Training for a PR for a half marathon showed up in the American College of Sports Medicine Journal, with concepts explained almost as bullet points. These ideas can be applied to almost any kind of endurance training, but I thought it was good; the old, standby ideas that always work (great picture, btw, by Larry Sillen).
The three main ideas:
1) Increase your endurance to compete (not just finish) by doing more mileage.
2) Improve running efficiency (economy) by doing hills, speed sessions, and strength.
3) Better race strategy; don’t start off too fast, better food/fluid intake, enough taper.
Putting these ideas into a few short paragraphs doesn’t do justice to the work involved (each person has different requirements and capabilities, getting enough rest, etc) but the essence of the training is roughly the same.
First, increasing endurance. Most runners can probably finish a half marathon and feel pretty good about it. However, to be more competitive a solid base of endurance is necessary before increasing muscular and neuro-muscular efficiency, where the training stress will be more intensive. The recommended base, before delving into longer or higher intensity, recommends about 25 miles per week for first time half runners. Of course, building up (either to that level or going to higher mileage) needs to be done gradually to avoid injury or burnout.
Once a solid base has been built up intensity can be added; hill work, speed work, race-pace intervals. This will give you increased overall fitness (the ability to use more oxygen) as well as being able to run faster for a given oxygen intake level. Hill running as strength work stimulates neuromotor functions; emphasizing effort, is good (being careful to avoid injury)…also high intensity interval training. Strength exercises like squats, lunges, lifts are preferable because they use muscle combinations rather than leg curls or extensions that are isolated muscles.
Generally, most athletes follow their diet reasonably well; and it’s been found that carbo loading may not be needed if you’re eating an adequate amount of carbo regularly. During the race it makes sense not to under or over hydrate, and some loss will occur normally. If more than 2 – 3% loss of body weight (fluid) during the race it will affect your performance. And probably around 30g or a little more of carbohydrate per hour will be appropriate.
Also, tapering exercise before the race is important….fatigue from training will decay faster than fitness (that’s a good thing) so not to worry about losing race capability with shorter workouts in the pre-race week(s). Just reduce training somewhat with shorter intervals and intensity work.
Finally, don’t start off the race too fast! Use your GPS and monitor your pace…it’s easy to get caught in the excitement and find yourself all beat up after a few miles. So there’s a lot involved in preparing for a race if you want your peak performance. Just pay attention to the basics; they always work!