Brian asks: I just ran my third half marathon and I was surprised that my finish time was slower than both of my previous half marathons, by quite a bit. I just assumed I would automatically get faster over time. I ran a 2:05 in my first one, a 1:59 in my second, and a 2:15 in this third one. I followed the same training plan for each of my races. Should I be doing something different to get faster?
Every race is different, so depending upon the course and the conditions (such as the weather, the start time, terrain, etc.) it can often be hard to compare results. Was that third race hotter, hillier, or a more challenging course than the first two? If all three courses were similar, then yes, it may be time to look at your training.
Huge leaps in performance are often seen early on as we go from a sedentary lifestyle to running regularly. That endurance training greatly improves our aerobic capacity—our ability to process and utilise oxygen. This allows us to run both longer and faster. However, eventually we begin to max out on these benefits unless we change things up.
If we keep to the exact same training, our body adapts to the intensity level and begins to plateau. When we begin to reach the top of our aerobic capacity, our performance levels out. At this point, training needs to become more specific to elicit continued improvements. Simply put, if you want to run faster, you’ll need to train faster and that includes doing some speed work.
Half marathon training requires both speed and endurance. You may be able to continue following the weekly mileage outlined on your current training plan, with the exception of incorporating a speed workout on one of your training days. One day a week, starting about 12 to 14 weeks out from your targeted race, plan a speed training day.
When speed training, always warm up first by running 1,600 to 3,200 metres at an easy pace before doing any speed workouts. The speedwork portion of the workout should be a total of between five to eight kilometres in length. Begin with 5K of speedwork and gradually increase it to eight kilometres over time as you adapt to this new demand. Include a 1,600 metre cool down afterwards.
The pace for the speedwork portion can be your 10K race pace, if you know it. If not, target a pace about 10 to 20 seconds per kilometre faster than your goal half marathon pace. For example, if your goal is to run 5:30 per kilometre in the half marathon, on your speed day, target a pace of 5:20 to 5:10 for the speed intervals. Here are some good speedwork exercises:
1) 800 metre repeats: Try this on a track if you have one available (it’s 2 laps). If you don’t, measure out a 800 metre section on a road (preferably a level one without much traffic). Run 800 metres, then do a recovery jog for 400 metres or you can recover by time, about 4 minutes, and repeat. The goal is to keep your 800 metre repeats within a 5 second variance of one another. This consistency will help you work on both speed and endurance.
2) 1,600 metre repeats: Try 4 x 1,600 metres, gradually increasing to 6 x 1,600 metres. Take five minutes for recovery between each 1,600 metre repeat.
3) Racing: Another great way to practice speedwork is to sprinkle some 5K and 10K races into your training along the way, to work on speed.