You Be the Coach: How Would This Runner Improve His Half Marathon?

The topic of “getting faster” is compelling because there are so many options of accomplishing this goal! They’re nearly endless…

Fast runners

Of course, because the available strategies for increasing your speed are mostly limited by your imagination, it’s a really difficult question to answer thoroughly.

But that doesn’t mean we haven’t tried! Strength Running has 600+ blog posts, 50+ podcast episodes, and 100+ videos to help answer this big question and help you get faster.

The topics that fall under the umbrella of “running faster” are plentiful:

  • General nutrition
  • Race-specific fueling
  • Strength training
  • Plyometrics
  • Injury prevention and consistency
  • Aerobic workouts
  • Anaerobic workouts
  • Hill workouts
  • Sprints, strides, and hill sprints
  • Running drills
  • Mileage
  • Long run distance
  • Long run structure

That’s a random list I wrote in about 20 seconds. And we can drill down into each topic to reach sub-topics of even greater specificity!

Man, I love the complexity (and simplicity) of running.

But usually, I need more specific information to give a more personal, nuanced answer. That’s what we’re both going to do today!

Get Faster in the Half Marathon

I want your help answering a question I received about getting faster at the half marathon:

I just ran a half marathon and achieved a Personal Best of 1:31:29. Although it went well, I felt more tight and tired than I wanted after mile 10.

I believe my speed is good, since I ran a 19:41 5k earlier this year. Do I need longer long runs? My longest leading up to the half was 11.5 miles.

So, what do you think?

What issues – based on the information we have – would you bring up in your answer?

How should this runner think about their next half marathon race?

Leave a comment on this blog post explaining what you think this particular runner should do to keep improving in the half marathon.

Ok, now that you’ve left your comment below it’s my turn! I recorded a video with my thoughts:

It will be fascinating to see how our answers differ or are similar.

And hopefully, after being a member of the SR community, you’re able to get better and better at answering these types of questions!

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  1. Brittney Saunders says:

    Speed is fine. Need more tempo runs to build that stamina a little more and strength training so your body can utilize other muscles when your others start to wear down. Maybe focus on form to improve overall running economy.

    • Richard Mathews says:

      I am going to disagree. 5k time is fine for that pace for an experienced 1/2M runner but for a first one I would expect 7% drop in speed for each doubling in distance so by all means work in strength but also some track speed work once a week to improve basic speed and running economy. All the comments about nutrition also valid. A gel with magnesium at 9 miles would give an energy and psycological boost could help with the heavy legs at 10 miles, but to be honest if you are not feeling something at 10 miles you are not working hard enough.

    • Completely agree… I think the long slow run strategy did me in on my first Marathon (Seattle Marathon two years ago). I never did any long tempo runs…at mile 10 I cramped and had to walk a few times and dropped my pace by 30 sec per mile. I went from a comfortable lead in my AG to 4th. I have been running longer tempo runs this year and I have PR’d on my 5K, 10K, 15K, 10 mi and half-marathon times. I attribute this to my incorporating strong tempo and subThreshold runs into my training. As a matter-of-fact, I run only tempo/subthreshold and recovery runs right now. I begin track work next week.

      If you’re wondering, I didn’t race last year due to other priorities that I had to take care of… but still trained.

  2. Not knowing anything else:
    – the Half time is pretty good in relation to the 5K time. Feel good about that.
    -Longer long runs will definitely help with overall endurance and confidence in the final miles of the half
    – Race-specific training runs where you’re doing tempo for 5-6 miles and up (an be a section of a long run)
    – Interval workouts at various distances from 800K – 2M to build strength

  3. 1) long run needs to be increased. I’d shoot for 15-16 miles. Increase overall endurance make the bucket bigger.
    2) if the runner isn’t doing it already, making sure to get in faster paced long runs, 3×3 miles at half marathon pace is one of my favorites but hundreds of possibilities. Progression runs are a staple of mine

  4. Matthew K says:

    I agree with previous comment from ChipG.

    1) Long runs of up to 14-16 miles have proven beneficial in my experience, but nothing longer than 2 hours.

    2) Race specific workouts can be added one or two days a week at goal half marathon pace and/or quick HMP surges mixed into the long run.

