On Saturday 27th July 2019, I ran a half-marathon in 1 hour 24 minutes and 59 seconds. Just one second shy of the 1 hour 25 minute mark. It was a minute and 33 second improvement upon my previous personal best (1:26:32).
To say I was thrilled with the result would be a massive understatement. In this article, we’ll be looking at my top 5 tips to run a sub 1:25 half marathon. Let’s go.
I wasn’t always a fast half-marathoner
You might be looking at my new personal best and think ‘that’s great for him but I’ll never be able to reach that kind of a time’. If this is you, don’t worry. I never used to be a fast half-marathoner.
In fact, I finished my very first half-marathon in 2016 in a time of 1:53:30. Not fast by any stretch of the imagination! I was slow, my technique was poor, I was under trained, my diet was atrocious and I hadn’t conditioned my body properly.
I came away from the half-marathon feeling like I’d let myself down and that running wasn’t for me. In fact, I did trump this time with an even slower time a few months later when I decided to go through with a half- marathon I’d booked with a nasty cold and mild flu. That wasn’t a fun race experience!
My first couple of half-marathon experiences lead me to believe I just wasn’t meant to be a fast runner. Or so I thought. So, what happened next?
I changed my running habits and my times became faster
As an enthusiastic runner, new to the sport, my first goal was to achieve a sub 1:35 half-marathon. After my first couple of half-marathons ended in particularly slow times, I knew something had to change. After watching lots of YouTube videos, speaking to fellow runners and some professional athlete friends, the universal advice was to change my running habits.
‘We become what we repeatedly do.’ Sean Covey
I knew habits were important for making changes in our lives but I underestimated just how crucial our habits are. Long story short; we are our habits.
If we eat lots of fatty foods, we become fat. If we eat lots of healthy foods, we become healthy. Those who play a musical instrument for an hour every day eventually become great musicians. We become what we do on a continual basis.
Small changes in our daily routine can lead to monumental changes in the results we get. I found this out when I began changing my running habits.
I began making lots of little changes to my weekly running regime and found that my half-marathon times began to get quicker and quicker. One day, I ran a half-marathon in London in 1:31 and I was staggered at how quick I could run the 13.1 mile distance. I knew I had potential to get even faster, so I kept pushing my habits.
Eventually – as you know – my habits lead to me beating the 1:25 time barrier. I know I can get even faster than this and one day hope to break 1 hour 20 minutes! This will be a lot of work but I like to have ambitious goals in my life to drive my behaviours so I become the person that I want to be.
In this article, the running habits I adopted will form the basis of the tips I give so keep reading to find out more.
You can improve your half-marathon time to under 1:25
I never thought for one second that I would one day reach below the 1:25 mark in my half-marathon time. Now I’m trying to beat 1:20. I say this because I believe we’re capable of a lot more than we lead ourselves to believe.
If you’re serious about running a much quicker half-marathon, I’m living proof that you can. I went from a first half-marathon time of 1:53 to 1:24:59. If I can do it (I’m not an amazing runner) you can do it. The only thing that can hold you back from achieving quicker times is yourself. Faster performances on half-marathon day requires a lot of discipline, work and time during the training process.
It’s going to be a bumpy ride but if you implement the tips which I’m about to give you, you will be successful in running a sub 1:25 half-marathon. Without further ado, let’s get cracking.
My tip 5 tips for running a sub 1:25 half marathon
1. Run at least 6 times a week
The one thing which bumped up my time more than anything else was running more each week. Running often, on a regular basis, conditions your body for running. The muscles strengthen and become accustomed to the running motion, your heart becomes more efficient and your endurance improves.
Since new year’s day this year, I’ve ran at least 1 mile (often at least 4) every single day without exception. So far my daily running streak is 213 days and I’ve clocked up almost 1400 miles. It’s a lot of hard work and requires a lot of discipline but the faster times make it all worth it. Not only that, I find running every day gives me other benefits which include feeling happier, being more productive, sleeping better, having a better social life and so on.
I have professional runner friends and follow a lot of professional runners on Strava, and they run more or less every single day. It’s no coincidence that their times are as fast as they are. Their bodies are prepared for running faster for longer.
I understand that running every single day just isn’t practical for some people. Therefore, 6 times a week should be fine.
Please don’t jump straight into running 6 days a week; you’ll only injure yourself. I got to the point of running every single day very gradually i.e. I raised my distance and pace little by little until I didn’t ache the next day and running became an ingrained daily habit.
Start by running 2 times a week, then 3 times a week, then 4 times a week and so on. Listen to your body and adjust your running regime accordingly. If you’re in a lot of pain the day after a tough workout, don’t run that day!
It will take some time and a lot of discipline but once you’re safely up to the point where you’re running 6 times a week, great results will start coming your way.
2. Fix your diet
If you want to run a sub 1:25 half-marathon without massively struggling, you’ll need to eat a proper diet.
You wouldn’t see Eliud Kipchoge eating a McDonald’s Big Mac, KFC Chicken and a kebab for dinner the night before competing in a race or during training. Why? Because eating these foods would mean he wouldn’t be able to run to his best ability.
I always use the analogy of a race car needing proper fuel for it to perform at its best to explain this. If a petrol race car is filled up with diesel, it won’t move efficiently and the engine will most probably be damaged. Likewise, if you’re expecting to train effectively and run fast half-marathon times on a diet of junk food, think again.
Whilst you may get away with poor eating and drinking for smaller distances like 5K and 10K races, longer distances like the half-marathon will catch you out. You’ll quickly discover that a poor diet is unsustainable when trying to run 13.1 miles, no matter how mentally determined you are.
