What Can I Do To Improve My Half Marathon Time?

by Edward
(Florence, KY)

what can i do to improve my half marathon time

I am a 53 yo male 5'11, 165lbs. I have been running for about 8 years. I have run 7 marathons and have never broken the 4hr mark even though all my training is to that goal.

This past summer I focused more on tempo than distance. I averaged about 25 miles per week. Running three days per week with swimming as my cross-training. My running distances were roughly 5 miles, 5 miles and 15 miles. The second 5 miler was a tempo workout (speed).

My goal was to PR in a half marathon this fall with a 1:43 time or better.

I wore a heart-rate monitor for most of my training and races. This was more to just monitor the changes in HR rather than to use it for pacing speed.

In any case I ran two very fast half marathon courses and was unable to get close to my goal pace. Both races ended up in the 1:47 range.

In the first race I started out at my goal pace and was not able to maintain it for more than 6 miles. I found that after the first 6 miles if I took a 30 second walk break to get my breath back, I was able to run my goal pace for the rest of the next mile. I did this for the remainder of the race and came in at about 1:47:30.

The next race I was determined not to take any walk breaks. Unfortunately, after about eight miles I found myself completely out of breath at times and had to slow my pace in order to keep running. I ended up finishing that race at 1:47:50.

My legs felt fine in both races. It was simply that I was out of breath at times.

The heart rate monitor indicated that I was close to 90% of my estimated max HR almost the entire race. For both races.

My question is what can I do to improve my half marathon time?

I have always hated hill workouts but have heard that it may be possible to improve VO2Max by doing them.

The other question is, do you think that I have simply reached my maximum potential and cannot get any faster?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Answer by Dominique:

Hey there Edward! First off, congrats on all the hard work and dedication you've put into your running over the past 8 years. Running multiple marathons and half marathons is no small feat, so be proud of that accomplishment! And no, I don't think you have reached your maximum potential. There is plenty of upside.

Now, let's dive into your questions and see if we can come up with a game plan to help you get faster both on the half and the full marathon.

My thoughts are as follows:

1. Increasing your weekly mileage
2. Achieving your half marathon goal
3. Achieving your marathon goal

Increasing Your Weekly Mileage

what can i do to improve my half marathon time
What I really like about your training is that long run of 15 miles. You are in a great spot when you do a long run of that length consistently.

But one thing that jumps out at me is your current weekly mileage of around 25 miles per week. Your long run makes up 60% of the total mileage.

Now, don't get me wrong, it's definitely possible to train for and complete half marathons on this volume. But racing a half marathon is another thing.

I'd like to see that weekly mileage increase substantially. Not in one go. Over time. But yes, bumping it up would give you a bigger aerobic base and more endurance to sustain goal race pace.

To start off with, I'd suggest adding in a fourth easy-paced run of 3-4 mile. This will increase your overall mileage without adding too much intensity. Then slowly build up from there.

To what level? More is almost always better. But aim to first get comfortably with 30-35 miles a week. Then the season after go up to 35-40, then 40-45 etc. Build up gradually. And good things will happen.

Achieving Your Half Marathon Goal

what can i do to improve my half marathon time
In addition to adding the fourth run to your schedule, I'd recommend a bit more variation in your training. If the 5 miles easy, 5 miles tempo, 15 miles long is the standard week, then after a while, your body gets very used and very comfortable with that.

So, you want to look at more variation and progressing your workouts.

The tempo run you are doing is great. And to be able to run at 7:52 min/mile pace (1:43 goal time), you need to practice running at and around this pace. Your tempo run is a really good workout for this.

However, it would be great if you played around with the way you do your tempo run, e.g. try mixing it up with workouts like this:
  • 6 x 1 mile at goal half marathon pace with 2 min jog rest between intervals

  • 4 x 1.5 miles at goal pace with 2-3 min rest

  • 3 x 2 miles at goal pace with 3 min rest

  • 2 x 3 miles at goal pace with 3 min rest

  • You could rotate through these workouts and each time you get back to the first one, you may find you are a little faster than previously.

    There is some merit in also doing some intervals and hill work. Given the length and the pace of the half marathon, spend only a little bit of your time doing these types of workouts.

    Now onto the long run. Given your long run is already at 15 miles, we don't have to work on building it up more. But you can get more out of your long run. You could make it into a long run with a fast finish or add some goal pace blocks to your long run. This will be quite hard, because you will be trying to run at goal pace with tired legs... but it simulates race conditions really well, so it is worth doing.

    Achieving Your Marathon Goal

    what can i do to improve my half marathon time
    In theory, the Race Conversion Calculator tells us that a sub-4 hr marathon can be achieved when you can run a half marathon in about 1:55hr.

    You are already there. But the marathon is a beast. The normal laws of physics don't necessarily apply to the marathon...

    Clearly, getting your half marathon to 1:43 will set you up better to try for a sub-4 hr marathon.

    Now, I would recommend going to the Marathon Training Tips section to read up more on marathon training. In short, my recommendations would be much in line with what I said applied to your half marathon. You will increase your chances of success by increasing your mileage, adding some more variety in your training and doing goal pace work as part of your long runs.

    After all, when you want to run 26.2 miles at a certain pace, you'd better practice with what it feels like. You really want to get familiar with that pace and be able to do it on tired legs.

    Edward, I have no doubt that with some tweaks to your training, you can achieve that 1:43 (or faster!) half marathon. You're already putting in the work - now it's just a matter of optimizing your approach.

    And don't get discouraged by a couple of rough races. Every race, good or bad, is a learning experience. Wishing you all the best in your training and racing!

    All the best,

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