how to figure out your half marathon training paces

I thought I would dive into the half marathon talk because, well, I'm drinking the koolaid now that I'm training for ZOOMA in January! Plus, I think this is a really good topic, especially if you want to hit your goal time. Figuring out your training paces is really important for reaching that goal time because they add that element of speed/tempo/interval training that you need if you plan to run quicker. But first, you need to know how on earth you figure out those times. I'm here to tell you, so let's go! (Seriously, let's get running!)


Step #1: Figure out your goal half marathon finish time.

This is important because it's going to shape your other paces. Plus you need your eyes on the gold (medal) in order to reach it. Once you figure out your goal finish time, then you can calculate (like here) how to get your pace per mile. For me, my goal half pace is to finish in the 1:49 range (1:49:00-1:49:59), which means my average is around 8:20 min/mile.

Step #2: Figure out 3, 5, and 10k paces.

These distances (and paces for them) are all very important in your training plan because you will use them weekly when training. There are two ways to figure out your times.

1 (aka the easier one). Involves you using your finish times in 3, 5, and/or 10k races already completed by you. You take your times, whether you've ran one or 10 races in that distance and take the average of them to figure out your race pace for that distance. Now, if you ran a lot of, say 5ks, and your time has drastically decreased between your first 5k and your more recent one, then average out the amount in that distance you think is fitting to your pace that you can currently maintain.

2. If you don't have previous races in these distance to use as markers for your paces, then this is the option you will use. The reason that this is step #2 (versus #1) is because you need to know your goal half marathon pace time in order to determine these shorter distance times. Once you have the goal time, you can figure out your shorter distance paces, as so:

  • 10k pace: 15-20 seconds per mile faster than half marathon pace.
  • 5k pace: 15 seconds per mile faster than 10k pace.
  • 3k pace: 10 seconds per mile faster than 5k pace.

My paces (thanks to averaging) are: 

  • 10k: 8:15 min/mi
  • 5k: 7:43 min/mi
  • 3k: 7:25 min/mi

Step #3: Figure out your easy, long run pace.

For your long runs, they should be done at an easy pace. As in, I can carry a conversation for the whole 10 miles pace. This time is also based off of your goal half finish time (just like if you chose option 2 in Step #2). It should be at least 1 minute per mile slower than goal time, if not more. For me, my average pace for my half is 8:20 min/mile, and my easy pace is 9:41 min/mile, which puts me at about 1 minute 20 seconds per mile slower for easy runs. This isn't to slow you down once race day comes, but rather help you learn to use your body for that distance (aka increase your endurance) and reduce any injuries that may have come. It may be torturous and make you feel like you're running in reverse rather than forwards, but suck it up, because I'm right there with you!

Step #4: Figure out your tempo run pace.

Tempo runs are here to help you. Essentially, they improve your metabolic fitness; they help your body push the fatigue point a little further, thanks to increasing your lactate threshold (LT). You should feel uncomfortable while running them, but it's all for good reason. This pace is normally a bit faster than your goal half pace. I run my tempos anywhere between 8:04 - 8:20 min/mile, and want to die every.single.time. Because if we're being honest, I hate tempo work. If it weren't for the fact that it will help me become speedier and help me hit my goal time, I would avoid it at all costs! You might like it, and the more power to you! Maybe you can help me learn to as well!

And although this last step isn't directly related to training paces, it will help you become a faster runner...

Step #5: Run strides after an easy run.

Strides are quick accelerations to about 95% of your max efforts for around 100m/~20 seconds per stride. After you finish an easy run (just easy, not a long run!), perform 4 strides at 20 seconds each/100m in distance. 

Here's a good little chart to use for guidance that I found super helpful:



Start off the stride by gradually picking up the pace, then reaching that 95% max for the peak (7.5-15 seconds), and then starting your slow down. This is also where it might be good to figure out your max effort to determine what 95% of that would look like. My stride time = 6:38. 

Strides not only help you become a faster runner, but by doing them after an easy (example) 5-miler, you are helping to train your body to finish strong and possibly end your run come race day with an acceleration!

Now that you've got all the numbers, apply them to that awesome half marathon training plan! Alternatively, if I've completely wiped you out after reading this, you could always just use the 12-week plan I came up with and am currently using! It's proved to be amazing so far, and it actually makes me excited to be following a training plan. So, I'm either a complete running nerd, or I really did make a legit training plan.

I hope this post was helpful and happy running!

What's your favourite and/or worst part about training for a race?