When I sat down last winter to plan for this year, there was one thing that dominated my thoughts: a sub-90 half marathon. With two training cycles to improve on my 1:36:37 from last year’s Burnham Half, it seemed a realistic, if difficult proposition. Unfortunately a fall on the coastal path scrapped off my entire spring, so I’m now coming into the autumn a little unsure where I should be setting my target. In my heart I’m still aiming for sub-90, but in reality, I think that has become something of a pipe-dream now.
To give myself the best chance though, I am following a set training plan for the first time. Previously, I’ve always looked at a few and then built myself a plan, loosely based on what I’d seen, and planned around a number of club runs and similar that I did. But, I hadn’t really seen the improvements that I wanted. A couple of people that really inspire me, and have seen massive improvement in their running are Teal, from Miles to the Trials, and Matty, from Running Matters. Both have used the Pete Pfitzinger/Scott Douglas plans from Advanced Marathoning. Clearly, as I’m not doing a marathon, that isn’t any use to me, so I have opted to use a plan from Faster Road Running: 5k to Half Marathon, by Pete Pfitzinger and Philip Latter. (Hopefully all the good stuff doesn’t come from Scott Douglas!)
The plan I am using is the lowest mileage of the half marathon plans; but even this is more than I have typically done in the past. It builds from 31 miles per week up to 47, while I have typically trained from about 20 to 35 miles per week during half marathon training in the past. As a result of this, there is more ‘slow’ running than I have done before, which is a bit of a worry – will I get quicker if I’m running slower? On the other hand, I typically perform relatively better at 5k and 10k than the half marathon, so hopefully getting significantly more distance in my legs will help to counter that. Of course, the plan does have plenty of targeted quicker running as well, particularly in the second meso-cycle, when most weeks have both speed intervals and tempo runs.
So, introduction done, let’s have a look at week one:
Tuesday: 6 miles General Aerobic + strides
Wednesday: 8 miles Endurance
Friday: 7 miles Lactate Threshold
Sunday: 10 miles Endurance
Immediately, by mere consequence of being an ‘impersonal’ training plan, this threw up lots of variations from my typical training – I normally try to run parkrun most Saturdays, but I’ve always accepted that this doesn’t fit in brilliantly with training. I almost never run on Fridays, and the concept of a run with two purposes (general aerobic and strides) has never featured in my training.
Rest – Nailed it. After a race on Sunday, I was more than happy to take the day off on Monday. I would have liked to have got a decent stretching and rolling session in, but you can’t have everything!
This session was a combination of two types of running, and it wasn’t entirely clear how this should be achieved. Reading through a few section of the books, I interpreted that the 6 mile session should be made up of 5 miles ‘General Aerobic’ aka ‘Easy’ running, followed by 1 mile of 100 metre sprint repetitions. Due to work and home commitments, I did this first thing Tuesday morning, an unusual time of day for me to be running. The five miles of easy running went okay, although I always struggle to get going in the morning, but then my watch crashed as it tried to go into the sprint reps. This was less than ideal, and I ended up basically doing a fartlek session of ‘I’ll sprint to that lamp-post’, ‘I’ll jog gently until that tree’, and so on. Distance wise, I ended up very slightly short, but I probably didn’t get full value out of the reps by doing them in such an ad hoc fashion, so that’s something to work on for next week. All in all though, an okay start to the week.
This session, an 8 mile endurance run, which is repeated most weeks, is one that works out pretty well for me: our club meets on a Wednesday evening, and the groups that I run with do around this sort of distance. This week, it ended up slightly short, about 7.6 miles, which normally I could add on to easily, but as we had a club committee meeting after, I didn’t. Running with a group meant that it was harder to keep my heartrate and pace as consistent as I would like, but overall, a good solid mid-week medium-long run.
Although I’ve done some threshold, or tempo, running before, I have to admit that it’s not a session that I’ve done anywhere near as often as I should have, and it’s through this training that I think I’m most likely to make improvements. As such, it’s the session that I’m most keen to get right. Described as a 7 mile LT (lactate threshold) run, most of this run is actually at a gentle pace, with two quicker intervals: 14 minutes and 12 minutes at LT pace, with a four minute jog between them. I ran this session based on heart-rate, and like on Tuesday I ran before work in the morning.
How did it go? I’m not really sure. My gut feeling is that I didn’t run hard enough – I was at the top-end of the target heart-rate band for the entire LT intervals, but it didn’t feel particularly tough. Looking online, the common consensus seems to be that this should be ‘comfortably hard’, and around 10-20 seconds slower than 10 km pace. My pace was 7:45 in both intervals, compared to my 10 km race pace of 6:53 (from the Round the Tor 10k). Looking at this, and the advice online, I’m going to try running this session to pace next time, and see how that feels, and look at where my heart rate is, and then make a judgement for the rest of my training.
Rest day – no parkrun for me. I’d been tempted to get my volunteering count up, as I’m not far off being able to claim a purple 25 t-shirt, but I didn’t get my act together in time! Mowing the lawn and painting the shed were pretty hard-work, but probably don’t count as ruining a rest day!
The last time I ran further than 10 miles was the Exmoor Stagger, last October, and although I did run 9 miles a couple of weeks ago, I decided to run with our club’s ‘Sunday All-Stars’ to help me get over the mental barrier of double-figures. It was a good, friendly group, and I didn’t even really notice the distance. We stopped a few more times than I would like – once I’m out I just want to keep running, rather than stop for photos and the like, but that’s the trade-off for running in a group! My heart-rate was right at the bottom of my target band, but given the step-up in mileage, I was perfectly happy with that. A pretty solid run.
I was quite concerned about the mileage, particularly given I’ve had a couple of quieter weeks due to a cold, but my body seems to have coped reasonably well. I need to work on including more stretching and rolling sessions during the week, so that my muscles don’t get too tight. My key ‘takeaway’ from the week is the tweaking that I want to do to the LT session, and maybe, depending on how that goes, a tweak to my general heart-rate bands. This coming week I’ll be going ‘off-plan’ very slightly, to fit in the fourth Yeovilton 5k race of the season, and some parkrun tourism for my birthday on Saturday, and as a result I’ll have to sacrifice the LT session to allow those hard runs to fit in.