How to master the middle distance run leg

Cracking the half-marathon takes a mix of precise training actions and racing strategies. We have the tips to help you smash your run splits

Joe Beer training for a middle distance triathlon

Let’s be honest, most athletes ‘survive’ their Ironman marathon. Note I didn’t call it a run – there’s often plenty of walking and stopping and many don’t feel their average pace merits the word ‘running’.


In contrast, middle-distance tri, and its half-marathon, can be raced by many. It takes conditioning, but it’s achievable to race against the clock, with significantly less chances of major stomach shut-down, huge cramping issues in the legs or soul-searching and sobbing.

But to make your foray into middle-distance a success you need to be endurance fit, to have practised feeding over the entire race, to pace the bike correctly, to use tried-and-tested shoes, and be ready for hardship to come knocking on those run leg – PBs are only easy the first time around. But as you can race more halves than fulls, you can also learn more readily what works and accelerate the cycle of race-learn-improve.

So, first off, I suggest the following four types of training, which don’t have to be ticked off every week but still need to be regular:

Endurance run 

Approx. 13km/2hr in Zone 1. For example, fasted morning run, split as a double-run day, or use gels and drink throughout to teach the gut race feeding. Choose softer surfaces or a treadmill, with shoes that aren’t bottomed-out.

At least two brick sessions a week 

These can be varied: short run after a very hard interval or a time-trial bike effort; quick tempo run after a longer ride; short multiple runs off the turbo or a gym bike working on transition efficiency.

Over-geared efforts (OGEs), run

Working at a low cadence (55-60rpm) uphill, often in aero position. Run off this and you learn not to panic when you start with wooden legs! 


Short intervals, e.g. 4 x 1mile, stand-alone 5km-10km races or personal loop time-trials. A small amount of this – where you have to increasingly shout ‘shut up legs!’ – reminds you to go mentally ‘hard’ on the run. 

With these sessions and following tips and case studies you’ll have the raw materials you need to help you master the middle.

Joe Beer in brick training

Weekly 21.1km run training plan 


Swim – 45mins skill work.


Bike/turbo/rollers – 40-80mins; run – 20-40mins.


Swim – 10 x 100m bilateral FC as fast/moderate/easy etc; 8 x 50 (25 max pace, 25 cruise), 1min rest between each 50m.


Bike – quality: warm up 20-30mins then 6 x 4mins high intensity or 8-12mile time-trial + short 10-15mins brick run and cool-down spin.


Swim – 90mins endurance set. 


Bike – endurance, 2-3hrs with 20mins OGEs (e.g. 4 x 5mins @60rpm) + 45min brick run. 


Alternate: Run – 60-90mins off-road endurance/Run – 1hr with 5 x 1km at best pace, 2mins jog recovery.

(Images: Jonny Gawler)


What helped you improve your half marathon times? Let us know in the comments!