How To Run Your Best Half Marathon: Execute Your Plan

Two runners race a half marathon

Phase Three: Enact and Execute

You’ve dialed in your goals and set up a game plan. In case you missed it, read part one about How to Plan and Prepare.

Now it’s time to execute! Sometimes the hardest part of training isn’t the workouts themselves but staying consistent day to day and week to week. To set yourself up for success, you’ll want to use habit forming tools to make sure you’re getting in the work you need to.

This isn’t to say that there won’t be setbacks. Unexpected road blocks will pop up, and you’ll have to adjust your training accordingly. Even if you miss a few days, it doesn’t mean your entire program is ruined. Don’t stress over missed workouts, or try to make up for lost mileage. If a curveball gets tossed your way, the best thing you can do is shake it off and keep moving forward.

If you are following a structured training program, you will likely have rest days, cross-training and strength training all built into the schedule. These are crucial components of developing the ability to run your best half-marathon. It’s important to recover well in order to optimize your training adaptations and help prevent injury.

Sample Week of Half-Marathon Training:

Day/Workout

Mon.

Tues.

Wed.

Thurs.

Fri.

Sat.

Sun.

Easy short distance run

Speed work

Easy run at longer distance

Active Rest or

Cross training

Tempo mid-distance run +

Strength training

Rest day

Long Run


Emma Coburn lifts weights

Active rest is a highly effective modality, so on your non-running days you can head out for a long walk or take a yoga class instead of sitting on the couch.

Cross-training gives you the ability to develop your aerobic (cardiovascular) system without the repetitive pounding brought on by adding extra miles on the road. Jump on a bike or into the pool, and give your bones and joints a break to help develop resilience in the long run.

Strength-training is also key for preventing injuries, helping to correct muscular/postural imbalances or increasing the effectiveness of your run-specific programming. This is why a good coach is a wise investment; they can ensure you are maximizing all these different training modalities and guide you through a comprehensive, holistic training regimen.

Your training plan will include a taper period leading up to the event, during which you will dial back on your overall training intensity and volume. Although you are working less during this time, you are not getting out of shape or losing fitness. Instead, your body is in repair mode and is healing the micro-damage caused by training and allowing the inflammation to subside.

​Phase Four: Hydration and Nutrition

A man runs with a Nathan handheld waterbottle

It doesn’t matter how hard you train if you aren’t recovering well and fueling appropriately. In fact, many runners find they run their best races and fastest time just by cleaning up their diet, getting good quality sleep and staying hydrated and fueled on race day.

Staying adequately hydrated should be number one on your list. Hydrating properly will make your workouts more enjoyable and effective, and help you recover faster. Many people have the habit of drinking to thirst instead of being proactive about what they take in and absorb. While there are good rules of thumb to follow, individual hydration needs vary based on environmental conditions, sweat rate, body mass, etc.

Generally-speaking, it’s best to simply drink in small amounts consistently throughout the day then hydrate a little extra about half an hour before a run.

Keys to Hydration:

  • Drink half an ounce of water per pound of bodyweight, every day.
  • Drink 16 ounces of water about 20-30 minutes before your workout
  • During recovery, drink 16-32 ounces of water per hour of activity

During the workout, try to take a few sips every half-mile to mile to avoid digging yourself into a hole. Electrolytes can also make a big impact on your body's ability to absorb water and use it effectively. Make sure you have salt, potassium and magnesium in your diet, so the liquids you use to hydrate are better absorbed by the cells. Supplements like Nuun are specifically designed to increase the rate of absorption into the body.

Nutrition

Many new runners think it’s important to “carb-load” before races. This term is often misunderstood. Carb loading should be a small increase in carbohydrates in the days leading up to the event rather than binging on pizza and pasta the night before.

The body stores roughly 90-minutes worth of calories to use as fuel. If you are running for less than 90 minutes, fueling on the run isn’t necessary.

For efforts longer than 90 minutes, or to just be safe, you can use a nutrition source like GU gels (along with water), energy chews, or sip on a drink mix every 15 to 30 minutes to supply a steady stream of glucose to your bloodstream which tops off the gas tank for your working muscles.

Your long weekend training runs are a good opportunity to dial in your nutrition and hydration strategy, so you are not trying anything new or different on race day.

​Phase Five: Relax & Recover

Make it a priority to go into your race well-rested and completely recovered. This typically means that you will reduce your weekly mileage and training intensity in the days or weeks leading up to your race in order to prime you for your best performance.

After every training block, take some time to renew your relationship with running before biting off the next big project. Taking a post-race reset and refresh can also bode well for the next training cycle. During the week after your race, keep your running easy and light. You will not only promote healing through active recovery, but taking a mental break from a structured program and just running for fun again can be extraordinarily helpful for preventing burnout.

It’s worth pointing out that your best race doesn’t always equate to your fastest one. While it’s certainly motivating to chase PR’s, the quality of the process is more important than the ultimate time on the clock.

By Timothy Lyman. Timothy Lyman is the Head Coach and Director of training programs at Fleet Feet Pittsburgh. He is a Certified Personal Trainer through the American Council on Exercise and a Performance Enhancement Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

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