How to Run a Half Marathon PR

OK, OK, I promise I’m going to stop saying this soon, but I still can’t believe I ran that fast last Saturday. It just doesn’t compute. I’m pretty sure my body was taken over by some powerful, external force that carried me through that race.

Anyway, I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what I did to make this happen. I can’t promise a ridiculous PR for everyone, but I can tell you what worked for me.

1. Speedwork

Above and beyond anything else, I think my speed workouts really made the difference in this race. I know most of you will hate this, but what really seemed to do it for me were the tempo runs. Every Wednesday, I did 7 miles with 5 miles of tempo sandwiched in the middle. Each week, my tempo was progressively faster, and I’m pretty sure it made me progressively faster.

2. Strength Training

We all know that I absolutely despise my time with Jackie. It’s not her; it’s me. Really. Strength training is not and probably will never be my thing. That said, I noticed a marked difference in my pace when I added in weight workouts. I only did total body weights about twice a week (with wimpy 3 lb. weights at that!), but it was enough. I can only imagine the benefit if I could get myself to take seriously. ;)

3. Lotsa Long Runs

My training plan was 9 weeks long, and I did a long run every Saturday, including 2 13 mile runs and 2 14 mile runs. It may seem like a lot, but I took it slow and steady. I looked at each of those long runs as a chance to train for endurance, not speed. My mindset was more toward being able to run for a couple of hours rather than being able to run a certain number of miles. And as much as I hate to admit it, my long runs went significantly better once I started strength training more seriously.

4. Don’t Try Anything New . . .

The night before a race, I’m always tempted to have a giant bowl of pasta in the interest of the ever-popular runner’s “carb load.” But you know what? That doesn’t work for me. Pizza or a salad will do the trick just fine. And as for not drinking? Well, no, I’m not going to get myself hammered, but I think a glass of wine or a beer the night before isn’t going to kill me. Plus, beer has carbs, right? ;)

The morning of, I thought about having a banana or a bagel before my race, but I stopped myself. I know running on an empty stomach isn’t advisable, but I’d rather stick to a few shot blocks and an energy gel rather than risking upsetting my system. I know what my body likes and doesn’t like. I experimented with food/fuel on those long training runs and definitely found what worked and what didn’t.

5. or . . . Do

Against all advice, I ran this race in new shoes and a new shirt. Big runner’s no-no, right? The thing is, I always run in Adidas running shoes. Always. When I ran last Monday and realized my shoes were shot, there was no way I was going to run my race in them. Broken in or not, I know that I’m going to be OK in new shoes, so I went ahead and got a new pair, did one quick 4 mile test drive, and laced ’em up on race day. Done and done.

Same goes for clothes. I wouldn’t suggest trying compression for the first time on race day, but if you know you like a certain style of top or tights, wearing a new version of that should be just fine.

This goes for pre-race rituals, too. I never would have eaten dinner late or gotten to the race at the last minute on my own, but it all worked out totally fine! Sometimes letting go of control and just letting life happen can be the best thing for us controlling runners. You know who you are: those of us who train train train, do the same exact thing every time, try to make control every last second of the run. Guess what? It almost never goes as planned. So why not try going with the flow? It can’t hurt!

6. Run for a Cause

A few weeks ago, the brother of one of my high school classmates died as the result of a traumatic brain injury he sustained in a car accident. I never knew him, wasn’t ever even that close with my classmate, but it struck a chord with me. In the days following his death, I couldn’t stop thinking about the family and the loss of their son, brother, and friend. I thought about my own brother and how devastated my family would be if anything happened to him; we would never really recover. It just got me thinking about how fragile life is and how things can change in the blink of an eye. I decided to start a Facebook group to raise money for his memorial scholarship fund and to run my race on his behalf. As crazy as it may seem, I felt him with me every step of the race. Every time I got nervous that I was going to run out of steam I thought, “Nope, Jamie’s with me,” and I felt this sense of total calm. For me, running for a purpose bigger than my own self edification definitely made an impact on my race.

So there you have it! That’s what I did that (I think) made an impact on my race. I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of rhyme or reason to any of it, but it seemed to work for me!

What’s your best training tip for kicking some serious booty on race day?

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5 thoughts on “How to Run a Half Marathon PR

  1. Love these recommendations! I love that you ran for cause too.

    I think riding the course/knowing what you are getting yourself into is also really helpful. You can definitely cut down on the extra mileage if you know the tangets and you can mental prep yourself for the race. I WISH I had realized there were 4 miles of open/empty high way in Savannah. It was such a spirit killer!!

  2. I don’t have any recommendations except what NOT to do. I’m working on it! Well, be nice to your mother but that’s not really a running recommendation.

    I’m going to concentrate on my tempos more. Mama wants a PR next year. :-)

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