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Half Marathon Take-Aways and Reflections

I’ve never been one to say “no” to a challenge, so when my friend asked me to do a half marathon with her, I happily agreed. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I thought it would be a great learning experience. It was that and much more!

I learned a lot about difficulties that runners go through as they are preparing for a race. How do you plan your training? What is an injury and what is soreness? Can I run through this pain or should I stop? What does modifying while on vacation look like? How do I pick a goal pace for the race, especially if I’ve never raced this distance before? Those are just a few of the questions I encountered along the way and that we’ll dive into in this blog post.

Half Marathon Training Plan

“I’m going to download a plan off the internet.” – My Friend

“Uh, no you definitely are not.” – Me

“Why?” – Friend

“The large majority of them aren’t written well and program design is the number one reason people get injured when it comes to running. I’m writing us a program and you’re following that one.” – Me

“Good point. Thank you!” – Friend

So, maybe the conversation didn’t go exactly like that, but that’s the gist of it. Program design is HUGE when it comes running. In fact, 60% of running-related injuries can be attributed to training errors. When it comes down to it, it’s simply not worth risking an injury (that may mean you don’t show up on race day) when it can easily be prevented.

Program Design

There’s a few different things you’ll want to keep in mind when you are choosing a running program. They are –

  • Run 2-5 days per week
  • At least 2 days per week with no running
  • Resistance training 2x/week
  • Gradual progression (Rule of 10%)
  • Recovery for high volume weeks
  • Training appropriate for the goal (train on roads if your race is on roads, train on trails if your race is on trails)

These are relatively high-level principles and take nuance to incorporate into a program. To give you a better understanding, I’ve included our training program below. It’s not a perfect plan (ideally you don’t leave for a week in the middle of your training to go to trekking in the wilderness), but considering the circumstances, it follows the main considerations listed above.

Our Half Marathon Training Plan

A few things to note – I was regularly running 6 miles one time per week before starting, so until the long runs reached 6 miles, I continued doing 6 miles. Also, I did not do the anaerobic threshold training. Instead, I did a CrossFit workout that was around the same time duration that has the same stimulus.

Additionally, I took a wrong turn on the 11.5 mile run and accidentally ran 13.1 miles. The week after, I wanted to see how long that route was supposed to be, so I ran it correctly and it was 12.1 miles.

For pacing, 3 = race pace, 1 = slow and steady, and 5 = full sprint. This is explained further in this video.

Week 1

  • Intervals: 10x[1:00 on at Pace = 4, 2:00 walking]
  • Long Distance: 3 miles
  • Anerobic Threshold: 2x[8 min at Pace =3, 4 min at Pace =1]

Week 2

  • Intervals: 8x[1:30 on at Pace = 4, 1:30 walk]
  • Long Distance: 4 miles
  • Anerobic Threshold: 2x[6 min at Pace =3, 4 min at Pace =1]
  • % volume increase: 12%

Week 3

  • Intervals: 16x[1:00 on at Pace = 4, 1:00 off]
  • Long Distance: 4.5 miles
  • Anerobic Threshold: 10 min. Pace = 4
  • % volume increase: 10.7%

Week 4

  • Intervals: 8x[1:30 on at Pace = 4, 1:30 walk]
  • Long Distance: 5 miles
  • Anerobic Threshold: 4x[4 min at Pace =4, 2 min at Pace =1]
  • % volume increase: 9.68%

Week 5

  • Intervals: 8x[1:00 on at Pace = 4, 1:30 walk]. 8x[0:30 on at Pace = 5, 1:00 walk]
  • Long Distance: 6 miles
  • Anerobic Threshold: 2x[8 min at Pace = 4, 4 min at Pace =1]
  • % volume increase: 11.76%

