Taken up running during lockdown and ready to take things up a gear? Although races are unlikely to start back up anytime soon, now is the time to put in the prep work so that next spring, you'll easily smash the time-goal you want! So, we caught up with expert run technique specialist Paul Mackinnon from The Balanced Runner, to get his top training tips...
How many weeks prior to a half-marathon race should you start training seriously?
Tackling a half marathon is no easy task. It should be a progression from running consistently and doing a few 10K events in the months prior to making the decision to run the Half. It’s always good to give yourself 8-12 weeks of slow increases in long runs so your body and your mind can get used to the distance.
A sub 1 hour 30-minute half marathon is something many people strive for, how achievable is this for the average runner?
Good question, sometimes people make those goals without realising just how fast you need to run over an extended period of time. If you are running between 40-42 minutes for 10K you can look at a sub 90 min half with the above prep time.
What does an ideal training programme look like & do you recommend getting outside help if you’re not qualified?
100%. Just like you don’t build your own house or fix your own car if you don’t know how to do it. Get someone who knows what they’re doing to create your program. It should look different depending on the individual runner and their level of experience!
Getting the right gear: is there anything you’d really recommend in terms of kit & technology, or are these ‘extras’ just a waste of money?
Your gear needs to be seen as a means of being comfortable during training and race day rather than something that can necessarily improve performance. Technology is feedback, it can keep you accountable or allow you to consistently train to or race to a specific pace/heart rate but in the end it all comes back to the runner.
How do you recommend increasing your running week on week?
If you are increasing distance, don’t also increase intensity and vice versa. Many runners don’t know what their threshold speed/Heart Rate (HR) is and therefore don’t know what pace to be doing their speed sessions at. It would be beneficial to spend some time working out what your specific training zones are.
Cadence: what does this actually mean and does this matter to the average runner?
Cadence is how many steps you take per minute. For me, cadence is an outcome. If you improve your movement then you will spend less time on the ground, and if you spend less time on the ground, your cadence will increase. (Off the record: too much focus is put on cadence when it’s an outcome and it is often used to try and change technique without an understanding of why the technique is causing a low or high cadence. A general range is more optimal than a specific number.)
What’s your top tip for boosting your speeds?
It’s hard to run fast on race day if you never train it. Add a speed session to your program where possible. Or at the very least add 5 x 100m efforts at the end of a run.
What is the best way to avoid injury?
Running is all about consistency and training within. No big changes. No big increases in training whether it be distance, time, intensity or technique.
How important is recovery/prioritising rest?
The more you can listen to your body and respond accordingly the better your body will respond.
Do you have any tips for fuelling your training?
Diet is a very individual thing. However, a common rule of thumb would be to not eat anything heavy nor too much before running. The last thing you want is a full/heavy stomach when out on your training run. A lot of people don’t feel too hungry after running and therefore solids aren’t really an option. So, find a liquid option of replacing the calories that you’ve burnt. It could be an electrolyte drink, a protein shake or a smoothie. I like a chilled, water-based protein drink post run!
Is it crucial to do a proper taper before a half-marathon?
If you’re going for a PB or this is your first half, then it’s always good to allow the body the opportunity to freshen up and be ready to go on race day by tapering at least the week leading up to it. This is where a professional will know best when they are creating the program.
It's gameday: do you have any advice for the race itself?
Don’t get caught up with the race day energy and go out too hard. Set yourself a target pace and stick to it. If you feel good with 5-7KM still to go, you can start to reassess, but if you burn too many tickets in the first 5K because you ran too fast then it can be an ugly finish!