If your experience of running a half marathon for the first time was anything like mine, you are itching to be able to do it again! But you probably want to do it faster than before.
Whether you’re preparing for your second half marathon or your twentieth, this article will help you run your next half faster than your last!
We’ll cover nine tips and suggestions that you can immediately incorporate into your training plan so that you can run your fastest half marathon yet!
1. Choose a Fast Race
First, if you want to run your fastest half marathon, you need to be careful when choosing what race to run. This is not the time to pick a race in the hills, because that will seriously hamper your speed.
Instead, pick a flat course with as few turns as possible. Not only do turns slow you down – they also increase the likelihood that you will run additional distance unintentionally. If you want to travel for a half marathon, this means that you’ll probably want to choose a race in the Midwest or on one of the coasts for it to be as flat as possible.
You also want to be aware of the typical temperatures on race day. You might have picked a flat race in July, but it might also be 100 degrees by the beach, and that will slow you down. Picking a race in the spring or fall is your best bet for having good weather depending on where you live.
That being said, you’ll also want to think about the weeks that you’ll be training and pick a season that suits you. You might not want to pick a half marathon in September if you don’t want to train in the summer. Skip the April races if you don’t want to train in the winter.
In the end, no matter what race and profile you pick, you need to train on the same profile. If you have a hilly race (tsk tsk, see note above re: fast courses), you need to get lots of hill workouts in. If you have a flat race, hill workouts will also help you out, but you do want to run on flat terrain too as the race gets closer.
This is even more important in preparing for the temperature. If possible, look at the highest temperature and lowest temperature in the past 10 years in that area and make sure that you’re ready for both. Training in hot weather, for example, will make running in hot weather on race day easier.
2. Find a Friend
Sometimes it can be hard to motivate yourself to get your workouts in or to push harder, but it’s always easier with a friend. Whether you find someone who is willing to train with you every so often, or you have someone to run the race with you, having a friend will help.
It will make the miles fly by faster. You’ll find that chatting with others distracts you from the challenges of running. You’ll also hold each other accountable for showing up and getting your miles in. Plus, it’s always fun to have a little competition too to bring out the best in both of you.
3. Pick the Right Training Plan
If you want to run a faster half marathon, you’re going to have to train better than your last half marathon even if that seemed to go well. This is why it’s very important that you know yourself. Make sure that you know your schedule and how much time you can realistically spend training.
And this isn’t just for runs. Remember to make time for stretching, yoga, strength training, and other crossing training. Every bit of training is important. If you commit to a less rigorous training plan but do it all, that’s better than doing very little of a super intense one.
But don’t forget that the more time that you invest, the more likely you will succeed in improving your time. And it doesn’t have to be much. Just running a little bit every day will get you way stronger.
Finally, don’t forget to mix up your training, building up gradually to avoid injuries. Each week should always contain a minimum of a long, slow run (8-10 miles), interval session (¼ mile x 6-8 repeats or ½ mile x 4-6 repeats), and a middle distance, faster run (5-8 miles, just slightly slower than race pace).
4. Add Some Interval Training
If you haven’t been part of the running community for a while, you might not know just how important interval training is. While it’s important to develop endurance from long runs, intervals build speed and aerobic capacity. Here are two workouts you can try:
Negative Split Run/Progression Run
We all want to run negative splits, but how often do we actually do it? This interval workout will help you work on that. Start at an easy pace and gradually increase your pace by 10-15 seconds each mile. You should aim to do the last mile at your 10k pace (or 5k if you’re feeling really ambitious).
Start by sprinting at close to max capacity (80%) for 200 meters and jog 200 meters for recovery. (This is about 1/10th of a mile). Then sprint for 400 meters and recover by jogging 200 meters. Repeat for 600 meters, 800 meters, and 1,000 meters and then work your way back down to 200 meters again.
5. Focus on Your Running Form
You might think that you know how to run. You might even wonder what, exactly, “running form” means. The truth is, all of us, even the most advanced runners, can work on our form. Running form is the basic mechanics of how you run, and it is directly related to running efficiency. Proper running form makes you run more efficiently, meaning that you can go faster and stronger for longer with less energy spent. If you want to run a faster half marathon, your running form has to be up to par.
