5 Critical Steps for Running Your Next Half Marathon... Faster!

So you just finished up a half marathon - which is a huge accomplishment! Choosing to run 13.1 miles while everyone else is sleeping/ enjoying their weekends is definitely something only a small percentage of people do. After you're done the run, it's so much fun to spend the weekend resting and celebrating that. But if you're like me - a.k.a. super competitive - it isn't long before you start thinking about the points during the race where you're energy level dipped, or you felt weak. Thoughts like " I could have totally shaved 5 minutes off my time had I just... trained more hills/worn something else/chose a different energy gel, etc." start creeping up. Before you know it, you're registered for next half marathon, and determined to set your new P.R. You know you can run the distance, nows the time to build your strength and endurance, and settle into a new pace. 

A lot of the available training plans have progressing distances each week, taking you from a starting a base level (3-5 miles) and working up to the 13.1 mile distance. Rather than starting from the bottom and just trying to increase your pace, my tips help you maintain your endurance distance-wise and build the strength pace-wise. 

Step one: Take a month "off" 

For someone as active as I am - and assuming you are too if you're reading this post - this rest is probably the hardest step. But let me reassure you, I don't mean completely "off." During this month, just try to run a maximum of 30 miles, including a couple of long slow runs (8-10 miles). I basically insist on joining a yoga studio and practicing 4-5x per week. This is also a really good time to try out an anti-inflammatory diet like Whole30 (more on my experience with that here; or check out my weekly meal plans for Whole30 diet plans with grocery lists). By giving yourself this time, your body can reset and prepare itself for the next challenge - especially if you're also fueling it with the best types of things. If Whole30 is too drastic, try no processed foods, no sugar, or no alcohol. All of these dietary restrictions have been shown to make a difference with energy levels and overall health. 

step two: balance your running with strength training & yoga

It's super important that when you start training again, you make sure to balance the running with low impact strength training like pilates or yoga. As runners, a lot of our injuries come from weakness in our bodies, whether it's our hips, core, back, calves etc. For example, I grew up with IT band issues, which is directly related to weak hips, so I had to pay special attention to keep those areas strong. If you type in *insert injury here* prevention into the a YouTube search bar, you'll get a number of stretches and exercises to do that cater to these issues. I luckily have outgrown my ITB issues, so I've had success with strengthening my body as a unit making sure to balance everything out (like yoga preaches) rather than spending my time on one specific area. 

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As a rule, for as many times as I run, I strength train or do yoga the same amount.  Obviously this can't be broken up by days (4 running days would mean 4 strength training days and that's total more days than there are in the week). So, sometimes I'll do a quick run before a hot yoga class, to make sure that I keep this balance. It's incredible the tangible difference this strength training makes in your runs. 

 

step three: add in interval training 

It's basically impossible to get faster if you don't push yourself that way.  In training, I think there are two critical runs that you must do each week: one is a long run (LR) and the other is an interval run (IR). Every week the LR alternates between maximizing your distance (LDR) and going mid distance with a pace sandwich (LIR). Notice out of four critical runs, three of them are playing with speed, and this is really useful to getting faster! 

So how to build these interval runs (IR)? First, think of your goal race time. Every "fast" pace you set is based on that. For your interval runs, you'll start with a 1-2 mile warm up, a 3-4 mile exercise, and a 1-2 mile cool down. During those 3-4 miles, you'll run at a pace that is 1-1.5 minutes faster than your goal pace for a set distance and then allow yourself to jog it out for half of that distance. For example, for an 8:30 goal pace, a workout would look like: 

2 miles of easy running 3x400 at 7:20min/mile pace with 200 easy run recovery 2x600 at 7:20min/mile pace with 400 easy run recovery 2x400 at 7:20min/mile pace with 200 easy run recovery 1-2 miles of easy running

Vary the intervals to get harder, working up to half mile and mile quick runs. 

Okay, now the LIRs. The total distance of these runs can vary. You may want to start out at 6 miles and build up to 10, but the general formatting is this: the first 2 and last 2 miles are slow for your warm up and cool down, but the remaining distance is at a pace that is 30 sec to 1 min quicker than your race pace.  For example, for the same pace as above and 8 total miles, the LIR would look like: 2 miles at 9-10 min / mile; 4 miles at 7:30-8 min/mile; 2 miles cool down (as slow as necessary). 

step four: seek out the hills

This one is pretty simple. When you plan your routes, don't actively select against the hills. I've been guilty of "oh, I don't want to run that way at mile 9 because that hill would be way too challenging at that point in my run!"  You're not going to be able to do that come race day, so don't let yourself do that when you train. The more you train your pace on hills, the more they won't bother you the day of.  As far as tips for running hills go, try to keep your stride cadence consistent, even when your pace drops. This helps to not exhaust you. 

step five: eat right and keep it light 

Couldn't help but make it rhyme. This is one of the harder things to wrestle with when you're marathon training because you're literally hungry ALL. THE. TIME.  But - with the same reasoning that I suggested the Whole30 in that first month - you need to fuel your body in a way that will help you be successful, light, and quick.  This means not being bogged down by the wrong foods, and not overeating after runs to a point where you're bulking up.  Read more about what I eat before long distance runs here

 

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Hope you enjoyed my tips! Would love to hear your comments :) 

 

 

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