Monday, February 4, 2013

Half Marathon Training Tips

Today I started day one of a new training plan, one that I hope will help me PR at the May Race Weekend Half Marathon.  I've never followed a formal plan before.  I looked at many plans online and frankly found them confusing or simply not a good fit (many didn't incorporate strength training, and I found they had too much running).  In typical Kataroo style I decided to "run" to my own drum and came up with my own plan.  It served me well, I surpassed my expectations at my first half marathon two years ago, and last fall officially got a sub 2 hr time.  I'm ready to push harder this time and am excited to give the plan in the book a try.

Many of my friends will be running their first half marathons this year, which is really really exciting.  So I thought it would be fun to do a post with my own tips on training for a half marathon (tips apply to the marathon as well) .  These are simply that "TIPS" from me, it's what worked well for me.  The only HARD FAST that you have to figure out what works for you.  But maybe these little tid bits will come in handy for someone.

The Running Bits:
  • I typically trained with 3 runs a week, sometimes adding in a fourth.  I found that three runs prepared me very well.  My three runs consisted of some kind of speed or hill training on the treadmill (minimum of 5km), a tempo run (6-10km) where I tried to run at my goal race pace for most of this run, and my Long Run (where I gradually increased my distance up to 19km). 
Speed/Hill Work:

I believe that the hill/speed work that I did each week really helped me get faster.  It helped me learn to push harder, to get used to the leg turnover, to strengthen different muscle fibers and to grow my anaerobic conditioning.  

I did most of my speed/hill work on the treadmill because it was convenient and easy to control the intervals.  The distance run was usually around 5-8km.  

Sample speed workouts looked like:
  • 1km easy pace warm up, then 1:1 speed intervals (1 min sprint, 1 min recovery pace), I would repeat till I hit my desired distance (usually 4km) and then maybe do another 1km cool down.
  • 1km easy pace warm up, then 3-4 min sprint with a 2 min recovery period (I really like these because you get used to holding that faster pace for longer).  Repeat again until you hit desired distance and cool down.  
I love to do hill training, I think its helped my running immensely.  When I am outside the terrain feels easier, and when I hit a hill in a race I attack it with power and pass people!  That's right move out of the way, TRAIN KATIE is coming through :) 

Again, I did almost all my hill work on the treadmill because I can easily create any kind of hill I want to.  My favourite hill workouts are:
  • I like the classic hill interval setting on the treadmill that basically takes you through a series of hills that increase in grade, and then you repeat the climb again.  It could look something like this, 0%, 2%, 0%, 4%, 0% 6%....repeat.  There is warm up built in, and then you move into the 1 min hill, 1 min rest intervals with the grade increasing and then starting over.  I will run these at a steady pace or I will sprint the hills and jog the flats, and sometimes I will run the hill at an easy pace, and sprint the flat.  (again 5-8km was my usual distance).   You can see how this can be a hill and speed workout in one..DOUBLE WHAMMY!
  • My other favourite hill workout is what I call a pyramid.  I warm up for a km, and then increase the grade 1% every minute until I reach 10% and then decrease it 1% every minute until I am back to 1%.  Funniest thing you will feel you are running flat when you get back down to 5%. My speed varies with this workout, slowing way down as I reach the upper peak.  I call these endurance hills, where you settle into the climb, and climb baby climb!  I will do 2-3 of these pyramids.  You can also do a steeper one and change the grade every 30sec and go up to 15%!
  • I will also use the rolling hills feature on the treadmill on my steady state runs, ie. when the weather is unfortunate and I have to do a long run on the treadmill.  Even a simple 1-2.5% rolling hill give you enough variety to save your sanity on a long run treadmill run.  (I've run 21.2km on the treadmill, shoot me!)
  • side note...when I was training for my first 5 and 10km races, I did my last few training runs on the treadmill at a 2% grade so that the road on race day would feel easy!  I think it worked :) 
Tempo Run:

The tempo run for me basically meant running at or close to my goal race pace for a period of time.  For me this was usually anywhere from a 8-10km run.  Ideally, you would want a warm up and a cool down, with the bulk of the distance at your goal pace.  With this kind of run your training and conditioning your aerobic system and learning to hold goal pace over a longer distance. 
This is a very handy link for figuring out paces etc and treadmill speeds: Treadmill Cheat Sheet  I use this cheat sheet to figure out paces for outside as well.

