Strategizing a Half Marathon PR

Holy Moly!

I have a new half marathon personal best!

Park to Park14-125

My ragged self had to be led away from the finish line.

This kind soul of a man is asking, “Do you need the medical tent?… Do you need medical?

I am slurring, “No… Nah. Uh…no.”

But in my head I am clearly saying, “No, I don’t need the medical tent. I just need to pass out!

That feeling lasted for only about 20 seconds, but it was FOR REAL for those fleeting moments.

After a minute, I was good and yucking it up.Park to Park14-127

As with my last half marathon PR less than 12 months ago, I am once again completely surprised. Leading up to this race I did figure that I would run a PR because for one, I knew I’d put in some hardcore marathon training, two, the course and weather were primed for fast times, and, of course, third, I had lots of beets to fuel me.

But, whoa, this PR came in a big way.

The night before, I had told my husband, I’d be okay with anything faster than 1:22 and happy with anything under 1:21.

In the end…

Park to Park14-117

I sprinted to a 1:19:51 finish, just a few seconds shy of four minutes faster than my previous best, 1:23:45.

Let me talk through how I prepared.

Processing it will help me to train again to PR in other races. I hope it helps you too in some way shape or form.

First, some quick stats on preparation and race strategy:

  • Race: Park to Park Half Marathon, Waterloo, IA
  • Weather: no wind, sunny, 55-60s. Perfect running weather.
  • Course: USATF certified. 95% flat. The three minor hills were just interesting, no big deal.
  • Pace: 6:05, fun to see this post’s goal come to fruition but even faster.
  • Prerace food: 5:30pm evening meal: coconut rice, sweet potato, sauteed green beans; race day: 5am coconut rice, 2/3 cup and a little homemade sunbutter (you know, like peanut butter but with sunflower seeds).
  • Race fuel: just water at probably all six aid stations. One swig of Gatorade at the last aid station, but it just made me sticky when I spilled it all down my face and left leg. I didn’t need it. I was well fueled without.
  • Beets: 10 days leading up to the race I ate at least two medium beets worth of juice or beets, fresh or roasted.
  • More beets: found a steal of a deal on a concentrated beet juice sports drink which I also consumed race morning and for three days prior to try it out on my stomach. Great stuff. Read on for more on that.
  • Shoes: Altra One^2 Perfect! Ultra-lightweight, yet cushy. A great shoe.
  • Socks: Altra Endurer No-Show. Great. I love the foot-shaped toebox, even on the sock, it feels great.

Now let me go through three focal points to my race and preparation.

1. Focus on a plan

I had previously run a 6:23 per mile pace for a half marathon, but I figured I would run significantly faster. In order to wrap my head around a very new realm of pace (eventually 6:05), I broke down the race into four “mini” races. I mentioned this strategy in a previous post. Thankfully, that is one reason I appreciate my own blog; it serves as a record for me to help myself and again, hopefully, you too. I reread this old post days before the race. It, along with a lot of prayer, helped me to get to the finish fast. I did’t elaborate on the specifics of this mental race strategy in the previous post. Since it worked then and it worked this time, it must deserve further explanation.

Again, the plan is a mental approach. Before the race, divide the 13+ miles into four segments. Give each of those segments a one-word title. Make it something that helps focus on a specific task for those few miles. Memorize those four words and even practice going through which miles are which. You wouldn’t think it would be too hard to remember four words, but when you’re struggling to push yourself it actually is hard to remember much of anything. So I spent a few days going over this race strategy:

Miles 1-4 “Quick” – Run the first four miles faster than my goal time, that was the plan. I figured why not just go all in, you know?! Every mile for the first four miles I just kept repeating “quick, quick, quick” and tried to keep it under 6:09, which was a pace I thought was completely out of my league. After mile four, I was averaging 6:04. This was a good start.

Miles 5-7 “Smooth” – Maintain whatever quickness had come from the first little bit but just stay relaxed. I kept saying smooth, but then I just started saying butter, butter, butta…” because I really like butter and, to me, there’s nothing much smoother than a nice grass-fed butter. Miles 5-7 were as smooth as butter. I was somewhere around 6:06.

Miles 8-10 “Pass” – Not as much interested in actually passing someone as in not being passed. I was running with a friendly stranger, at this point, which is another key that I will talk about later. Anyway, there was a dude I could see about 150 yards up and I just kept focusing on him, trying to inch closer to him. I did pass the friendly stranger, but we mostly ran together until almost the end. I love when that happens! And at this point, my average pace was around 6:08.

