon

Article By: Marco Ochoa
Orange Coast College

For many athletes running a half marathon is not on their annual racing schedule. Runners usually tend to race distances that are familiar to them so they can compare and measure their success and improvement. The half marathon can be considered an awkward distance to be racing which makes it difficult to focus on such a distance. Developing a training program for this distance can be complicated for many runners mainly because of the odd distance. It can be too long for a 5k-10k runner or it may be too short for the marathon runner; so many runners pay no importance to this specific race distance.

These characteristics are what make training and racing the half marathon unique. It can be the perfect distance for training and racing if planned accordingly. The runners that specialize on the 5k and 10k can use it as over-distance training and racing. And for the marathon runner, it can be use as race-pace training distance.

Many elite runners run half marathon races to test their strength and stamina. This type of racing is done during the built-up or base-work phase of their training. After analyzing and evaluating the race, the athlete and coach can plan the next phase of training, and changes can be made according to the results.

It is very common to see that the rabbits or pacesetters of major marathons are either elite 10k runners testing their strength or elite marathon runners running at race-pace or a little faster. Either case is done during a heavy training phase of their specific training programs. Implementing half marathon training and racing can be very beneficial to the athlete's program, but the coach and athlete must carefully design and develop a plan that will be conducive to meet the athlete's specific goals.

Half marathon training is usually implemented during the pre-season or the built-up phase of the training cycle. Training sessions are normally of high volume and long intervals with a high number of repetitions. The rest time between intervals can be very short or moderate but it never allows for a full recovery. The running pace is usually run between, slower than 10k pace to a little faster than marathon pace. The rest period between intervals and speed can be manipulated according to the needs of the athlete, taking into consideration the goals the athlete is trying to achieve during training.

What makes training for the half marathon unique is that for the most part, most of the running sessions are done on the roads and/or dirt trails instead of the track. Interval sessions are run as fartleks or pick-ups. Also, there is a great emphasis on hill work and tempo runs. During this training cycle the main concern is the development and improvement of cardiovascular strength and endurance.

The following is a sample of a heavy week of training for the half marathon:

2-3 miles warm-up16-24 x 1min pick-ups @ 10k pace
1min. recovery jog in
2-3 miles warm-down
The runner can select a dirt trail or grass field to perform the workout. This session can be very difficult because it is a continuous running workout. Velocity and the pace of the recovery jog will dictate the degree of difficulty.
8-10 miles easy pace
Recovery runs
This run is done about 70% of VO2max or 75% of HRmax. Running at this pace will allow for a recovery from the strenuous workout from the day before.
10-15 miles easy/medium pace
(Hilly course)
During long runs, there is an increase of blood volume, which results in improved maximal stroke volume. As a result, there will be an improvement in running economy.
2-3 miles warm-up
Fartlek Run:
3-4-5-5-4-3 min. pick-ups
Recovery time same as the pick-up 2-3 miles warm-down
Again, for this session a dirt trail or grass field is recommended. This is a lactic acid tolerance workout and the emphasis is on strength and not speed.
8-10 miles easy pace
Recovery runs
Easy run to allow recovery.
8-12 miles Tempo Run @
Marathon pace
Tempo runs are usually scheduled every other week alternating with an easy day to allow for recovery.
15-20 miles easy pace run
(Hilly course)
This endurance session will increase the development of slow twitch fibers, blood volume, and capillarization. It will improve running economy and fuel utilization (fats/carbos).

Components of Training for the Half Marathon Race:

  • Building aerobic base
  • Developing endurance-speed-strength
  • Developing anaerobic strength and endurance
  • Speed endurance
  • Developing strength thru tempo runs
  • Long runs to increase stamina and running economy
  • Short intervals - lactic acid tolerance workouts
  • Long Intervals - lactic acid tolerance sustain workouts
  • Short recovery - long recovery
  • Race pace workouts
  • Running pace - training at different velocities
  • Periodization - planning for the performance at the right time
  • Racing

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