Half Marathon Training: Fun Run & Training Run Races

half marathon training run, Kim Smith, Brooklyn Half

Kim Smith passes the Cyclone roller coaster on her way to victory at the Brooklyn Half. She ran the race as a half marathon training run. (Photo: NYRR)

Sometimes races aren’t about racing. Toeing the line in competition is exhilarating, but sometimes it’s good to use the occasional race as a training run or fun run, especially during half marathon training.

Kim Smith won the 2013 Brooklyn Half on May 18 in a new course record of 1:11:24. But the three-time Olympian from New Zealand who lives and trains in Providence, RI wasn’t even racing. She ran the half-marathon as a tempo-pace training run, as she told me in pre- and post-race interviews for “NYRR On The Run at the Brooklyn Half.”

“I’m going to treat it as a workout,” Smith told me at the race pre-party the day before.

Indeed, Smith’s half-marathon personal best is 1:07:11, a full four-minutes faster than her finish time in Brooklyn.

“It was a pretty relaxed effort,” Smith said after the race. “I didn’t go all out.”

She said she’s training for the track season and will be back in New York City on Saturday, June 8 to race the Oakley New York Mini 10K, a New York Road Runners event that usually attracts a stellar competitive field. The women-only race boasts a $10,000 prize for first place, and past champions include the legendary Grete Waitz, Olympic-medalist Deena Kastor and World Champions Lornah Kiplagat, Edna Kiplagat and Linet Masai.

half marathon training, Kim Smith, Brooklyn Half

Kim Smith breaks the tape at the 2013 Brooklyn Half in course record time, though 4 minutes slower than her personal best. (Photo: NYRR)

I found Smith’s decision to run, but not race, really encouraging. Never mind the fact that not racing for her still might mean winning and scoring a course record. What’s important is that she set-out to do the race as a half marathon training run and did just that.

In my mind, there are three types of races for mid-packers like me: personal record attempts, training runs, and fun runs. Pros and elite runners have a fourth type that will likely elude me my entire running career: running for the win or the podium. Though I did once place in the top 10 women at a small local race, out of 65 ladies. While that will likely be my claim to fame for a long time, the other three types of runs will always have a place in my racing repertoire, especially during half marathon training.

Back when I was a newbie, I used to run just about every race as fast as I could. But as I became a better runner, I found that exhausting. I started racing in 2007 and come 2010 started to embrace the race as fun run or training run.

Half Marathon Fun Run
Half Marathon Training, Walt Disney World Marathon, Disney running, run Disney,

Fun running the Walt Disney World Marathon. (Photo: Marathon Foto)

The first race I ever did just as a fun run was actually the Brooklyn Half in 2010. I ran it with a friend. We’d both registered with the intention of giving it our all, but come race day neither one of us had it in us. So we chatted and jogged the whole way. It was a blast. And I think it helped my half marathon training in the long term. A little over three months later, I nabbed a half marathon PR by 7 minutes at the Montreal Half Marathon.

I wrote about it after Paula Radcliffe and Kara Goucher made headlines for running the NYRR New York Mini 10K, the same race Kim Smith is competing in next month, just for fun.

I found it really refreshing to see two elite pros going for a Sunday jog in the park just for the joy of it. I think it’s something every runner should do from time to time. We spend so much time worrying over our training and our PR’s. I think it’s healthy to take a step back and remember that running is fun and can be fun whenever we need a break from giving it our best.

Another type of fun run I love is the victory lap. My husband and I ran the runDisney 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon in January fresh off of marathon PR’s just eight weeks earlier and a Boston Marathon qualifying time for him. We walked through water stations, stopped for photos with Disney characters and just took it easy. It felt like we were Super Bowl winners or Olympians who’d shouted “I’m going to Disney World!” right after our Philadelphia Marathon personal bests. We sure did. Doing that marathon as a fun run after great personal feats felt like a well-deserved victory lap. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a marathon.

Half Marathon Training Run
half marathon training, TInker Bell Half Marathon, Tink Half

I embraced the “fun run” and “training run” in 2012 at the TInker Bell Half Marathon. (Photo: brightroom)

Running a race as a half marathon training run took me longer to embrace, but ever since I did I’ve been singing its praises. The first time I used a race as a half marathon training run was the 2012 Tinker Bell Half Marathon in January to tune-up for Disney’s Princess Half Marathon in February. The result? A 2-minute PR at the Princess Half that would have been even faster had I not stopped for photos along the course.

Based on the success of my first half marathon training race, I used the Yonkers Half Marathon the following September as a tune-up for the Staten Island Half Marathon in October. The result? A nearly 5-minute PR from my Princess Half Marathon time, shaving a total of 7-minutes off my half-marathon time inside of eight months. It was my most successful half marathon training season ever.