Chances are, though, that you haven’t been spending much time thinking about it. But you can change this by using your warm-up or the first little bit of your run to go through a proper form checklist.
Ask yourself questions like: Are your shoulders relaxed? Are you landing on your midfoot or forefoot? How’s your posture? Check your arm-swing to make sure they are going forward and backward, not side-to-side. Getting yourself into this habit will make you more aware of good running form.
6. Add Strength Training
Some people believe that in order to become faster runners, all they need to do is run. But that’s not exactly right. While you definitely do need to practice running to become a faster runner, you need to make sure that you’re as healthy as possible.
Adding strength training to your routine will make you more powerful, less prone to injury, and more flexible—all of which are necessary for running faster. Runners need a strong core and strong legs to run well, and that’s where strength training comes in.
7. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
As you’re training, the more you can do to prepare, the better. In the weeks leading up to your race, make sure that you try out any gear and meals that you’re planning to use for race day. Make sure that they are comfortable or agree with your stomach!
You’ll also want to make sure that you pace yourself well in training runs because practice makes perfect. If you always go out too fast in your training runs, that’s what you’ll do on race day, and it won’t be pretty. A GPS watch is helpful to avoid this predicament.
Make sure that you do a test race run about 3-4 weeks before the race. Make it a hair shorter than the actual half distance, and aim to keep a pace that is 10 seconds slower than race pace.
This will give you a good gauge to see where you are. Don’t be frustrated if you’re not ready yet. That’s the whole reason you tested: to see where you honestly are. Just make sure that you don’t try to cram in tons of training the two weeks before the race when you’re tapering.
Practice everything about race day that you can, including taking fuel and drinks during your runs. If you plan to walk and drink on race day, do that. Just make sure that you are making your breaks as short as possible. If you’re going to drink and run, practice that.
Finally, make sure that you adjust training to your energy levels. Sometimes rest is the best training you can give your body, so make sure that you aren’t skipping those rest days. If you feel like you need to take a break one day, do it. But don’t make it a pattern.
Training for a race gives you the opportunity to learn a lot about yourself. Make sure that you learn how to maximize your training without running yourself into the ground. Doing fun things like running with friends will keep you going strong.
8. Don’t Go Into the Race Blind
On the days before the race, make sure that you’re prepared. Plan out your race day logistics. Where will family and friends be? When do you need to get up? Where is the start line exactly? Work through everything so you don’t have to do any thinking on race day.
It’s especially important to be familiar with the course. Hopefully, you have an idea of what the course looks like with the course map (and maybe you’ve even used Google Maps to look at terrain), but try to bike it or drive it in a car the day before.
Knowing exactly what the course looks like will tell your body when there’s about to be a right hand turn so that you can get right before a ton of people block your way. It will also give you an idea of where to look for family and friends.
9. Stay Positive (and Slow at Least for the First Little Bit!)
On race day itself, the best thing you can do is stay positive. If you have any negative thoughts, don’t sweat it. Just turn them into positive ones. They will surely come because being negative is normal, but you don’t have to dwell on them.
Focus on your strength and how much work you put into your body and this race. View this as an opportunity to show everyone how you’ve been spending your time the past several months.
And don’t forget to be grateful and smile. This will make you less tense and make you much more comfortable and happy during the race.
As far as staying slow, obviously you don’t want to do that the entire race, but you definitely want to for the first mile. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement after the gun sounds, but stay steady.
Know your race pace and do not let yourself go faster than that your first mile, no matter how good you feel. You need to save it for later. Try to check your watch every ¼ mile and adjust as necessary.
And in the end, just enjoy the ride. If you’ve trained well and know your body, you’ll know what to do on race day. If you’ve trained to run faster, your body will perform.
It’s always exciting to PR, and we hope that you’re able to do so at your next half marathon. The best thing you can do is to be prepared for as many contingencies as possible so that race day can’t throw anything unexpected at you.
Although you will likely be nervous, just remember all the time you spent training, how your body responded, times and distances you were able to reach, friends who ran with you, and family and friends watching you for this next half marathon. Good luck!