Long Run: 

Funny thing about this Long "SLOW" Run, I never really bought into the slow part.  I typically watched my Garmin like a hawk pushing myself aiming for my best time.  Yes, I ran slower then I would on a 5-10km run.  But I pushed it to the best of my ability for that days distance.  Sometimes I would run the first half "easy" and push it at my goal race pace for the last half.  I figured this was a good simulation of what race day would feel like when my legs were tired.  If I wasn't feeling well or nursing an "injury" I would tell myself to forget pace and just cover the distance.  Otherwise, I tried to think of my Long Run as being a chance to condition myself to running a longer distance at a good pace (20-30 sec slower then goal if 8:30 min/mile is goal pace run at a 8:50-9:00 min/mile pace).  BUT...many many people follow the SLOW easy long run...and they meet their goals.  Again, this is what worked for me, and you have to play and find what works for you.  I find I do well when I am competing with myself, it's the way I'm wired.

For my first Half Marathon I only trained to the 19km mark.  Just like with a marathon I only train to the 32km mark.  For my second half marathon, I was also training for a marathon, so I was regularly running the 21.1km distance.  For me I take my Race Day and work backwards to design my distances for my long runs.  (For a newbie this is where having a schedule found online or in a book would help, even if you just use it as a guide)

This is what last year looked like for me (the dates are the weekends and what my planned long distance run was).  This will give you an idea of what my thinking is when coming up with a plan.

July 14- 12 miles
July 21-  **city chase RECOVERY
July 28 13.1
Aug 4 14 miles
Aug 11- 16 miles
Aug 18-16 miles
Aug 25 recovery
sept 1 18 miles
sept 8 20 miles
sept 15 20 miles (actually only ran 19.3 injured)
SEPT 23 ARMY RUN Half Marathon (1:56)
sept 29- taper (moonlit 5k, 24 min)
Oct 6 taper
oct 14th Toronto Marathon (4:39)
oct 28 RATTLE ME BONES 10km (48:28)
Nov 4 9 miles
Nov11 10 miles
Nov18 12 miles
Nov25 14 miles
Dec 2 14.4 miles (was suppossed to be 16)
Dec 9 16 miles 
Dec16 18 miles
Dec23 20 miles
Dec30 taper (10)
Jan 6 taper (8)

4th run:

I have to say I didn't often add a fourth run in, but when I did it was short (5-8km) and usually run nice and easy.

Recovery Weeks:

I find it very helpful to have a "recover week" every 3 weeks of "work" (the 4th week is your recovery week).  In a recovery week, I dial back on the intensity on my workouts during the week, if I usually take 1 day off for rest, I take two (or try too wink).  The key part of the recovery week is to dial back on the long run distance ie.  12, 14, 16 km and the recovery week maybe you do 10-12 km.  

Treadmill tips:

I do utilize the treadmill a fair bit.  I like to run in the morning around 9:00 am and I can put the kids in the daycare at the gym and run on the treadmill.  I don't like waiting till I am kid free to go for my run.  I don't like running in the snow and let's face it we live in Canada!  but I also HATE the treadmill and refer to it as the DREADMILL.  I find the dreadmill much more difficult then running outside.  So when I do run on it I call it mental training, where I am training to push past the mental suck on race day.   When using the treadmill I always have it on a minimum of a 1% incline.  I do find it easier to focus on my form on the treadmill, and take advantage of that during my speed intervals.

Cross Training:

I would run 3 maybe 4 days a week, and would cross train 2-3 additional days.

Strength Training:

Personally I think you need a minimum of 2 strength training days in your fitness regime.  For me I would do two full body strength days.  Full body would consist of a PULL, PUSH, SQUAT, BEND, LUNGE, and TWIST in my routine.

Squats, Lunges, and Deadlifts are ideal for building strong legs.  These are compound, full range of motion exercises that you can make more dificult and progress in as you get stronger.  Single leg exercises (ie. single leg squat, single led deadlift etc) are particularly good at developing hip stability and strength.

Training the core (neck to knees) is really important when running long distances.  I find as I get tired 2 hrs into a run, I can feel my core starting to "collapse".  I use the TRX for much of my strength training and it works the core in each and every exercise.

The upperbody is not to be forgotten either, driving with your arms up those hills! So again my full body routines usually consist of two types of push and pull exercises (ie. push ups, TRX chest press, TRX seated pull up, TRX wide row).