    3) What about nutrition? If a runner feels “tight and tired” it sounds like cramping. Is there a fuel/hydration issue to be addressed?

  5. So, I didn’t watch the video response yet, but here’s what I’m seeing:

    More tight and tired than he wanted to after Mile 10? That sounds a bit normal for a half-marathon to me; the final third of any race is always a place to bear down.

    For my response, first I’m going to assume we’re ruling out co-variate factors like even pacing (Didn’t try to kill it in the first half and was left totally wilted by the end) and nutrition (adequate replenishment of carb stores and fluids) and STRICTLY talking about training.

    If he’s running a 91:xx minute half, he’s prolly running his long runs at a maximum of an hour and 45 mins. Ultimately, this is something you can get away with in a half since you’re prolly going to hit some good slow-twitch fiber gains during those runs. But then a few more questions remain: how much lactate threshold training was in the program? We know he’s fast; 19:41 is a quality 5k time and as he noted, he was doing well with his speed. Perhaps there was a lack of focus on tempo runs or tempo intervals for race-specific training that came with his half-marathon training.

    Ultimately, I would need a better picture of his training leading up to the half-marathon and his race performance to give a more accurate assessment. Curious what your video response is for this case.

  6. Limited info. What started to fatigue….legs, core…what cross training was taking place during the training? How about stretching? Nutrition? My experience coaching has shown that there are many factors to consider, rather than just running.

  7. I would have the runner do longer long runs as feeling tight at 10 miles would suggest a lack of endurance. I am a big fan of tempo runs for all distances so the runner gets to feel what it is like to run “up tempo” for good periods of time.
    I would also look at what they did for a taper. How did they fuel for the race. Did they fuel intra-race

  8. I’d suggest more Sprints, strides, and hill sprints

  9. Yes, having a long run or 2 at or close to race distance will help the 1/2 marathon feel not as long. Also, have some moderate-distance runs that you add fartlek or tempo to. You want to become used to managing the fatigue. Also, try some runs over hilly courses to get stronger.

  10. Without looking at anything else, I’d look at overall volume and the quality of the long run, maybe see if there is any progression work to get the legs used to tired running. In addition, if their legs were feeling tired and tight, I don’t necessarily know that more pounding will help if the speed is good. So maybe drill that easy runs NEED to be easy pace. Also, no mention of rolling or stretching so what does that look like?

  11. He needs to focus on strength endurance during training to prevent cramping/weakness in the latter stages of the race. Hills are perfect example of training – if we want to improve speed/strength it would be good to add this aspect of into our training.

  12. As others are saying, 5k time means speed’s non too shabby, they’ve certianly got decent endurance, 5k pace is just a fraction faster than the equivelent HM pace using the Daniels tables.

    I’d like to glance at the data for the race to see if HR is getting out of hand in the final 1/4 or if pace is slowing. I’d also like to know the course, is it hilly, what were the conditions.

    To feel fresher at the end it may not be endurance that’s missing but strength, if so then maybe some 200m reps / strides / hill work is needed. However 11.5 miles doesn’t seem like enough. For this time and distance I’d expect to see longruns exceeding race distance too.

  13. Zoe Hill says:

    Just like Jason woods said, I was going to ask about cross training, stretching and what other middles this runner needs to utilize… runner was feeling tight – where? Lower back? How strong or stable are the hips, or core? Legs feeling heavy? Maybe a nutritional issue also? What was the weather during the run? Maybe lack of electrolytes was a factor?

    • Zoe Hill says:

      Just like Jason woods said, I was going to ask about cross training, stretching and what other middles this runner needs to utilize… runner was feeling tight – where? Lower back? How strong or stable are the hips, or core? Legs feeling heavy? Maybe a nutritional issue also? What was the weather during the run? Maybe lack of electrolytes was a factor?
      Apologies for the typos… using my phone…

  14. Kathleen Cason says:

    She has good speed … The issue of fatigue makes me wonder how she did with hydration and fueling during the race. Longer long runs can be helpful but nutrition and hydration are the two things I’d look at first.

  15. I think he needs to increase long runs if even by 2-3 miles giving a long run of about 13-15 miles. Once they are able to run that comfortably at a regular “long run Pace” then start throwing in so HMP intervals towards the middle of the run but focus on finishing strong

    The tightness/cramping during a race rarely is a result of fueling. More often than not it is a muscle-demand use the muscle fibers are exhausted which causes the tightness. Which is why “stopping (key word) to stretch” helps.

