5 Ways to a Half Marathon PR

Days after the half marathon, I’ve been thinking of the process that led me to a big PR finish, in terms of differences when I ran my first half marathon PR (1:44:34) in 2008 at the America’s Finest City (AFC) Half compared to the one I recently ran, San Diego Half (recap here) with a finish time of 1:40:24.

2008 was a tremendous year for me.  It was the year I decided to train for my second marathon after a painful and humbling experience of running my first one in 2005.  That year I swore it was my first and LAST marathon, and I would only run shorter races!  Yet peer pressure at times can make you do things you swear you’ll never do.  Actually, it was not too big of a pressure, but merely a nudge to sign up for a marathon training program with the San Diego Track Club (SDTC) to train for the RNR San Diego Marathon.  Thankful for the nudge since the program significantly helped me in being properly trained for the marathon and qualifying for Boston as well as achieving a few other PRs the same year, including the AFC half marathon.

Since then, I’ve been chasing a PR for 8 years and finally I did it!  I owe it to several things I did differently during the training cycle.

1.  Nutrition and Fat loss – I’ve mentioned in several of my posts how I changed my diet to less processed, low sugar, more whole-foods based due to disappointing results from a lipids profile exam from my yearly checkup in late November.  In the first couple of months of clean eating (I try to practice 80/20), I lost around 7 lbs.  The last several pesky pounds I’ve been trying to lose that evidently in my case could only be done by altering my diet.  Weight does affect running performance and according to Matt Fitzgerald, author of Racing Weight, ‘One study found that every 5% of added body weight reduced running performance by 5%’.  He further explains how to determine your ideal race weight in this article.

2.  Strength Training – another regimen I seriously devoted my time to build more muscle and lose fat due to my lipids profile. During the holidays, I committed to a strength streak, 37 days of daily strength training for at least 15 minutes and then I teamed up with Allison, Inverted Sneakers for another 29 days of strength streak in February.  Strength training definitely helped with my muscle imbalances (my right hip/glute is weaker) as well as in preventing injuries.  Sweat Science, Alex Hutchinson discussed the latest study that was published in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research with regards to strength training and its “large beneficial effect” on running economy

3.  Tune-up Races – the SDTC’s training program includes two races, 10K and 15K, both rightly timed. The 10K was 4-weeks after the training started that gave me an indication of where my fitness level is at the time.  I adjusted my paces for the final 6 weeks of training based on the 10K finish time, so I was able to train at a higher level rather than ‘undertraining’.  The 15K was scheduled 3-weeks prior to the half marathon but instead of racing it I decided to practice my goal pace which gave me an idea of what it felt like to run at that pace.  I like this article by Coach Culpepper about the benefits of tune-up races.

4.  Course Familiarity – on Thursdays, I planned my medium-long runs along sections of the race course so I knew exactly what to expect. The Washington St. Hill training run tremendously helped me on race day since I was familiar with the steepness and distance I had to endure, it was easier to attack it mentally.  One section I failed to cover during my training runs was the downhill portion.  The technique for downhill running takes practice and at times I found myself holding back afraid of hurting myself as I wasn’t used to the speed.

5.  Slow Start/Finish Fast – Going to the race with a planned pace and sticking to that pace closely during the early miles allowed me to reserve enough energy to power up the hill during the later miles as well as pick up my pace during the final mile. I’ve had a bad habit of starting out too fast and way too familiar with the fatigue experienced late in the race – it’s the worst feeling.  Staying in control the first few miles pays off dividends in the end.

What is the one factor you’ve changed or added to your training that helped improve your race times?

I am linking up with Courtney at Eat Pray Run DCMar at Mar on the Run, and Cynthia at You Signed up for What for their Friday Five.