How to Pace a Half Marathon

Are you seeking how to pace a half marathon? If so, welcome to I am glad you have made it here. My aim with this post is to provide some strategies you can use to hopefully set a new personal best time.

Of course, there are no guarantees with racing. You do the very best that you can do and give it your best shot.

That being said, sometimes you can do everything correctly and still not meet your goal. The half marathon demands strength, stamina and endurance. A major mistake I see many runners making is trying to win the race in the first 10 kilometers.

Remember, you want to plan your attack in the last 5 kilometers of the race. Your competition will be tiring at this point. In addition, they will be the weakest mentally especially those that went out too fast in the first few miles or kilometers of the race.

How Do I Pace Myself for a Half Marathon?

Practice your goal half marathon pace sufficiently leading into your race. For example, if your goal is to run under a 2 hour half marathon you have to get 9:09 per mile pace to feel easier. How do you this? Well, sufficient training at or far below 5:41 kilometer pace. Of course, there are many runners who can sustain this effort for 10 kilometers.

That being said, it is something different to sustain it for 21.1 kilometers. So, you want to train for longer periods of time at your anaerobic threshold. I talk about this in the Sub 2 Hour Half Marathon Domination course.

how to pace a half marathon
Finishing with a 1:07:06 half-marathon PR in Philadelphia

So, early on in your training your tempo runs may be 3 miles in length. The goal is to extend the duration you are training at your anaerobic threshold to 6 miles or more.

The reason being is you teach the body to burn fat at race pace. In addition, to conserve what it has much less of, carbohydrates.

How To Not Hit “The Wall” in a Half Marathon

Train at paces significantly faster than your goal half marathon pace in training. Easier said than done right? Well, this sport involves patience. Remember, it takes the body between 3 to 4 weeks to adapt physiologically to any stress load you are placing on it.

So, you can’t be in a rush with this. One of the biggest mistakes runners make is not having a belief in delayed gratification. Who doesn’t want quick results right? It takes much more diligence on your part to allow sufficient time for your body to recover and adapt to what you are throwing at it.

Also, don’t go out so aggressive in the first 10 kilometers of a half marathon. You don’t want to go into oxygen debt. It is not a good feeling. In addition, it doesn’t matter how motivated you are if you go out too aggressive in the race. So, the mark of great runners is getting out aggressive but not going too anaerobic, too soon.

Lastly, you want to make sure you are hydrating well in practice. The last thing you want to do is try to race a half marathon without ingesting sufficient calories. Yes, you may be able to get away with that in a 5K or 10K but not a half marathon.

How Long Should a Half Marathon Tempo Run Be?

A tempo run of 20 minutes will be sufficient early on in your training. That being said, the goal is to train for longer periods of time at your anaerobic threshold. Remember, you will be racing very close to this effort in the race. It comes out to around 88 to 92 percent of your maximum heart rate.

A major reason why runners slow down is they haven’t trained sufficiently at these efforts. As discussed above, they also run far too fast too early in their races. The results is the hydrogen ion within lactic acid shuts down muscle contraction. Thus, forcing us to slow down

So, a tempo run needs to be extended out to around 40 to 50 minutes in length. Again, the better you can handle increasing amounts of lactic acid the better. No, this will not be easy. That being said, with persistence you will adapt and recover from the harder anaerobic workouts you are doing.

What Heart Rate is a Tempo Run?

Tempo runs are used to improve your body’s lactate tolerance. Again, you want to slow down less than your competition. I highly recommend training for a minimum of 12 weeks for your half marathon. Preferably, 16 weeks to obtain the best return on your time investment.

Remember, if you are going to do anything you might as well do it right. The best middle to long distance runners are running about 40 percent of their weekly volume at, near or far below goal race pace. Why do they make it look so easy? They have practiced diligently and adequately to sustain pace longer than their competition.

Watch the video above that I made on event vs process. We always see the fast times these athletes are running. What we don’t see is the many years of sweat equity these athletes put in to make it look so easy.

Should Tempo Runs Be Done on Flat?

I always focus on doing tempo runs on the flattest route I can find. Also, I do my tempo runs in racing flats. Of course, everyone is different. Yes, there will be some times where you will have some rolling hills on your route. Remember, it will only make your stronger.

That being said, focus on the effort itself rather than just the heart rate. I am a big believer in heart rate monitor training. I usually did my tempo runs around 170-74 beats per minute at my fittest. Remember, I ran my marathon PR of 2:19:35 training at these intensities. That being said, I was also 31 years old when I ran that time.

Of course, if I was doing tempo runs now at 45 years old I would aim for around 161 BPM. Again, you want to focus on around 92 percent of your maximum heart rate. So, focus on finding a flat route to do your tempo runs on. Jog a mile or two for a warm-up and do 3 to 4, 100-meter strides to increase your heart rate prior to starting.

