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Threshold Training Tips

Preparing for a half-marathon requires a mix of speed, strength and endurance.

genericrunnerOn the Threshold

Comfortably hard, but hardly comfortable. Preparing for a half-marathon requires a mix of speed, strength and endurance.

To run a good half-marathon you need to be fast, you need to be strong and you need to be able to maintain a solid pace for a long time. Whether you’re using a half as a stepping-stone towards a marathon, or simply keying on that distance as your main goal, proper preparation for the event requires a mix of all kinds of training. Done right, you’ll come out of the race fitter than you’ve ever been, which will allow you to either: a) take a well earned break or b) use that fitness as a stepping stone towards your next goal – either a marathon or 10K PB.

Regardless of your fitness level, the basics of your training program are pretty much the same. The following training suggestions are based on a three-month lead up to your race. I’m assuming that you’re starting this block of training with at least some base fitness.


You need a certain amount of bottom-end speed to be able to maintain your goal race pace. If you’re aiming for a 90-minute half, you need to be able to average 4:16 per kilometre (6:52 per mile). The faster you are, the easier that pace is going to feel. (It goes without saying that if your fastest 1K is four minutes, holding 16 seconds slower for 21 in a row isn’t going to be fun – or even possible.) Whether your goal is 1:30 or two hours, you need to be able to run your goal pace as comfortably as possible.

To achieve that, the first six weeks of the program should incorporate some speed work. These are intervals of 200m to 400 m, done with nearly a full recovery. Start these workouts fairly easily and try to get a little faster each week. Aim for about 2.4K to 3.6K of interval distance on the track. You might start off with 12 x 200m with a 200m jog recovery and work your way up to 9 x 400m with 200 m jog recovery. You should aim to do these repeats faster than 5K race pace (closer to 1500m pace, if you’ve raced one recently).


The first half of the program should also incorporate one workout a week of strength training. I don’t mean hitting the weight room. You’re going to use your own body weight, combined with gravity, to get your workout. I typically have my athletes alternate hill and stair workouts during this phase of training. The hills should vary between 200m and 400m in length. These workouts should include 20 to 30 minutes of intense work.

Here in Hamilton, we’re blessed with a number of long sets of stairs up the escarpment, which offer an excellent strength training option. Stair sessions should combine a variety of different types of stair running including two at a time, one at a time for 15 to 45 seconds, along with an intense 10-second stair rep followed by 30-seconds fast at the top (flat running). Like the hill sessions, your stair workouts should include 20 to 30 minutes of intense work.

Tempo Runs/Intervals

After a 10-minute warm up you should run at your goal race pace for 20 to 60 minutes, then do a 10-minute warm down. I like to have my athletes do a couple of these runs for a full hour leading into their half marathon race – on the chart below you’ll see that happens during weeks eight and 10 of our plan.

Tempo intervals are a nice way to break up these longer runs. These are race-pace repeats for anywhere from 8 to 12 minutes, with a fairly short recovery in between – usually about one quarter of the effort time. (After an 8-minute rep you would take 2 minutes recovery, after a 12-minute rep you would take 3 minutes rest.)  Your goal will be to run between 20 and 40 minutes at your race pace.

VO2 Max

Over the last half of the program we would replace the speed sessions with VO2 Max intervals. These intervals are designed to train your body to hold the speed you’ve attained for longer and longer periods of time. These intervals should be anywhere from 3 to 8 minutes in duration (600m to 1,600m) with a good recovery, but not enough to ever feel like you’re completely replenished before you start the next interval. You could do something like 5 x 600m with a 200 m jog recovery, or 3 x 1,600m with a 400m jog recovery. Your goal is to be able to maintain some of your faster speed session times throughout the entire interval.

Aerobic runs

These are easy runs (you should be able to pass the talk test throughout – they’re great social runs) that help develop your aerobic capacity. One day each week you should be doing a longer aerobic run that should eventually build to longer than your race distance (22 to 23K).

Kevin MacKinnon is a senior editor at Canadian Running and the editor of Triathlon Magazine Canada.

Suggested Weekly Plan:

Week Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
1-6 Alternate activity or off Speed Easy Aerobic Strength off Tempo Run/ Intervals (Alternate) Aerobic
7,9 Alternate activity or off VO2 Max Easy Aerobic Tempo Run off Easy Long Aerobic
8,10 Alternate activity or off VO2 Max Easy Aerobic Tempo Intervals off Long Tempo Shorter Aerobic
11 Alternate activity or off VO2 Max Easy Aerobic Tempo Run off Easy Easy
12 Off Speed Easy 10 mins Tempo off easy Race