10 Tips To Run Your Best Half-Marathon

Train like a pro with tips from Ryan Hall, Mark Curp, and coach Matt Ebersole

Jan 27, 2012
Outside Magazine
Start of the 2011 Chicago Half Marathon

Start of the 2011 Chicago Half Marathon    Photo: Courtesy of The Chicago Half Marathon

The marathon’s little brother has been bumper-sticker branded 13.1. The distance is half that of a marathon, but that doesn’t mean running one is half the achievement. To run a good half, you’ll need the speed of a 10Ker, the endurance of a marathoner, and the wisdom of those who have gone before.

Your Coaches:
Ryan Hall
, current U.S. record holder with a time of 59:43
Mark Curp
, former World and U.S. record holder with a time of 1:00:5
Matt Ebersole, 20-year coaching veteran of more than 5,000 runners

10. Understand your goal
“People who aren’t clear on why they’re doing this really struggle,” Ebersole says. Take a moment to reflect on why you want to run 13.1 miles. Is it for weight loss, a sense of personal achievement, or to motivate yourself to get more exercise? “If you can be clear on that, you’ll see how each day’s training fits into the goal you’ve set out, and you won’t have too many motivation problems,” he says.

9. Make it social
Get a group together, or join a local running club. When you’re socially and emotionally invested in your workouts, it’ll be harder for you to skip them. “One day you’ll want to run because you’re fired up about being a runner,” Ebersole says. “The next day, you might run so you can go to Starbucks and not feel guilty.” Having running buddies will help keep you from burning out or slacking off.

8. Slow down
Don’t be that guy or girl who dominates every workout and then fizzles on race day. “People who have the tendency to train too hard leave their races in their workouts,” Curp says. “You have to make sure you get enough rest along the way.” Rest days and easy runs are built in to the training plan for a reason. And if you’re a speedster stepping it up from a 10K, give yourself permission to run slower as the distances increase. “When the distance is no longer a big deal for you, you can worry about speed again,” Ebersole says.

7. Race
Nothing will prepare you for the big day like racing in a smaller event. You can practice your nutrition plan, work through pre-race jitters, and learn what it feels like to push hard. “The trick is to learn to love running and racing,” Ebersole says. “The other 23 hours of the day feel so much better when you put that hour in.” His beginner plan has a 5K and a 10K race. Advanced runners should experiment with negative-split runs—running the last half of a race faster than the first half.

6. Get outfitted
Even in 1985, Curp wore moisture-wicking fabric that wouldn’t soak up his sweat. Skip cotton and wear clothes made from materials like COOLMAX or Nike’s Dri-Fit. Same goes for your socks. “And avoid something you’ve never worn before,” Curp says. Test your race outfit on a long run, paying attention to any chaffing or fit issues. You don’t want comments about bloody nipples detracting from comments about your accomplishments when you post your official finisher photo on Facebook. 

5. Train your brain
“Often we think we need to train our bodies, but then we leave out the mind,” Hall says. “We all have negative thoughts, but it’s what we do with them that makes a difference.” Hall recommends developing the habit in training of turning every negative thought into a positive thought. When mental lows creep up during the race, you’ll be prepared to combat them.

4. Pace yourself
“The half-marathon is in the gray zone, where it isn’t really comfortable but it’s not really hard, either,” Ebersole says. New to pacing? Here’s Ebersole’s half-marathon rule of thumb: For the first five miles, err on the side of feeling a little too relaxed. For the second five miles, adjust your effort to maintain that speed, or turn it up a notch. Then, with 5K left, kick it into high gear. “This is where the real racing starts,” Ebersole says. “It’s where you’ll start thinking about other people and trying to squeeze out as many seconds as you can.”

Need help determining your goal pace? Try plugging 5K and 10K results into these pace-predicting calculators: The Running Times Race Time Equivalent Calculator and The Runner’s World Training Calculator. They’re not perfect (each one will give you a slightly different goal time), but you’ll get an idea of what to shoot for in the half-marathon.

3. Get a tattoo
Before Hall ran his record-setting race, he wrote out two pace charts on the back of his hand, outlining what his splits should be at different points during the event to hit his goal time. Tell PaceTat.com your half-marathon goal time, and they’ll send you a temporary forearm tattoo with mile splits mapped out at your goal pace.

2. Keep an open mind
“Don’t limit yourself on the start line,” Hall says. Although he did have those pace charts on his hand, he wound up feeling better than expected, and ran faster than either pace he had outlined. Don’t be a slave to your watch on race day. Pay attention to how you feel, and you may end up surprising yourself.

1. Celebrate
Enjoy the moment when you cross the finish line. Hall hung around and hugged his family, while Curp ran straight back to his hotel to call his loved ones. Then post that finisher photo on Facebook and tag us @outsidemagazine so we can join in the praise. But don’t be surprised if you, like Curp, find yourself haunted by the old runner’s adage: You’re only as good as your next race. That’s the beauty of the half-marathon. “You can recover relatively quickly and be back racing a week or two later, ” says Curp.