In October 2016. I ticked off another event from my bucket list by running the Manchester Half Marathon. Although it wasn’t something I had planned to do in 2016. I needed a Half Marathon training plan
A friend had set herself a number of running challenges. To run 4 half Marathons in 2017 along with a full Marathon. She had already ran a couple of half Marathons in 2016 and wasn’t entirely happy with her times. Chatting with her whilst on a night out about her previous times I offered a few tips. To cut a long story. After a few more drinks, I agreed to be her running partner for the Manchester Half Marathon. Which she had already signed up for. Our aim was to try and break the magical 2 hour mark.
Unfortunately I had 6 weeks before race day to get into shape. To be able to run a sub 2 hour half Marathon as my friends pacesetter.
Fortunately I wasn’t going into the half marathon training “cold” so to speak. I had been carrying a shoulder injury which wasn’t improving. Therefore I had been doing plenty of short quick runs a few times a week. Along with lower body circuit training a few days a week too. This provided me with a good base to build upon.
I decided to hack my current and rather sporadic training. Into a proper weekly workout. In keeping with my Caveman lifestyle, I wouldn’t be doing the normal Half Marathon training of running every other day for distance. Chronic cardio was a no go. Was it possible to get in shape for a 12+ mile run in 6 weeks?
First and foremost I wanted to reduce the stress on my body by only running twice a week. My Half Marathon training plan was for 5 days a week, training Monday to Friday. With weekends as my rest period. The plan broke down into run training two of the days (Tuesday and Thursday). The other three days (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) would be legs and core circuit training to improve overall strength and condition.
I reserved two Saturday’s in the 6 week period to do two long runs with my friend. Which ended up being around 15 KM’s in distance, at a slow pace.
No bones about it. If you want to run a half Marathon you have to get out on the road and run. Therefore one of my two runs per week was a distance road run. I decided to either run into work (10.6km with a 5 minute warm down walking the last leg of my route). Or run home from work (11.1km door to door), with a Rucksack on my back (My choice to run with is the Karrimor Urban 30L Rucksack).
The reason I choose this distance and to do it once was, it was half the distance I needed to run on race day. Reducing how much cardio I would need to do. While still working on my running conditioning and rhythm. I hoped this would gradually build up my stamina enough to run the full 12+ miles for the race.
For my other run day, I opted to do a 5KM run on a treadmill, HIIT style. There is plenty of evidence to show that HIIT improves your VO2 capacity. Along with increasing stamina/strength levels and burning body fat.
How I would run the 5 km, would be to run for 1 minute at a reduced pace (10 km/h). Then up the treadmill speed to a high pace for another minute (14/15 km/h). Continuing to change the speed I was running at every minute, until I had completed the 5 kms. Each week I would try to increase the time I was running at a higher pace for. As well as slow increasing both my “resting” run pace and “sprint” run pace. This should improve my stamina peaking for the race day, mid October 2016.
To complement the two days of running. I decided to come up with a circuit training plan targeting my legs and abs. Aiming to improve my strength and stamina in these body parts. Basically it was a cut down version of a Tough Mudder plan I had previously used.
To start with I would perform the first exercise for 30 seconds, with a 10 second rest. Moving onto the second exercise for 30 seconds, 10 second rest. And so on. Each week I would increase the work period by 5 seconds. Once I hit 45 second work period I would increase my rest period to 15 seconds. Working up to 60 seconds work and 15 seconds rest in the final week of training. I would perform each circuit (set of 8 exercises) 3 times per workout
My thinking behind this plan was to gradually increase the work effort to build up my strength and cardio capacity in intense bursts. Similar to the HIIT treadmill run I was doing once a week. I hoped this would improve my overall fitness to be able to complete the half Marathon in under 2 hours.
Below are the exercises that made up a circuit
Dumbbell Side Lunge (Holding 14kg dumbbell , touch floor either side of toe, each lunge)
Forward Lunge & Twist (14kg dumbbell hold on chest)
Quick Feet (push up position bring knees to chest. Alternate legs as fast as possible)
Goblet Squats (20 kg dumbbell held on chest)
How did the race day go? You ask. Very well. Very well indeed. My friend had both a good and bad day. We didn’t manage to get her under the 2 hours mark for the half Marathon. Which was unfortunate. The good news was she got a personal best time for the distance. She hasn’t bettered her time when this post was published. Further analysis of her split time showed she was on pace to do under 2 hours after 7 miles. It was the second half of the race that our pace dropped.
To my performance. Did my 6 week Half Marathon training plan work? Yes, most definitely. I wouldn’t say the run was hard, or that is was easy. I felt extremely comfortable for the entire race. Feeling I could have upped my pace to get under a 2 hour half Marathon. To a point that I could have finished a lot faster than 2 hours. IT WORKED.
The “normal wisdom “that you have to clock up miles and miles during training. Running 3 or 4 times a week, for months on end, is a myth, well and truly dispelled. If you push yourself for short periods, varying the type of exercise you are doing. This increases your strength, stamina and overall ability to perform in endurance events. There is no need for hours of cardio, stressing your body out unnecessarily.
The circuit plan and treadmill HIIT runs were difficult and pushed me in each training session. This impacted my cardiovascular performance being increasing my capacity week on week. Along with increasing my legs strength and core stamina to endure the 12 miles.
One of the things I noticed about my training plan looking back. Was running a distance at a steady pace with a Rucksack on my back actually helped with my training. I was making the run more difficult for myself, carrying a heavy weight, which in turn improved my fitness. Another benefit of carrying the Rucksack, was it improved my posture when running. Pulling the straps tight and pulling my shoulders back made me run more upright rather than hunching. It also engaged my abs and core more during the run, which made them stronger for race day. When it came to the big day, running without out a Rucksack, I felt really nimble and light. Making the whole experience a lot more enjoyable.
All in all, do you need a half marathon training plan putting you through misery and stress for 12 weeks to run a Half Marathon? NO. It can be done in half the time, with minimal stress on your body, but with far better results? YES.
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