What is a good diet for runners?
A rule of thumb which I eat by is to eat healthy carbohydrates before a race or training and healthy fats and proteins at all other times.
Examples of healthy carbohydrates: Bananas, whole-grains bread, whole-grain pasta, whole-grain cereal, porridge.
Examples of healthy fats and protein: Fish (mackerel, sardines, salmon), chicken, turkey, nuts, beans, eggs, cottage cheese.
As somebody who used to live on a diet of crisps, chocolate, biscuits, cake and cheese (gross, I know) I was stunned at how much my running improved after eating healthily. Not only that but I also felt happier, filled with more energy and became more productive in my day to day life.
If you want to run a sub 1:25 half-marathon you need to fix your diet. Eat healthily at all times.
Am I ever allowed to eat naughty food?
You are allowed one cheat meal after an intense marathon or half-marathon as the calories burnt in the race need to be replenished and your hard work needs to be rewarded! Have whatever you like. Pizza, fried chicken, kebab, hot dogs, burgers or burritos. Whatever takes your fancy in the hour after crossing the line.
3. Work on your form
Sloppy form is a major contributing factor towards poor race day performance. Spending some time working on your running form should help to knock off a few minutes on race day.
I believe having good form was one of the key reasons I was able to achieve a sub 1:25 half-marathon so I would recommend working on form to any runner.
You might think that poor form is only a minor aspect of your running and that it can’t have a huge impact on your time. However, it can and does have a huge impact on your time. To some, form seems like a minor detail and isn’t as important as fitness, muscle strength and the amount of time spent training.
However, small improvements to your form can make your running slightly more efficient. Slightly more efficient form leads to less energy being spent on worthless movements. Whilst this small change won’t make a huge difference in a short race setting, the effects of good form are compounded over a long distance and the difference can definitely be noticed in half-marathon timings.
All this extra energy you save with good form can be used to run harder for longer. As a result, you have a faster half-marathon time.
I used to have horrendous running form. I pounded the pavement, was unbalanced, flew my arms all around the place and lacked a sense of rhythm. Needless to say, a lot of energy was being wasted on unnecessary movements which meant slower times. I knew I had improve my form and got educated on how to run smoothly and efficiently.
You can improve your form by working with a coach at a running club, practicing during training, working with an experienced running friend or even by watching YouTube videos. The tiniest of changes to your form – like keeping your head up instead of down – can result in big changes to half-marathon timings. Therefore, it’s worth your while to work on your form.
4. Practice running the half-marathon distance
One of the reasons my first ever half-marathon was such a train wreck (injury, improper pacing, horrendous nutrition) was because I had zero practice running the half-marathon distance.
I went into the race never having run further than 7 miles in one go. This lack of experience with the race distance meant I was under prepared, both physically and mentally. Physically because my body wasn’t conditioned to run the distance and mentally because I had no race strategy which subsequently lead to me burning out in the first half of the race.
Before my next race, I decided to run the actual half-marathon distance twice as part of my training. Come the next race day, my time reduced drastically and I was in the 1:37 time range.
I was sure that the experience I’d had in training of running the race distance a couple of times had contributed to my time on race day. This then inspired me to train harder and run the race distance (and more!) a few times before my next race which lead to me getting a sub 1:30 time and so on.
Therefore, my top tip to others wishing to run a sub 1:25 half-marathon would be to practice running the race distance. Doing so means you are mentally prepared for the race distance and your body is well-conditioned.
Contrary to the advice I was given to ‘not run the entire race distance before race day’, I think practice with the distance is crucial to being successful.
You wouldn’t get on a plane with a pilot who doesn’t have experience in flying a plane for an entire flight just like you wouldn’t get your car fixed by a mechanic who only knows the basics of how an engine works. That’d be crazy because the chances of successfully landing the plane or fixing the car are slim to none. Running a great half-marathon time is no different; you need to practice firs.t
Practice the half-marathon distance on your weekly long run in the weeks leading up to race day. This will more than likely result in a faster time on race day, moving you closer to the 1:25 mark.
5. Establish your race strategy
When I started racing in half-marathons I failed miserably because I had no race strategy. I would pace out of the starting line in the initial excitement of starting the race, only to burn out 4 miles later. Needless to say, my timings were not only abysmal but I also had a horrendous half-marathon experience.
Now, things have changed. I have established a race strategy which I use on half-marathon day to help me pace myself and to achieve the best time possible.
My personal race strategy is the popular negative split method. A ‘negative split’ means you run the second half of the race faster than the second. The key is to run at a pace you are comfortable with during the first half of the race and then, once you are comfortable and put your foot down on your accelerator for the second half.
A way to think about this is to use the first half of the race to warm your body up and get into the zone, with the second half being where the magic happens.
When I started adopting the negative split strategy in my half-marathons, I found that my time went down drastically. Eventually, it went below 1:25. I was staggered at how much difference employing a strategy had on my time.
Of course, everybody is different. Whilst the negative split works for me, it may not work for you. You may prefer the positive split strategy which means running the first half quicker than the second. In other words, you hit the ground running at the start and then pull things back slightly for the second half.
Whatever the case, it’s always worth your while to experiment with different race strategies. Try positive and negative splits when you practice the half-marathon distance in training and determine which one works for you. When you work out which is best for you, you’ll be a force to be reckoned with come race day.
There you have it; my 5 top tips for running a sub 1:25 half-marathon
Wishing you the best of luck in both training and all the race days you have on your journey to beating sub 1:25. You can and will do it if you follow the tips I have given above. Go for it.