    I would say two biggest improvements are long runs and strength training.

  16. Firstly, congrats on your shiny PR, runner! Great job! In my humble opinion, to keep progressing with speed and endurance, the runner needs to:

    1) Start HIgh Performance Lifting;
    2) Gradually increase the long runs;
    3) Do running workouts involving hill reps.

  17. Lori McGee says:

    I think a next training cycle focus could be building some endurance with some medium long runs and longer long runs.

  18. Chris Rudolph says:

    1:31 on only an 11 mile long run – Whew!!! This guy was moving. I think he definitely needs to increase his long run to at least 15 or 16 miles so he is used to the fatigue that comes at the end of the race. As a secondary item he should try longer runs 10-12 miles where he does both a tempo run and fartleks. The speed work after the fatigue of the tempo runs should also help simulate that “tired legs” feeling at the end of the race & will help him learn how to push through.

  19. Great question. It’s very easy to mix up faster and fitter, so the sessions here are what have worked for me in bringing down my times. Mind, I’m an English teacher, not a coach!

    Decent speed, so for me, this runner needs to Run faster for longer. Agree with getting the long run up to 16 miles/ 2 hours. Also, hilly tempo runs will get a lot of bang for their buck, increasing strength and speed endurance.

    This could be coupled with flat out attempts at getting faster over shorter distances. Hill reps in the early weeks of training, moving to longer hills and efforts as the weeks go by. This should bring the 5k time down, too. You need to be able to feel and accept the discomfort. It’s normal in a half marathon race. Replicating this in the effort of a 5k could help.

    I don’t know if there’s any evidence for this, but I’ve found that going through the gears to create progression runs on mid- long runs might help. So an 8 mile run could be 3 steady, 3 hard, 1 very hard, one hanging on for dear life. This teaches your legs to Run on tired and empty, and your heaf to know that you can battle through and use the lsst miles to gsin time ibstead of losing it.

    All supplemented with strength work that fatigues your legs, then makes you work on them. E.g. Tabata sessions using squats, mountain climbers, sprints and high knees.

    Over a half, the power of your glutes, bavk and arms can be used to give your legs a break. Work on their strength so you can use them to accelerate and ‘switch off’ your quads for a minute. Huge psychological difference.

    Finally, if you’re not in a club, it might be worth looking at joining one. They will have structured sessions where someone else calls out the recoveries and sets the pace in a group that should challenge and motivate you. And it’s a great noisy in those last few miles when fellow club members are encouraging you as you start to really suffer.

  20. As was said before your time relation with Your 5k time is spot on! Half marathons always get hard around mile 10. Although a run close to your race mileage is necessary “long runs are overrated. It’s the volume of your running as whole and what you are doing is more important. If you want to run a faster half I would recommend working on speed to bring down your 5k time. It also could be mental but that’s a whole new can of worms

  21. Little benefit from longer or more runs. I think xtraining and functional movements like lunges and squats will help the most because they will strengthen your underutilized muscles.

  22. I understand that the whole point of this exercise was to tap the hive mind, but I dunno. This person just did a 1:31 half — that’s pretty freakin’ fast. I’ll go out on a limb and say we’re not talking about lopping another 5-6 minutes off. Odds are, the runner’s program is already pretty good; we’re talking about minor tweaks that could maybe pick up a minute or two along the way. The Internet isn’t the place to find those.

  23. I am resisting to look at all the answers and your video Jason before giving my ‘insight’.
    To this runner I would say: yes you should probably focus on increasing your long runs. In my opinion for two reasons.
    1) I know you can. Because I have a way higher half-marathon best of 2:01 that I am working on improving and my plan includes long races of up to 15.5 miles.
    2) This would most likely force you to review your pre-run and mid-run nutrition, which is what I thought at first glance might be the cause of your tiredness at mile 10, given the pace you are trying to keep. I noticed that I could have stronger finishes when I incorporated mid-run fueling into my long runs. But I only started thinking about nutrition when I started doing 14 miles.
    Not sure if using myself as a reference is appropriate but hey, it’s the only one I have.