What I think is so helpful about using races as training runs is they let you practice all of your race-day strategies in a way that regular weekly half marathon training runs don’t: getting up early, timing your breakfast right, practicing your fuel and hydration routines, easing starting line jitters, creating a race strategy and sticking to it—especially when it’s easy to get caught up in race-day excitement, and so much more.

Half Marathon Training, Providence Half Marathon

Phil and I after the Providence Half Marathon. (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

Using races as training runs has been so successful for me that I automatically build them into my racing schedule for any half-marathon or marathon PR attempt.

Earlier this month, I made like Kim Smith—albeit way slower—and ran the UnitedHealthcare Providence Half Marathon as a training run. I ran the first half at an easy pace and the second half at more of a medium to tempo effort. I’m hoping it will pay off throughout my half marathon training this year as I go for a triathlon PR this summer and half-marathon and marathon personal records this fall. And you can bet that before those races come along, I’ll schedule a few more race-day training runs to help me prepare.

Personal Record Run
Philadelphia Marathon, half marathon training

Pausing for a photo opp just before a PR finish at the Philadelphia Marathon.

I love running races, but I can’t push pedal-to-the-metal at all of them.

I’m no running coach, but I honestly believe all of these training runs and fun runs are one of the reasons I’ve been so successful in my personal record attempts. Nearly every time I’ve run for a PR, I’ve nailed it.

But if I went for a PR every time I entered a race, I don’t think that would be the case. “Practice races” have been instrumental in my steady progress as a runner and to my success in half marathon training.

Including fun runs and training runs in my race schedule helps me keep it fun, keep it fresh, and keep my legs ready to race when it counts.

Karla Bruning is host of On The Run, New York Road Runners’ show about running. She has finished six marathons, two triathlons and trains with the New York Harriers. Follow Karla at RunKarlaRun.com, The Washington Times Communities, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.

Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.


05 2013

16 Comments Add Yours ↓

The upper is the most recent comment

  1. 1

    Your timing of this post is perfect for me. I just last night signed up for the September Army Run Half Marathon as a training run for my first full marathon that will take place a month later. The problem is I am not so good at making myself treat a race as training. Actually, haven’t managed to do it at all. So as I registered I made myself promise to NOT treat it like a race. I will revisit your post when the time comes to remind myself that it is a good thing to not run everything at full race speed!
    Kristi Raz recently posted..Boston Fund Raiser Completed!My Profile

  2. 3

    I actually have a bunch of “fun runs” this summer. Most of them are 5Ks though, so not sure how helpful they’ll be in my training (especially since I’ll have to add more miles as they’re on long run days) but it’s great to go out there and run and have fun and not worry about time. I guess I treat all my half marathons like fun runs though since they’re usually in Disney, and how can you not have fun there…even when your running your butt off! lol
    Kellie recently posted..And the World Will Know!My Profile

  3. 5

    This is so important and so many people don’t understand this. EVERY race is not for a PR! My favorite thing to do is use races as training runs, it truly motivates me and I think makes me a lot stronger runner!
    Laura recently posted..Tri-ing & Mixing Things UpMy Profile

  4. 7

    Not going for a PR took a long time for me to master. And not being disappointed when I couldn’t get faster each subsequent race. But I now love doing practice and for fun races. In fact, my race schedule is littered with them! It is great to be in the race element yet not burn yourself out trying for PR each time.
    Emily recently posted..Wish I Was Wednesday #32My Profile

  5. 9

    I’m not a coach either, but I’d bet money that you’re right about your PR successes coming from having “training” races. Makes sense that the more times you step up to the plate, the more likely you are to knock it out of the park! I have to say, though, it took several paragraphs to get the image of Kim Smith setting a course record without really trying out of my head so I could focus on your points :)
    Sadye recently posted..Like a parent, I can’t pick a favoriteMy Profile

  6. 11

    “Im no running coach” … but you could be! Hint hint :) Your pictures from the Disney races are the best! I’m looking forward to running Princess next year and hope to see you there!
    Kristina @ Blog About Running recently posted..My One Year Runaversary + Year Two Goals!My Profile

  7. 13

    There’s a fourth type that I love (as a mid-packer): That’s racing local rivals of similar ability. That’s the great thing about living in a relatively small city – I know most of the runners and target the ones around my ability to race. Great fun!
    Ewen recently posted..It’s Been A Long TimeMy Profile

  8. 15

    Yes! I’ve been doing a ton of fun runs lately, and even though I try not to get in game mode, I have a hard time not pushing myself during the race. So I end up giving a medium effort. Too much to have fun and not enough to really do well. I think I need to start upping the fun side of things and just RELAX!