Between 6.2 and 26.2 lies a lovely, oft-neglected challenge
by Roy Benson
Thank God for the half marathon. It’s a great race. Committed recreational runners can finish it without killing themselves in training. Serious competitors can do it well, avoiding the risks taken and the recoveries demanded by the marathon. But those fun runners who swell the fields of mega-races don’t do it. The result is that half marathons have a sort of purity, yet can still be popular. Here in Atlanta, for example, 55,000 lucky people get into the Peachtree Road Race 10K, held every July. Another 20,000 or so don’t get in because the field fills one day after the race applications become available.
When Thanksgiving rolls around, the Atlanta Track Cub puts on its other big event of the year, the Atlanta Marathon and Half Marathon. Last year was typical: 995 runners entered the full marathon, and 7,480 entered the half. That’s right, more than seven times as many people chose to race 13.1 miles instead of 26.2.
Year after year, my main coaching challenge is training serious runners to do well in the Atlanta Half Marathon. It isn’t easy getting them all ready for the same race on the same day, because they’re all different. Each will run different mileage. Each will work at a different pace at our weekly, misery-loves-company speed sessions. Many won’t reach the 18-mile long-run goal that I suggest as preparation for a half marathon. And, although all will run in the same recommended effort zones, they will see different numbers on their heart rate monitors.
In short, I can’t generalize their workouts—and neither should you generalize yours. Don’t ever follow the advice in an article offering a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all training program without figuring out the exact shape of your own cookie. A training plan should be designed around a runner’s current level of fitness, overall ability, reasons for running and current lifestyle. This column is intended only to show you the components of a model half-marathon training program.
The plan shown in the chart below is one followed by a successful masters half marathoner. (Hey, all coaches like to brag about their winners.) You can borrow this structure and fill in your own numbers. Either that, or hire a coach to design your program. Either way, be sure that you have a written plan showing how you are going to train, week by week, to reach your goal, and a written schedule telling you each day how far, how hard, how fast and at what target heart rate you need to run.
This program is designed to develop stamina, speed, pacing and the ability to handle changing terrain. The overall goal should be to finish with a smile and be satisfied with your performance.’
One Runner’s Training
Nancy Stewart, 43, is a typical adult-onset athlete. I’ve coached Nancy for five years, and only now is she fully realizing her potential. Recently she ran a 3:10 marathon. In November 1997 she won the masters division of the Atlanta Half Marathon in 1:26:49.
Nancy wanted to defend her title and improve her time in the 1998 race. In designing her 1998 training program, I took into consideration that Nancy is a busy mom who devotes lots of time and energy coordinating the activities of her two daughters. She also works part-time as a fitness instructor (thereby getting in some extra exercise), and she and her husband maintain an active social schedule. Nancy is a natural distance runner with a petite build, low
body fat and a long, smooth stride. At the time we set up the half-marathon program, however, she was coming off an intractable case of low-grade plantar fasciitis that kept us from designing a truly aggressive training schedule. The chart below is what Nancy’s plan looked like after taking those factors into consideration.
Prior to the eight-week race preparation period, Nancy put in eight weeks of building a good aerobic base. During this time she averaged 45 to 50 miles a week, including easy recovery runs at 60% to 70% effort, two weekly steady-state runs at 75% to 80% effort and one workout a week of long hill repeats at 85% to 90% effort. She did not race during this build-up period.
The objective of the race preparation schedule was to take five weeks to adapt to the increase in workout intensity, then add strength with additional endurance training. The plan also included two races to sharpen Nancy’s competitive instincts and show us her fitness level. In the St. Pete Festival 10 Mile on October 17 she set a PR of 1:05:10 under warm, muggy conditions. Nancy also did a 10K on November 7 on a hilly course, where her time of 39:33 was good for first female overall.
We personalized Nancy’s workouts by specifying heart-rate zones that I felt she would reach at specific paces. To ensure that she recovered completely, she did her easy days strictly by the monitor, with no paces specified. Nancy’s key workouts were a Saturday PRP (planned race pace) run and a Thursday heart-rate fartlek run. I had her run the PRP runs at 6:30-per-mile pace, her goal pace for the half marathon based on a 1:25 finish. This would
teach her exactly what it felt like to run at race pace. The heart-rate fartlek runs were designed in particular to get Nancy ready for the hilly last five-plus miles of the half marathon. She ran these workouts around her hilly neighborhood, with the goal of increasing her effort up the hills until her heart rate reached 85%. On the flats and downhills, she was to let her heart rate recover to no lower than 70%. Nancy also did limited speedwork (usually on Tuesdays) to assure a high level of 10K fitness.
In addition, Nancy did a weekly long run. Generally I recommend doing long runs at least one minute and up to two minutes per mile slower than goal race pace. However, I let her do these runs with some teammates on the hilly trails in Kennesaw Park, and to be honest, I suspect she did them a bit harder than designed. In fact, I counted on that. I knew the distances were not so long that Nancy would risk overtraining the way so many marathoners do because of the high weekly mileage totals. Also, we knew that Nancy wasn’t reaching her goal weekly mileage totals. (Her actual totals for the eight weeks were 48, 50, 43, 39, 50, 49, 45 and 33.) When she reported this, I knew we should let the intensity of her workouts drift up slightly. It’s a coach’s job to make each runner’s training program different from every other program to suit the uniqueness of the individual.
The plan, with fine-tuning, worked for Nancy, who defended her Atlanta Half Marathon title while dropping her PR to 1:25:24. I hope that you’ll find similar success by following her basic plan and filling in the blanks to suit your own lifestyle, running background and goals. If you are not sure about your choices, you can pay a coach.
See why I love half marathons?
|Half Marathon Training Program|
|Oct. 12||40||5||6||4||9||off||10M (race)||6|
|Nov. 2||45||3/5||3/5||5||4||3||10k (race)||8|
|Nov. 23||30||5||4||4||13.1 (race)||off||off||4|