Choosing a Half Marathon Training Plan

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I thought it was going to take me all month to figure out which program I wanted to use for half marathon training. On a whim after going for a run last night, I browsed through RunKeeper‘s training plans, and found exactly what I was looking for:

  • Running 4x per week with beginner speedwork (e.g. strides, tempo runs). Four times per week seems to be my sweet spot, as I look back on old training logs. Three is too low and better for maintenance months, but five or six ends up being exhausting with little time to recover. I ran the Chicago Half Marathon in 2013 using Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 plan, which I liked but didn’t feel totally committed to it. I also didn’t like three consecutive days of running. With the RunKeeper plan, I run on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
  • Multiple long runs at >10 miles. After my first half, I knew I wanted to run longer long runs. The longest run in that plan prior to the half is 10 miles, and those last 3.1 miles of the Chicago Half Marathon were the toughest. (I also didn’t fuel during the half besides water, so that’s something I plan to experiment with for this next one.)
  • One long run at 14 miles. I also thought that one run in excess of the actual race length would help with mental toughness, plus it would help move me square into endurance training for other races in 2015.
  • Pace recommendations as guidelines for a PR, but by no means strict. I would love to achieve a PR in this race, and I think it’s doable.

For the Chicago Half Marathon, I ran haphazardly – I loosely followed the Hal Higdon program, but moved a lot of runs around, cut some short (a 6-miler that turned into 5), and didn’t track pace. It was more about running it with my friend, who had never run prior to training for the half, and completing the distance.

The one downside to the RunKeeper program is that it starts next week – it’s a long training plan at 16 weeks. Sixteen weeks! For a half marathon! But I feel a little bit untethered lately, and a plan is just what I need. There’s plenty of slow ramp-up. I’ve been so committed to my shin splint paranoia that I didn’t even realize that things have improved dramatically, so I’m planning to keep up with preventative cross-training, especially during this ramp-up to running longer distances.

I briefly considered hiring a coach, but I want to tackle one half marathon completely on my own and I don’t feel that the investment is worthwhile for me right now. As I get into more complex tempo, speedwork, hill training, etc. in the future, I think a coach might help. Right now, I need to do the training and do it well.

Planning to run a half marathon in 2015? Here are some things you might want to consider:

  • What is your baseline level of fitness currently?
  • How many times per week do you want to run?
  • Do you prefer longer or shorter training plans?
  • What is your cross-training going to be?

There are also many types of plans out there to consider. (Here‘s a good overview of just some of the major ones.) Want to run less, but have each run be very dedicated to pace times? You might want to check out Run Less, Run Faster. (For me, that level of speedwork would probably cause my shin splints to flare up – plus, I’m not sure how much I would enjoy running. Courtney has a great post on using RLRF for her half and full marathon training.) Looking for a high-volume program with just one rest day? The Hanson’s Method might be your ideal plan. I know that the Galloway run-walk method is a popular and safe way to build up mileage and speed over time as well. Kathryn of From Dancing to Running has used the Galloway method for all her half marathons, so I’d suggest checking out her blog. The “finish it” half marathon training plan from Another Mother Runner looks good too (regardless of whether you’re a mom or not!) but I prefer to have consistent days for running.

I think now is a great time to get into the habit of cross-training. I’ve talked at length about how I’m either ON or OFF when it comes to it, but once I start, I’m good to go. Don’t pick yoga as a form of cross-training if you know you don’t really like it. Now might be a good time to try out different equipment or types of workouts before you get into serious training mode – hiphop fitness, kickboxing, boot camp, barre, and so on.

Are you planning to run a half marathon in 2015? If so, which one – and what plan are you using?