I used to be scared of the half marathon. Too far to fake it, not far enough to be comfortable. I worried if I ran a half marathon before a marathon, I’d use up all my fitness. That doesn’t even make sense.
This year I’ve run three half marathons in the first half of the year. One was two weeks before my marathon; the other two after.
So what’s changed?
Mileage. Overall fitness. Confidence.
Physically, I’m holding higher weekly mileage year-round, not just for peak training weeks. I’ve shifted from approaching training in 12- or 16-week marathon training blocks to a more continuous approach. This isn’t to say I’m always training hard, but the consistency is much different than what I used to do. In the first part of my marathon career, I’d start a training program out of a book (usually Pfitzinger) with a few build-up weeks before that. Then I’d take time off and basically run with no structure and avoid speedwork at all costs until it was time to start the next block. What this usually meant was that I wasn’t in shape to start the training program. I was definitely not in shape enough to confidently race a half marathon until, well, basically when it was time to run the marathon. Now? With the exception of maybe four weeks, I can probably race a decent half any day of the year. I recover for a few weeks after a major race but then the structure is reintroduced, with speedwork once or twice a week and a long run of at least 12 miles. Most of the year I run at least two double-digit days per week — and when you run 10-12 miles on a Tuesday before work, running a half marathon is way less threatening.
So I’ve become more accepting of them. Quite frankly, I’m not great at shorter distances and I have a better shot a winning a half around here than a 5k. That’s why I won all three of the ones I raced this year!
But, racing a half marathon still puts a dent into training if I want to run well.
“A half marathon effort is significant enough I like to back off for most of a week going into one and usually most of the following week to recover before resuming normal training,” said Matt Ebersole of Personal Best Training, who has been my coach for 2.5 years. “Experience shows most well-trained runners can come back a few days later to run a good workout, but then are sorry a few days later when their legs are dead.”
And I’m glad he thinks that because I typically need a full week to get my legs back after a half if I ran hard.
I’ve also come to accept that the distance is hard, but a great teacher. You have to be slightly uncomfortable almost the entire time. Go out too fast and it’ll definitely be more uncomfortable for longer.
It’s also a great distance because racing a half marathon takes both speed and endurance.
“Training for a half marathon need not be much different than training for a 10K or marathon,” Ebersole said. “I would say it’s better to train like both. We want the quality of the 10K training and mileage of marathon training to run your best half marathon.”
That would explain those 400s I did a few weeks ago!
Like all race distances, I think the half distance requires practice and patience. If you only race a couple a year — not counting ones that might be “for fun” or as training runs, but ones where you really push yourself — it can be easy to forget how to sit in that pain pocket and keep pressing when it gets hard. By racing the distance more often, it dampens both the physical and psychological sting.
I’ve got a few half marathons on my race calendar this fall. Practice makes perfect!