I want to do the half-marathon in the spring. How should I approach my training?
Step One – What is your goal for the half-marathon?
Do you want to finish the race with your head held high, not on your last leg, or maybe just finish the race without walking one bit of it?
If so, it will be more important to run regularly than to incorporate speed/tempo work into your training. You should target running 3 times a week with one of those runs being your long run. For example, you could run M/W/F with one day being your long run, one day being a mid-distance run and Friday being hills. All of those runs could be done at about the same pace with possibly your mid-distance run being done at a slightly faster pace than your long run.
An important note: if you are following this type of regime, it’s a very bad idea to all of the sudden do a true tempo run or any type of speedwork. If you want to add speed/tempo work into your regime, it needs to be done gradually then you need to be committed to it week after week. Otherwise you could end up hurting yourself. This same idea applies to people who run a certain pace then decide one week they might like to run with a different “pack” who runs faster. Even 15-20 seconds per mile can make a big difference in terms of how your body will react (just to be clear – that’s usually a NEGATIVE reaction!!!).
If your goal is to complete the race in a certain time that is a stretch target for you, then consider incorporating speed/tempo work into your program.
- In fact, if your goal is quite a stretch for you, then you really must incorporate speed/tempo work into your routine. Tempo work is easily done on your weekly mid-distance run – there is no need to follow a strict program. Here are a few ways to do pace work:
- Jog to warm up, then run hard for a few miles, then jog to warm down. It can be that easy! One of our runners told me that for her “to run hard” means she doesn’t want to chat with anyone, she could answer questions yes or no but would prefer to not talk at all.
- You could also jog for a mile or so to warm up, then run hard for a couple of minutes, then go back to a jog, then run hard for a few minutes, then go back to a jog. Keep repeating that pattern for about 25 minutes, then jog at the end of your run for a mile or so at a gentle pace.
- Another idea is to do continuing negative splits, which means every mile is faster than the last. For example, if you’re doing a 6 mile run, try mile 1 at 10:15, mile 2 at 10:05, mile 3 at 9:55, etc.
- Another idea is to try Yasso 800s (named after Bart Yasso, in my opinion, one of the most inspirational runners of all time). He recommends jogging to warm up, then run at a very strong pace for as many minutes and seconds as your estimated marathon finishing time in hours and minutes. So, if you do a 4:15 marathon, then run hard for 4 min 15 seconds. Recover for the same amount of time, then repeat. The original idea was to do this workout on a track doing 800yd repeats. So, if you could do an 800 (very roughly a 1/2 mile) in 4 min 15 sec then you should be able to run a marathon in 4 hours and 15 minutes. If you’ve run a half marathon, but not a full marathon – take your half marathon finishing time, double it and add about 20 minutes to come up with a very rough estimate of what your marathon pace would be.
An important note: Tempo runs should last 45-60 minutes – no more than that! Speedwork sessions should be 25-40 minutes unless you have been doing speedwork for years. Less is more!!!
Step Two – Which program will you follow?
It doesn’t necessarily matter what your goal is for the half-marathon, or at what pace you train, you still have to decide which program (in terms of mileage) you will follow.
Under the “Training” tab on our website, are a few different programs. There are two programs to train specifically for the spring half-marathon race. The standard program is what most of our runners will follow to prepare themselves for the race. The gradual progression program is for those of you who would prefer to ease into long-distance running. The gradual program would also be a good option for anyone recovering from an injury.
Step Three – At what pace will you train for your long run?
It doesn’t matter if you are doing the half-marathon simply for the experience of it or if you’re trying to complete in a certain time – you need to decide in what pace-range you will train.
I understand this can be confusing to those of you new to running or new to long-distance running. Many of you have no idea what pace you run or what pace you should run. Here’s the deal: if you’re running slower than you should be, the more up and down action can put undue pressure on your knees and hips. If you’re doing your long run at a pace too strong for you, it can cause all sorts of problems. Basically you are trying to turn what should be a long, endurance session into a tempo session and as we read above – tempo sessions should not last more than 45-60 minutes. Our fastest runners are fine – they run out front and off they go! Perfect! Our runners who train at a more gentle pace are fine. They group up at the back of the pack and off they go! Perfect. I worry about our runners in the middle of the pack. To speed up, they are pushing too hard; to slow down, their knees and hips could start hurting. Read on for more about pacing.
At what pace should I train?
Agnes sent me this link – it’s the coolest little calculator I’ve ever seen! If you have a current race pace, plug it in and the calculator will tell you what pace to train long, tempo, Yasso 800s, etc. To calculate your pace click here….
Your “results” will look like this display to the right. For this example, if you run a 4 hour marathon, your long run should be done at about a 10:15 min/mile pace (I would recommend shooting for the lower end of that range due to the program we follow – I can explain sometime if you’re interested), tempo at 8:33 min/mile, and Yassos at 3:57 min/mile. Cool, huh?!?!?!
What are “energy sources” or fuel? How is mitochondria linked to energy production?
I’ll delve into the basic science of fueling (which I have hugely over-simplified but hopefully it’ll get my point across). To fuel our runs we have 3 options – Creatine Phosphate (CP), glycogen and fat. You have about 15 seconds worth of CP fuel – that’s it. Think Usain Bolt running the 100m – he fuels with CP and it works because he can run 100m in less than 15 seconds. CP is where your body will go first looking for fuel, particularly if you take off like a rocket from Starbucks. Think of CP as kindling on a fire – it catches fire easily but burns out very quickly. Glycogen is the next fuel option. Glycogen is basically stored in your muscles and in your liver and because of that it makes glycogen a bit more difficult to burn as fuel (think of damp firewood – it will eventually burn but it takes quite a bit to get it going). Fat is the 3rd source of fuel and most runners, even the very lean women, have an ample supply of it. Think of fat as a butane tank of gas on the BBQ grill – once it’s lit, you can have countless cook-outs before the fuel is gone. Here’s the important part….. all of those fuel sources – kindling, damp firewood or butane gas need something to ignite them and keep them burning. Physiologically speaking that ignition or burning “tool” is ATP which is created by mitochondria; so, the more mitochondria you have the more efficient you are as a fuel burning machine. Bear with me here – I promise this is leading somewhere. What is mitochondria and how do we get more of it? Some of us are genetically blessed with higher mitochondria counts. Thank your mother for that – it comes through the maternal side of the genetic equation. If you didn’t win the genetic lottery, then the only way you can increase mitochondria is through LONG, SLOW, ENDURANCE training (LSE). When you go for a long run at a slow pace, you actually produce mitochondria. Kind of cool, huh? Now remember – we need mitochondria to help ignite our fuel sources. So what does that mean for you?????? It means SLOW DOWN on your long run – give your body a chance to become a mitochondria production factory. If you do your long run at a strong pace, you’re missing out on this benefit.
NOTE: This information is compiled from opinions and thoughts of our fellow runners and should not be construed as expert advice. Every runner should assess her own running goals and the appropriate training method to achieve those goals, including seeking professional advice as appropriate.