  24. Increase your long run at an easy pace to 18 miles to build endurance, do longer easy runs by minutes and not miles, and do 1-2 fast finish long runs. I would also incorporate tempo long runs of 10 -12 miles at your half marathon pace. Last but not least would be strides done 2-3 x per week, all preceded by supplemental training, and injury prevention exercises. Listen to your body.

  25. I don’t think there is really a lot of info to go on in order to make suggestions, but, if he is happy with his speed (I would be, I wish I could go that fast) then I would think he would need to increase his long run to help with the tiredness he felt. An 11.5 mile long run in training doesn’t seem like enough. For that distance I would want to train past the half marathon mark, maybe get to 15 to 16 miles.

    I also would wonder about his overall weekly milage, maybe that needs to be increased as well. I would definitely look into more race specific training in order to increase speed and endurance, things like tempo runs and fast finishes, and don’t forget about getting stronger overall with other types of workouts.

    But again, I could use a lot more info about his current training in order to suggest things to help him get faster and feel better towards the end of the race.

  26. Speed is good with a sub 20 minute 5k. It points to the fact that a faster half marathon is very plausible and with less fatigue. Would suggest:

    1) Increasing your weekly long run by 5-10% each week, until you reach 18-19 miles, don’t worry about speed, the extra mileage will help build strength and stamina and you will finish your half marathon much stronger and with less fatigue.
    2) Strengthening exercises – if doing little at present, time to start some simple exercises or if already doing some maybe upping the amount and intensity very gradually.
    3) How fast are you running the first half of the half marathon? I’m wondering if you are starting a little fast, if so that could be another factor for the latter fatigue, aim for a negative split. In fact this one change could result in a PR and less fatigue in the legs towards the back end of your race.
    4) How was your taper before your half marathon run? Did you take it easy and ensure your muscles were rested and free of soreness, or were you tempted to run a little fast whilst in taper mode? This will affect your performance.
    5) Fuel – Did you take on board some fuel? A gel or similar fuel around mile 7/8 should prove beneficial if not.
    6) Above all be encouraged! Your abilty to run a faster half marathon is already proven in your 5k PR. With upping the length of your weekly long run you shou should see a major improvement in your time and feel stronger towards the end of the race.

  27. Purnima Anup Singh says:

    What happens on race day is different from training- so maybe he ran faster than his half marathon pace- or he forgot about the fluid intake while running or didn’t sleep well or had not recovered enough from training although seriously I can’t see the problem when he’s done as well as he has!!

  28. Michael Roberts says:

    The HM total time was very good, but I’d like to see the splits to know if the runner was actually fading after mile 10 or was just feeling the strain of a fast race; which one should expect. I would increase the long run to at least 13 miles, with the last 3 miles at HM pace.

  29. …some 120-140 mile weeks will straighten him out!

  30. Let me post my originally tweeted replies here:

    Based on just the 5K time, his HM could not have been much faster. Without further info, I’d advise not much longer runs but a diversified scheme incl. hill training, intervals, fast short runs, + easy base! In general: stay tough on what’s hard (for you), go easy on what’s easy.
    I.e. sprinkle in anaerobic threshold training. This runner has no apparent distance weakness, so increasing his aerobic ability across the distance-vs-speed spectrum should help (and is fun! ‘:-D)

  31. After watching your video, I have one question: You talk of 1:25–1:20 HM runners doing 40–50+ mi/wk. Do you mean during their #peak weeks, or already as their #base training?? From personal experience (peak 38 mi/wk –> PB 1:20’49”) I’d strongly disagree with the latter!
    I’m stressing this topic b/c training volume appears to be a fish story among runners – partly due to poor wording (see: https:|||UH8DtlOLoe). Base vs. peak mileage differ ~2-fold! Proper training is all about the right balance between diversified challenging and #recovery!

  32. I agree with all the basic things to make a runner better, I run at Muskingum University. I may only be training for 8k’s during cross, and 800’s during track, but both sports my coach has us do the same basic things, just tweaked a little to our event.

  33. Merlin Calo says:

    Here is my response, before watching Jason’s video answer. I think it would include a combination of things. On the top of the list would be working on speed (temp runs/interval training) at great distance, logging in the proper miles for a half, injury prevention post run, nutrition, and proper rest.