Week 6

  • Intervals: 16x[0:30 on at Pace = 4, 0:30 walk], 5:00 walk, 16x[0:30 on at Pace = 4, 0:30 walk].
  • Long Distance: 6.5 miles
  • Anerobic Threshold: 16 min at Pace = 4.
  • % volume increase: 10.53%

Week 7

  • Intervals: 16x[0:30 at Pace = 5, 1:00 walk]
  • Long Distance: 7.5 miles
  • Anerobic Threshold: 2x[12 min at Pace = 4, 3 min walk]
  • % volume increase: 9.52%

Week 8

  • Intervals: 16x[1:00 at Pace = 4.5, 2:00 walk]
  • Long Distance: 8 miles
  • Anerobic Threshold: 20 min at Pace = 3.5.
  • % volume increase: 8.7%

Week 9

  • Intervals: 8x[0:30 on at 5, 1:00 walk]. 2:00 walk. 4x[1:00 on at 4.5, 1:30 walk]. 2:00 walk. 2x[2:00 on at 3.5, 1:30 walk].
  • Long Distance: 8.5 miles
  • Anerobic Threshold: 2x[4:00 at Pace = 3. 4:00 at Pace = 3.5. 2:00 at Pace = 4.] Walk 5:00 beteween.
  • % volume increase: 0%

Week 10

  • Intervals: 24x[0:30 at Pace = 5, 1:00 walk]
  • Long Distance: 9 miles
  • Anerobic Threshold: 24 min at Pace = 3.5.
  • % volume increase: 8%

Week 11

  • Peru – Hike the Inca Trail

Week 12

  • Intervals: 16x[0:30 at Pace = 5, 1:00 walk]
  • Long Distance: 9 miles
  • Anerobic Threshold: 2x[10 min at Pace =4, 4 min walk]
  • % volume increase: -7.41% (calculated based off week 10)

Week 13

  • Intervals: 8x[1:30 on at Pace = 4, 1:00 walk]
  • Long Distance: 9.5 miles
  • Anerobic Threshold: 16 min at Pace = 4.
  • % volume increase: 4%

Week 14

  • Intervals: 16x[0:30 at Pace = 5, 1:00 walk]
  • Long Distance: 10.5 miles
  • Anerobic Threshold: 2x[10 min at Pace =4, 4 min walk]
  • % volume increase: 7.69%%

Week 15

  • Intervals: 8x[0:30 on at 5, 1:00 walk]. 2:00 walk. 4x[1:00 on at 4.5, 1:30 walk]. 2:00 walk. 2x[2:00 on at 3.5, 1:30 walk].
  • Long Distance: 11.5 miles
  • Anerobic Threshold: 16 min at Pace = 4.
  • % volume increase: 7.14%

Week 16

  • Intervals: 16x[1:00 at Pace = 5, 2:00 walk]
  • Long Distance: 9 miles
  • Anerobic Threshold: 20 min at Pace = 4.
  • % volume increase: -10%

Week 17

  • Intervals: 16x[0:30 at Pace = 5, 1:00 walk]
  • Long Distance: ½ marathon
  • % volume increase: 4.44%

Random Aches and Pains

The amount of random aches and pains I got while training for this half marathon surprised me. It wasn’t uncommon to go out for a run, feel great, have pain around mile 4, have the pain disappear around mile 7, and never feel anything afterwards. I also had multiple situations where muscles were sore during a run, after the run for a week or so, and then mysteriously went away.

Most of that I attribute to it being my first time regularly running distances over 10 miles. At times, it was hard to know whether I should stop running or if it was okay to experience a bit of discomfort. The general principles I used to guide my decision making were –

  • If it hurts more than a moderate amount, not running is probably best
  • When the quality of the pain is dull (as opposed to sharp), give it 20 minutes and see what happens
  • If I change my shoes and the pain goes away, it’s probably not a big deal
  • When the pain steadily worsens as I continue running, swap to walking for a short period of time and then try again
  • If I can’t walk normally, I shouldn’t be running

Thankfully, I was able to make it through all the training. I did take some walking breaks in the middle of runs (especially that week after trekking), but I was able to complete the mileage.

half marathon

Prepping for Race Day

This was particularly difficult for me because I had no idea exactly how fast I was capable of running during a race. The last “races” I did were sprint triathlons and I didn’t think the pace of my run after biking 20 miles and swimming for 10 minutes would be an accurate indicator of my speed.

