New Levels Coach Matt Long preps you for that first half marathon

So there’s no turning back and you’ve signed up to that Spring Half Marathon. You might want to think about getting need a training plan thats right for you and potentially a coach but before you do that, you need a good think about some overarching principles which are going to guide you along that long and winding road.  

Respect the distance

Firstly, you need to respect the distance because the imperial 13.1 miles or 21km if you work in metrics is a heck of a long way. It’s likely as a rookie half marathon runner that you will have run several 5k park runs and you most certainly should have completed some 10k runs or events. What is more difficult is ‘bridging’ up to the half marathon distance because there is a gap of 11km between 10k races and the half. Whilst declining in their availability, the old imperial race distance over 10 miles offers that bridge and should be sought if you can find one which is local enough to you.


Part and parcel of respecting the distance is allowing yourself time to bridge your training from running a 5k or 10k up to the half and this takes months, not just a few short weeks. We call this periodisation and you are looking at a 12 week block of work in a training mesocycle so you are fully prepared and ready to go. 


Now in his late 70s, Jeff Galloway is a globally renowned coach who competed for Team USA in the 10,000m way back in the 1972 Munich Olympics.  The popular  ‘Galloway Method’ of Run-Walk-Run is internationally accepted as good practice and may be suitable for you as you attempt your first half or should even be used for all of your training and races.  The golden principle of the Galloway Method is however that you walk before you are overly fatigued rather than your body ‘forcing’ you to take a rest. Running is harder than walking because you are effectively having to lift your body weight off the ground, absorb the forces of landing and then start the whole process again. Whilst walking is, like running, a weight bearing activity, it does therefore not induce the kind of fatigue which the act of running does. Interspersing bouts of walking with running could be for you.


Aerobic Exercise 

Those of you who feel that you do not need to adopt the ‘Jeffing’ method may opt for a more traditional variant of the long run, which has to be part of the staple diet for the half marathon runner. Typically run at weekends at a steady pace where you could hold a conversation for aerobic base building they are typically measured in terms of distance or time. So what you need to decide is do you want to have run the full distance in training before the big day or to leave yourself just shy of 13.1 miles so that the thrill of being a ‘completer’ is yours to savour on the day itself. 


A common mistake beginner half marathon runners tend to make when effecting long runs is mistakenly hearing it called an ‘easy’ long run and therefore whacking it into a schedule on Sunday the day after trying to run a course pb over 5k parkrun. Ideally you need at least one easy day before running a long run and one easy recovery day after before you do anything hard.  



Tempo blocking

A second mistake beginner half marathon runners tend to make is running the traditional long run too fast thus inducing fatigue for the rest of their training microcycle. ‘But I need to practice my race pace!’ I hear you shout- of course you do but the way to do this is by introducing short segments into your long run which are at intended race pace rather than running the whole session flat out. We call this ‘tempo blocking’ which is where you may run for 15 mins within your long run at half marathon feel pace or if you’d prefer to run to split, you may opt for say 2 miles at your target half marathon pace. You can intersperse these kind of blocks into the long run periodically and systematically with easier running in between. 

Cross training

Remember that the half marathon distance is an aerobically (with oxygen) dominant event so the there are other ways of training this energy system whilst protecting the mechanical loading you will endure when inevitably pounding the pavements. Evidence suggests that many elite athletes are lessening the cumulative volume of their weekly mileage and opting for modes of cross training such as low intensity cycling and swimming. The message is that much of what you do needs to be event specific – hence time on your feet spent running but a proportion of what you do can be non-weight bearing and yet still develop the aerobic energy system. This being said a common mistake made by beginner half marathon runners is to go to a ‘spin’ class on the bike and engage in high intensity (HIT) training and then mistakenly think that this is an ‘easy’ day because its not running or that it’s helped their aerobic development whereas in reality the session has actually stressed their lactate energy system.  

The above leaves us with some questions for self-reflection: 

  1. How do I intend to ‘bridge’ the gap between my current races and the half marathon distance?
  2. When and how am I going to progress my traditional long run to prepare for the half marathon distance?
  3. What is the best way of me developing my aerobic energy system through both running and other modes of non weight bearing exercise? 

Matt Long served as England Team Coach at the Commonwealth Games Marathon Training Camp in the lead up to Birmingham 2022. As coach to two world champions and two European champions he has managed or coached for Team England or Great Britain on 19 occasions.