Half-Marathon! Your First or Fastest

For many runners with long-distance dreams, the half-marathon is the race of choice. For nearly a decade now, it has been the fastest-growing distance in our sport. And no wonder. Twenty-one-point-one kilometres is ideal for any runner looking for the next big breakthrough – whether you want to go longer, get faster, reclaim your fitness, or get some long-distance satisfaction within the confines of your overbooked life. “It’s the ultimate distance,” says Amby Burfoot, 1968 Boston Marathon champion andRunner’s World contributor. “It’s a true test of fitness, endurance and speed, meshed all together.”

And you can test yourself more often without risking injury, says Bart Yasso, co-author of The Runner’s World Big Book of Marathon and Half-Marathon Training. “It’s a challenge to run a half, but it doesn’t consume your energy the way a marathon does,” he says. “And I think you can get more satisfaction because you can prove you can run a long distance at a faster pace.”


The First-Timer
Tip: Go slow
You want to do nearly all your runs at a comfortable, conversational pace, and finish each run feeling like you have the energy – and the desire – to run another kilometre. The biggest mistake first-timers make is running too many kilometres, too fast, too soon, and that is a recipe for injury and burnout. “If at the end of your run, you’re gasping for air, in pain, then you’re going too fast,” says Janet Hamilton, coach and exercise physiologist (runningstrong.com). “I see too many people get too carried away in the beginning,” says Yasso. “Then they get hurt and end up watching the race instead of running it.”

The Returning Runner
Tip: Adjust your expectations
If you are returning from an injury, a long layoff, or a life- (and body-) changing event like having a baby, you are a different runner now. How long it will take to regain fitness depends on a number of factors, including how long you’ve been sidelined and what kind of exercise you’ve been able to do while you haven’t been running. If you attempt to log the kilometres or hit the paces you did before your break from running, you could end up hurt, burned out and disappointed. “You’ve got to start where you are now,” says Yasso. “You will get back to where you were. It just takes time.”

The Time-Seeker
Tip: Know your pace
Runners aiming to break one of these popular time goals should have completed at least one half-marathon and have already developed a good base of mileage and endurance. Now you need to develop a laser-sharp sense of race pace, says Hamilton. Start by running 800 metres at goal race pace, checking your pace as you go. Once you can nail that half-marathon pace within a few seconds without looking at your watch, move on to kilometre repeats at goal race pace. Start with 4 x 1 kilometre at half-marathon pace, jogging for 800 to recover between each repeat. Then build up to running two, three, and four kilometres at half-marathon pace, sandwiched by two kilometres of easy running to warm up, and two kilometres of easy running to cool down.


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