I took a guess at my race pace by looking at my current average pace for my longer runs. Typically, I hovered around 9:30 per mile. My guess was that dropping to a 9:00 average pace would be uncomfortable, but doable.

So, a few weeks before, I attempted one of my longer runs at that pace to see what would happen. My logic was, if I really screw this up, better now when I can call my husband to come pick me up rather than in the middle of the race where I have to suck it up and finish anyways. To my surprise, I not only held a 9:00 pace, but was able to drop to 8:45 for the last two miles!

Half Marathon Day!

From the last training run at 9:00, I reasoned that starting at a 9:00 pace would be aggressive, but good. About 30 seconds into the half marathon, I realized I was surrounded by way too many people who had congregated around the 9:00 pacer.

So, I bumped up the pace. In my head, 8:45 seemed a bit more of a stretch, but being miserable sounded better than trying to avoid bumping into people. After picking up the pace for a couple miles, I was feeling really good. I could see the 8:32 pacer in the distance, so I made it a goal to catch them over the next two miles.

Once I caught them, I slowed down. I ran around an 8:20 pace to catch them and dropping back to 8:32 was causing me more energy than continuing at 8:20. After another mile of attempting to run around 8:32 and having a hard time adjusting, I bumped back up to 8:20.

athlete

At this point, I figured I was probably going to crash and burn around mile 9, so why not really crash and burn? Worst case scenario I’m terribly miserable and best case scenario I finish with an awesome time.

Turns out, it was a best case scenario. Not only was I able to hold a 8:20 pace, but I progressively dropped my time over the last half of the race (don’t ask me how I did that, I think I blacked out that part). My last mile time was 8:04! I ended up finishing with a time I was quite proud of at 1:48:48.64 (8:15 average pace).

Half marathon

Reflections on Picking a Race Pace

Despite it being successful, I don’t recommend the strategy of “see how fast you can run and hope you can hold the pace.” Looking back, I wish I would have done more tempo work while looking at a fitness tracker so I knew what different paces felt like. Ironically, if I would have completed the anaerobic threshold days I put on the training program, this would have taken care of itself.

Based on how the anaerobic threshold days felt, I would have picked a pace that was challenging but sustainable. I would have started at that pace, held it, and started dropping my pace a little past halfway if I felt up to the challenge. That is a lesson I will take moving forward should I choose to do a marathon next year.

Things People Don’t Tell You About Half Marathon Training

There were a lot of small things I learned on the way that I didn’t expect. Most of these aren’t serious (which is why I’m saving it for last), but if you’ve run a half marathon (or longer), you’ll get what I’m talking about.

  • Planning your long runs so you can still throw back a few drinks can be a colossal pain
  • Weather forecasters lie
  • Choosing which flavor of energy gel you use is a big deal
  • Somehow running for 2 hours actually feels relaxing
  • You can buy a belt to put all your stuff in while you’re running
  • I now have a desire to run a marathon, which is something I was positive I would never want to do

Wrapping Things Up

This half marathon was quite the journey. Spending about four months training for one day seems like a long time, but it was definitely worth it. Not only did I learn a lot throughout the process and now feel as though I have a better understanding of runners, but I had a lot of fun! There’s something incredibly relaxing – almost meditation-like – about the motion of running. Or maybe, as my husband likes to say, I’ve just developed an addiction and am a bit crazy.

One last tidbit – these race photos are from my second half marathon, which I completed 3 weeks after my first half marathon. I don’t have many photos (besides the post-race photo) from the first one!

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