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My Best Half

January 22, 2009

Remember, I’m a rookie, having run only two 13.1 races in about ten months, so take this with a grain of salt.

I ran my first half in February 2008 in 2:02:14, at an average pace of 9:20.

I ran my second in November in 1:50:36, an average pace of 8:27.

So I might not be able to tell you much about how to run your best half, but I can tell you how I ran my best half (so far!).

First, I established my goal. Though my initial goal in my first 13.1 was simply to finish as well as possible, and I’d predicted a finish of about 2:15, I came so close to breaking two hours, that this became my fierce goal: to break two hours in the half marathon.

With that goal in mind, I started training early–about four months before race day. This gave me the flexibility to play with my training without worrying too much (okay, I did worry, but at least I shouldn’t have had to) and allowed me to increase my long runs slowly and safely.

I wanted to get my long runs up to at least 15 miles. To keep these at one-third of my weekly mileage, I knew I needed my weekly mileage, not counting that long run, to be close to 30 miles. I only wanted to run four days most weeks, so I planned to run 8-6-8-6. Some weeks I added a 4 miler on Friday.

One day was slotted for speedwork. I tried to take turns between running intervals and tempo runs. At the beginning of the training cycle, my intervals were half-mile repeats with quarter-mile recoveries, but fairly soon after that I started running mile repeats with half-mile recoveries, eventually cutting the recoveries to a quarter-mile, which seemed (counter-intuitively) easier on me.  The pace on these runs was run progressively. Early in the training cycle my pace would average 8:30; I lowered it by about a minute by the end of the summer. Of course some of this was mental–I discovered how much slower I’d been running and how much harder I could push, and it didn’t hurt that the temperature was about 20 degrees cooler at the end of my training cycle than at the start–remember, I’m running in southeastern Florida, and I started training in July for a November race.

My tempo runs were always run at close to race pace after a warm-up mile. Eight-milers were pretty standard; the goal was to sustain a 9-minute pace, which is what I hoped to hold during the race. The secondary goal during these tempo runs was to run, if possible, negative splits. I tend to run negative splits naturally but I try to reinforce this natural tendency in training if I can.

As for the afore-mentioned long runs, I didn’t run long every week, though I suppose, now, that I could have. I ran long most Saturdays, extending the distance gradually until I’d run two fifteen-milers and two sixteen-milers. Close to race day I reserved a few longer runs (twelve-milers or so) and ran the middle miles at race pace. I also used the long runs to practice hydration and fueling since I didn’t fuel during my first half and I definitely wanted to do it in this second one.

You know, in retrospect, I followed Glover’s steps almost exactly, though at the time I wasn’t very well versed in his Competitive Runner’s Handbook. Here’s how a good training plan is built:

  1. Choose your goal. Pick a race and plan your training based on that date. Remember to factor in a taper period. How much should you taper? That’s up to you–this time around I ran twelve miles eight days before race day.
  2. Choose your weekly mileage; from there, determine your daily mileage. Remember not to build up your mileage more than 10% per week.
  3. Determine and schedule your long runs. These should be no more than 30% of your weekly mileage; again, these should increase very gradually. A cutback or plateau week every third week is recommended.
  4. Schedule speedwork once a week, ideally 48 to 72 hours from your long run (that is, both 2 days before and after your long runs, to guarantee that your legs are neither too tired from your long runs nor too tired for your long runs). My suggestion is to alternate tempo runs and mile repeats as described above.

Two things I did that I think helped:

Practice my race pace. Your body should know what it feels like to sustain this pace. Knowing you can hold this pace for six or eight miles will also give you confidence on race day.

Extend my long runs. It builds your endurance and gives you confidence on race day.

If you’re planning to race a 13.1 any time soon, get ready! Your best race may be ahead of you.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. January 22, 2009 11:37 pm

    Wow, that’s quite the training schedule! And it worked … great job!

  2. run4change permalink
    January 23, 2009 11:24 am

    Great post. I have to totally agree with it. Especially extending the long runs. I love that one. Great job and keep up your awesome running. Be blessed

  3. the Zookeeper permalink*
    January 23, 2009 12:15 pm

    Thank you for the kind words, Merry! It was hard work at first, running through my first South Florida summer. But yes, in the end, the hard work paid off with a time I didn’t think possible, and then paid dividends in PRs in shorter distances. Whew, what a training season, though!

  4. the Zookeeper permalink*
    January 23, 2009 12:17 pm

    Jason, I wonder now if I should have clarified that for first-timers, maybe extending the long run isn’t so critical. But I think we’re talking here about racing a half, right? And I do think for this that extending the long runs helped me, at least, immeasurably.

    Still working on how to get to 26.2 . . .

  5. run4change permalink
    January 23, 2009 12:27 pm

    Oh no, I would say that for especially first timers would recieve great mental and physical benifits by going to race distance or longer prior. Just at a slower pace. no, you cool and the post is awesome

  6. January 24, 2009 12:54 am

    Great post. I am aiming for sub-two hours in my half on Sunday and I wish I would have followed your plan. I think it would have built my confidence a bit more. I know I have the speed, but a couple of 15 milers in the last few weeks would do wonders for my confidence. I am impressed with how much you shaved off your original race.

    As far as getting to 26.2… I think you just need to follow your own advice. I start training for my second marathon next week and I will definitely be following the guidelines you listed.

    happy running!

  7. January 24, 2009 8:21 am

    Thank you for the comment you left on my blog! Glad you stopped by!

    I enjoyed your post about your half marathon training schedule. That’s great you were able to come under the two hours in your second half marathon.

  8. the Zookeeper permalink*
    January 24, 2009 10:22 am

    Ha, ha! Thanks, Lisa! I never thought of . . . uh, listening to myself! Ah, wisdom . . . so lacking in me.

    Thanks for your kind words. It was easy to shave off time from my first race to my second at every distance. I have a feeling PRs will be harder to come by in the next few years.

    Hey, I’ll be looking for your race report. I hope you have wings on your feet on Sunday!

  9. the Zookeeper permalink*
    January 24, 2009 10:23 am

    Thanks, Alexandra. It’s funny, you know, I was hoping to come in under two hours and coming in at 1:50 just made me hunger for 1:45. Ah, ambition . . . next training season. Thanks for stopping by; it’s always an encouragement!

  10. January 25, 2009 8:22 am

    Awesome, excellent post! Exactly what I needed to read before my first attempt at the 1/2 marathon next month. For this particular race I have been working with a runner-trainer-friend from my gym; but for the next attempt at this distance, I’ll be going it alone. I have a feeling that your experience (and this post) will be invaluable to me and I’ll probably be picking your brain on RA. Excellent post… can’t wait to browse through the rest of your blog. :o)

  11. the Zookeeper permalink*
    January 26, 2009 2:54 pm

    Oh, I’m glad it helped! Feel free to pick my brain but I think you’ve been at this longer than I . . .

    Hey, congrats on your relay train run, it sounds like a blast! Incredible time on a trail race, too!

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