Half Marathon Workouts

By Rick Morris

Not long ago, the half marathon was like a forgotten child. The 13.1 mile distance made the half marathon a “tweener”. It wasn’t long enough for marathon runners and it was too long for 5K and 10K runners. That has changed in recent years. The half marathon is skyrocketing in popularity. There are a number of reasons the half marathon is becoming so popular. First and foremost half marathon training requires less training time than its big brother – the more daunting marathon. It is also much easier to recover from. Recovery time for a full marathon is around 2 to 3 weeks. You can recover from a race pace half marathon in just one week or less. The half marathon also provides an easy to train for challenge for 5K and 10K runners. Even marathon runners are making use of half marathons to improve their marathon performance levels. New runners are using the half marathon as a stepping stone to their ultimate goal of running a full marathon. Here are just a sample of possible half marathon workouts.

The best half marathon workouts and training runs are very similar to those that you use for other race distances. You just want to adapt them for the half marathon. The types of workouts that are great at improving your half marathon performance include:

  • Long runs to improve your overall endurance
  • Lactate turn point training to increase your stamina
  • vVO2 max runs to improve your neuromuscular function and maximum distance running speed
  • Hill training to build your running specific strength and power
  • Goal pace running to improve your running economy and ability to sustain goal pace.

There are an almost unlimited number of possible specific workouts that would do a nice job at improving your half marathon performance. Here are just a few tried and true half marathon training runs that will help you meet your half marathon goal.

Endurance Pace Long Run

The long run is the bread and butter run for both the marathon and the half marathon. You must build up your endurance to a level at which you can complete 13.1 miles. If you are a beginning runner that only wants to finish the half marathon you can gradually build up to about 12 miles and be insured of finishing your race. If you are a competitive runner and are going to race the half marathon you should gradually build up to at least 15 to 16 miles. Your long run should be done one time per week until you reach a 12 mile run. At that point switch to every other week to allow for full recovery.

One Mile Repeats at 10K Pace

Your half marathon race pace is very closely related to your lactate turn point (LT) pace. Generally speaking your half marathon pace will be 2 to 4 percent slower than your LT pace. So – if you improve your LT you will also improve your half marathon pace. The best way to improve your LT pace is by running at speeds that flood your body with lactic acid. Your 10K pace is just faster than LT pace making 10K pace running a great way to improve LT. Start with 3 x 1 mile repeats at 10K pace with 3 minute of recovery between the repeats. As your progress through your training program gradually work up to 8 x 1 mile repeats with 3 minute recoveries.

Lactate Builders

Another good LT workout that can be used for all running distances are lactate builders. To perform these workouts simply alternate between running for 30 seconds at a nearly full but relaxed pace and 30 seconds at an easy pace. A nearly full but relaxed pace is not a sprint pace but is running at as close to your maximum speed you can maintain for the 30 seconds while staying with a relaxed, smooth stride. In addition to being a great LT workout this is also an excellent vVO2 max run.

Goal Pace Long Run

Goal pace running is very important in training your neuromuscular system to become efficient at your goal pace. Run the first half of your goal pace long runs at an easy endurance pace before speeding up to goal pace for the last half. For example – if you are doing a 10 mile long run, do the first 5 miles at easy endurance pace and then speed up to goal half marathon pace for the final 5 miles.

Compound Sets

A compound set is a training workout in which you run different distances and speeds with no recovery. A good half marathon compound set is 400/1600/2400. To perform this workout run 400 meters at 5K pace. Then slow down to 10K pace for 1600 meters. Finally slow down to half marathon pace for 2400 meters. You take no recovery between the repeats. Start with just one compound set and gradually build up to 3 sets with 5 minutes of recovery between each set.

Hill Running

Hill training has many benefits. It improves your running specific strength, raises your LT and makes you a more efficient and economical runner. There are two types of hill workouts that are great for improving your half marathon performance. Shorter, fast hill repeats and longer sustained hill running. An example of hill repeats are 100 meter repeats in which you run for approximately 100 meters up a steep hill at what feels like 5K pace. Your actual pace will probably be slower due to the incline, but it should feel like 5K pace. Recover by jogging back down the hill. Repeat this 5 to 20 times depending upon your fitness level. An example of a long sustained hill workout is 2 to 6 miles at half marathon pace up a steady hill with a more moderate incline. Finding appropriate hills is a challenge in most areas. If you don’t have the right type of hills in your neighborhood you can do this workout very effectively on a treadmill.