What Should a Tempo Run Feel Like?

How to pace a half marathon takes patience. So, you want to get aggressive in the first mile but not too aggressive. You can sprint the first 200 meters of a half marathon and build up no lactic acid. So, get out quick and then settle into your planned pace.

Here is another pro tip for you to keep in mind. Don’t wear a watch. Yes, take it off. Remember, you have put in the hard work already when it comes to the morning of the race.

So, find a legit group to run with and let the splits take care of themselves. I was not wearing a watch when I ran my 2:19:35 marathon personal best shown below. In addition, I wasn’t wearing one when I ran my 1:07:06 half-marathon best shown above.

3 30 marathon

A tempo run should felt comfortably hard. You shouldn’t be able to have a casual conversation at tempo effort. Again, you are running anywhere from 90 to 92 percent of your maximum heart rate. So, training at your anaerobic threshold is not comfortable nor fun. That being said, it is fun to set new personal bests.

You cannot set new personal records by running aerobically. Yes, you can build endurance this way. That being said, when it comes to racing you must improve your body’s lactate tolerance.

Quality vs Quantity

We hear this all of the time. That being said, it is 100 percent true. It does you no good to run 100 miles a week if your training is too aerobic. Why not run 50 miles a week and set some new personal bests instead? So, don’t get caught up with high mileage.

Focus on what percentage of your weekly volume are you training closer to or below your goal half marathon race pace. Again, the best middle to long distance runners train around 40 percent of their weekly volume at very high intensities.

So, there is a reason that they are able to sustain race pace longer than their competition in the races. No, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are more talented than you. It means they have focused more heavily on quality rather than quantity.

Focus on Doing Faster Long Runs

Have you had problems sustaining goal half marathon race pace in the past? Look at how you are conducting your long runs. Have you been running long and slow every single weekend? If so, you need to start varying the paces of your long runs.

I lowered my half-marathon from 1:10:31 to 1:07:06 using this strategy. In addition, my marathon from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35. So, I know this tactic works. Below are some examples of the types of long runs I have my runners doing…

  • 2 mile warm-up, 4 miles@10 seconds slower than goal half race pace, 2 miles easy, 8 miles@160 beats per minute (about 85% of max heart rate for runners in their 30s-40s), 2 mile jog cool-down
  • 1 mile warm-up, 14 miles@15 seconds slower than goal half pace, 1 mile JOG, 1 mile all out, 2 mile jog cool-down
  • 2 mile warm-up, 7 miles@10second faster than goal half race pace, 2 mile jog, 3 miles@5 seconds slower than goal half race pace, 1 mile jog cool-down

Remember, always do your following week’s long run easy and relaxed. Recovery is essential for you to adapt to the stresses you are placing on the body. Also, the benefits of the hard work you do today will be seen several weeks from now. So, be patient.

Is Half Marathon Pace Tempo Pace?

Yes, it is extremely close to your goal half marathon race pace. Dr. Joe Vigil, an elite coach and world-renowned exercise physiologist, puts it this way.

He states to find a quick guesstimate of what your tempo pace should be is to take your best mile time and add a minute onto it.

He is about right too. My best mile is 4:22 and my tempo pace when I was at my fittest was in the 5:20s per mile effort or around 3:18 to 3:19 kilometer pace.

Again, you won’t start off early on in a training build up running long tempo runs at goal race pace. The goal is to adapt to each stress load you are placing on the body first.

Remember, it takes about 4 weeks to adapt to any stress you are placing on the body. So, you have to allot sufficient time for the physiological adaptations to occur.

Why do so many runners fail at getting their goal race pace to be achieved? They go out far too fast. In addition, haven’t trained sufficiently at or far below their goal race pace.

Closing Thoughts

So, how to pace a half marathon is staying controlled in the first 10 miles of the race. You really want to start planning your attack in that last 5 kilometers of the race. Also, continue to pass people throughout the race. Also, don’t try to win a half-marathon in the first 10 kilometers of the race.

Remember, you want to be strategic in how you set up your race plan. As mentioned above, make sure you are hydrating well in the race. In addition, ingest a gel or two within the race.

I write that because that is a fast 200 to 300 calories that goes straight to your blood stream. You will need that glycogen in the latter miles or kilometers of the race. Do you not do well with gels? Well, then make sure to drink a combination of water and sports drinks in the race.

So, never try to race a half marathon without drinking. You will shoot yourself in the foot. Again, you are going to spend a great time of time training for a half-marathon. You might as well do it right. I want you to get a new personal best and use leverage.

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