3. Think quality over quantity.
Running lots of miles each week is one way to prepare for a half marathon, but lots of miles can increase our chance of injury. I have my new half-marathon runners run four times a week. Two of these runs are what I call quality runs and two are base maintenance runs. The quality runs consist of a mid-week tempo run and a weekend long run.
The types of tempo runs vary, but basically they begin and end with a 1-mile warm-up/cool-down and the in between miles are run at a pace about 30 seconds slower than 5K pace. The Tempo portion is an uncomfortable pace. This helps your body increase VO2Max (your body's ability to take in and utilize oxygen at the muscle layer to make energy) as well as push out your lactate threshold (that point at which you feel that burning sensation in your legs).
Increasing VO2Max and pushing out your lactate threshold helps make you a more efficient runner as well as help fight off fatigue longer. A tempo run can range from 4 to 8 miles, and the types of tempos can vary.
Three good tempo workouts include: the traditional tempo (described earlier), race pace tempo and tempo intervals. Race pace tempos are very similar to the traditional tempo, but instead of running 30 seconds slower than your 5K pace, you pull it down a notch to your half marathon race pace.
This is a great workout for giving your body a chance to experience what it feels like to run at race pace. Saving your race pace tempos for the longer 6-, 7- or 8-mile tempo runs works well. Tempo intervals begin and end with the 1-mile warm-up/cool-down, but the in between miles are broken into 5-mintue fast/5-minute slow intervals.
The fast interval (fartlek) is run about 20 seconds slower than 5K race pace and the slow interval is run at your slow easy long run pace. This teaches your body to learn how to speed up and/or slow down when needed during the race. Here are more specifics on these tempo workouts.
The long run is just that...long. This run should be run at a pace that's about one minute slower than race pace. That's hard to do sometimes, but by pulling back, you help your body build endurance without wearing it down.
To help curb the urge to run faster as well as teach your body that you can pull out some speed at the end of the race, I have my runners up the last 1 to 2 miles of the long run to race pace or slightly faster. Most half marathon training plans will take the runner up to 12 or 13 miles. There's no need to do a run longer than 13 for a half.
The two weekly base maintenance runs are short runs (4 to 5 miles). These are designed to keep the weekly base miles going and to help keep the runner limber between the quality workouts. These runs are also run at a slower pace (45 seconds to one minute slower than race pace).
Doing non-running but aerobic cross-training as well as light resistance training on your off running days is a great way to optimize your running fitness. Cycling, swimming, using the elliptical machine or row machine are all great forms of cross-training. Light resistance training particularly targeting the core and upper body will greatly help you maintain good running form longer during your runs, helping to fight off fatigue.