Miles 11-13.1 “Push” – Okay, so I can’t wait any longer to talk to you about this friendly stranger. She was actually crucial to the push to the finish. I will highly suggest you find a friendly stranger like this in your next race. Personally, I think a stranger can be a better encouragement than a close friend/family member, especially when you’re doing something that is physically very difficult. You just don’t know anything about each other. You have no other training baggage or whatever other knowledge of the person. The only thing connecting you is whatever suffering that is happening in that very moment. If you use the moment to benefit each other this can be a special connection as you can symbiotically push each other toward your own goals. This friendly stranger pictured to my right at the start…

Park to Park14 2-53

…she caught up to me and passed me around the half-way point. We knocked elbows. Apologized. Etc. We went back and forth but stuck together. Before the race I did briefly hear that she was hoping to break 1:22. I hadn’t said anything, but I knew I was also hoping for the same result. When at mile 8 we were running 1:20 pace, I said, “1:20 sounds pretty good?” She quickly agreed, “yeah, really.” We were quiet until sometime around mile 10, and she said, “we’re really close to 1:19.” She said that and I was like the road runner in the cartoon. Zing…I just took off. I pushed it through those last 2-3 miles, dropping my overall pace to around 6:05 and got in just under 1:20. Friendly stranger came in around 1:20:09. Both of us way faster than imagined.

Strategizing the race helped, but the daily grind of careful nutrition and training are what truly get you to the start line prepared and ready to PR.

2. Focused nutritionBeetElite-canister-web

Yes, I ate and drank a ton of beets prior to the race. My experiment was in no way scientific, and I know many factors influenced the race. What I do know is: I increased my consumption of beets, and I ran a whole heck of a lot faster than ever before. So I would do it again. And again. And again. And if I keep seeing the same results, then it may become even more convincing.

Toward the end of the 10 days prior to the race, I found this crazy good deal which I mentioned earlier on this stuff at right. BeetElite Neoshot sells for 40 to 50 bucks a canister (20 servings). I have seen it in the store and always think, “Huh? I’d try that, but it is so expensive!” But, seriously, it was on sale for $13.50. How perfect! I am pretty smitten with it and I will be rationing it to drink around all my upcoming races.

Other than the beet extravaganza, I did treat the race more like a marathon with very careful carbohydrate consumption especially in the day or two before the race. But a few days of careful eating cannot make up for weeks and months of poor choices. For me, frequent smaller meals, every 2.5 to 3 hrs, including some protein and carb make me feel the best. Also it may sound strange, but going to bed just a teeny tiny bit hungry makes me sleep so well and feel so good when I wake up. Try it! Eat your normal evening meal (not a super-sized honkin’ huge meal) and be done eating for the day about 3-4 hours before bedtime. No snicky-snacking. No massive bowl of ice cream! You’ll be a little hungry. Don’t worry about it. Just go to sleep!

Park to Park14-100

3. Focused Training for a PR

100 mile weeks, now that I’ve run two, well, uh, I’m a real expert.



I put in two 100-mile weeks in the past month. I am sure that I would run just as well on 80, 90 or 95 miles. BUT there is a huge mental aspect to everything, as you well know, and the mental advantage that I get being able to tell myself, “Hey girl, you’ve done the work; you’ve got this…” this is why I’m trying to run as many 100 mile weeks as I can manage.

Other than the higher mileage, I ran only one half marathon-specific training run which consisted of 13 x 1300s on the track with 30 seconds rest (2 minutes between #5-6 and #10-11). I did these in an average of 6:09 pace. And I only consider it half-marathon specific because I did 13 reps, ha! I’m kinda being serious. But, anyway, this workout was 11 days before the half. Besides it I’ve just been doing marathon training which tends to be longer intervals, tempo runs and fast finish long runs. But I know this one, specific workout was quite hard and it was a great confidence booster. It was the reason I thought I might shoot for 6:09 pace. Still I thought that was too fast and “out of my league” but in the end it wasn’t.

All in all, I think the main thing is just to focus.

Focus on a goal.

Give yourself mini goals to help you reach your one main goal. You’ll probably achieve some pretty sweet mini goals along the way.

For me, this was a pretty sweet mini goal.

My confidence is boosted. Now it’s time to recreate a newer, faster marathon goal. Stay tuned for more on that.

I’m excited. Hope you are too.



7 thoughts on “Strategizing a Half Marathon PR

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