After getting a few half marathons under their belts, most runners take one of two directions. Some decide to pursue the full marathon, while others focus on improving their half marathon performance.
Although training for a marathon is a great way to boost your half marathon results as well, there's nothing wrong with focusing your training on the half marathon distance. Here are eight ways you can make significant gains in your half marathon PR in a single 12- to 18-week training cycle.
Half Marathon Training Tip #1: Pump up the Volume
Many "stock" half marathon plans take you to a peak of 20 to 25 miles per week of running, with some cross-training mixed in. While this is enough to finish a half marathon, you will see significant gains if you can smartly increase your peak weekly volume to 30, 35 or even 40 miles.
The half marathon is 98 percent powered by your aerobic energy system. Thus, the best way to improve your performance is to increase your aerobic capacity, and the best way to do that is by running more.
The next thing to do would be to increase the length of the second longest run you do in a week to something in the 60- to 90-minute range. This is more valuable than adding an extra day of running. But, adding an extra day of running to your plan is the third step you should take to increase volume—if you have the capacity to do so.
Once you maximize your possible running mileage while minimizing injury risk, you can then supplement your aerobic development through cross-training. This should be of the easy variety, not the "up off your seat with the instructor screaming at you" spin class variety. As long as your heart rate gets above roughly 120 beats per minute, you are making aerobic gains.
Half Marathon Training Tip #2: Stretch Your Long Runs
The single most valuable workout you do each week is your long run, so the best way to increase your mileage is to first get your long run as long as possible. You should step this up smartly, like one mile per week (and step it back again every third or fourth week). In fact, there is nothing wrong with going longer than the half marathon distance on your training runs too, though capping out at two hours of running is recommended, as the diminishing aerobic gains beyond that point are outweighed by an increased risk of injury—especially if this is your first time performing such long runs.
Half Marathon Training Tip #3: Churn Your Turnover
While turnover is an evil word in football, it's a valuable concept for runners. Turnover is really related to what sports physiologists call your running economy, which is how effectively you translate the energy you create into forward motion—and therefore speed.
The best and safest way to work on turnover is to add strides to 1 or 2 runs per week. Perform 10 to 20 meters of strides 6 to 10 times. Strides are not an all-out sprint, but rather a "controlled push," where you focus on smooth form. These are not designed to be draining workouts, so strides can be a part of your easy run days. Pace is not important, so don't get hung up on precision in length or speed.
More: Run Fast With Strides