Additional Cross Training: 

I have to confess I have not been very good at it but getting at least one YOGA class a week in is ideal to keeping a well oiled running machine!  I wish I was more diligent with this.  YIN YOGA in particular is really really good for opening up those hips.

I also enjoy Spin Classes or biking as a cross training cardio workout, and have even substituted long runs with biking when injured.  I replaced my last two long runs before the Toronto Marathon with biking as I was injured and was in good shape for the race.

A typical week for me will look something like this:

Monday: Speed work/hills
Tuesday: Strength with some cardio (ie. biking)
Wednesday: Temp Run
Thursday: Strength with some cardio
Friday: Spin class or yoga
Sat: rest day
Sun: long run

General Tips:

Hydration and Fuel:

I like to use gels for my fuel while running.  I like gels, they are easy to rip open and eat while running. I typically use them at the 1 hr mark.  You need to experiment and figure out what works for you.  maybe its 50 min and every 45 min after that etc.  Your long runs are for experimenting and figuring out what works for you.  DON"T TRY SOMETHING NEW RACE DAY! I should mention I also really like the running jelly beans and gummies and will often take them as a treat.  I will get to have some when I reach a certain distance mark as a reward, anything to keep you going :)

I use a fuel belt with 4 of the larger bottles in it.  I like to use NUUN mixed with water.  In the winter and fall 4 bottles is fine for even a 20 mile run.  In the summer though I need a plan!  I either stash extra bottles on course, plan a stop where I can fill up, or loop back home to switch out bottles.  In the summer, I was carrying a large throw away water bottle with me and it was a reward to ditch it...and get rid of having to carry it.  In the winter, your lucky if your water bottles don't freeze, I remember one run where I slowly sipped the melting ice.

After Run Care:

When I start hitting "the wall distances" (for me that's over 16 miles) I like to come home and fill up both my bath tubs. One with cold cold water and the other nice and hot.  I then alternate between the baths, ending in the cold tub.  This helped a lot with inflammation and pain.  I am also a big fan of the compression socks and will wear them all day after my long run.  I try to foam roll my legs every night while I watch TV, especially my IT bands.  Voltaren is a great rub, and I have a giant tube on hand at all times.


Running is hard on the body and training the way we do is hard on the body.  Injury happens all to often for many of us.  My advice here is not to panic.  Go get help right away, I saw my physiotherapist as soon as my knee pain started.  I called the clinic on my way to the cottage on Labor Day Weekend.  Its best to find out exactly what is going on, and how to help the injury heal.  Be as diligent in your injury recovery as you are in your training.  Train around the injury.  I couldn't run but I could bike.  Rest, and Rest more.  Sadly sometimes your race expectations need to change, and worst case you may not be able to race.  But, its better to heal and continue a life long career running then do permanent damage.

Race Tips:

Run in the right corral, it helps to run with people of similar pace.  Find your pace bunny and try to stick with him.  Don't weave back and forth two much through the crowd it really does add distance to your race and trust me and extra half a mile is no fun.  Walk through the water stations, get the water in you, take a wee break (its only 15-20 sec) and start back into your pace feeling refreshed.  Have a special power play list handy to switch to if you are struggling and need extra motivation and mojo. (In Toronto my special playlist of songs got me passed a very painful point).

The Golden Nugget:

The most important piece of advice I can give is to embrace the training.  In your own way try to find a love for it.  Be proud of each mile run, and new distances reached.  Feel special, feel like an ATHLETE training!  Read running magazines and blogs and immerse yourself in it.  Find a running buddy who loves to chat about long runs and black toenails.  Enjoy the pre long run carb load, and the post long run treat dinner.  INDULGE in your love of running.  The thing is that it takes a lot of discipline to get up and run each weekend, when you could be lounging in your pj's.  It takes discipline to get to bed early and pass up that those extra glasses of wine (notice I said extra not NONE lol).  So you need to find a love for this, to embrace that runner's high, and that badge of honour that comes with rounding the corner home after running for 2hrs.  Yes, your entitled to tell the cashier that you ran  "BLANK" miles that morning while you pay for your groceries.  After finishing your first half marathon you will feel ON TOP OF THE WORLD, and you should definitely wear your medal to the grocery store the next day!

My first Half Marathon, The Army Run 2011

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