It’s the common mistake that all novice half marathon runners make when starting their training – only include regular runs of LongSlow Duration (LSD) to ensure there is enough mileage in the legs to run the 13.1 mile (21.1Km) distance. Whilst it is true that you will need to include some LSD in your training it shouldn’t form the entire training program.
Hill and speed work are just as important, more important if you have a particular time target in mind. For instance, if you are looking to run a half marathon in under 2 hours then including these two training methods are essential.
Doing the same LSD sessions can become very monotonous and such a strain on people’s minds that they become dis-interested with running altogether. Also your body adapts to exercise repetition therefore the benefits that you first gained from that training session will slowly diminish to the point where you are no longer making any improvements to your running fitness.
Variety keeps things interesting and will ensure that you see continuous improvements in your running provided you give yourself plenty of rest and listen to your body, ‘challenge yourself but don’t overdo it!’
As an intermediate runner myself my training plan for the Sydney Half Marathon in May 2013 contained LSD runs of 10Km-14Km only, with more sessions focused on hill runs, intervals and some sprint training (HIIT) to improve finishing speed (it also helped that I play competitive rugby too).
As a novice to the half marathon I wouldn’t suggest going straight into a training schedule similar to mine, unless you already have a steady running base and have completed some 10km races before. My advice instead would be the following:
1) Start off with just LSD runs to build your running base. To avoid boredom here, pick different routes each time. Do one longer run per week of between 6 and 10 miles and then two shorter runs of 4 miles and one interval session.
2) Once you are regularly running 8 miles in your LSD run then you should replace one of the shorter runs with a hill session which would typically be sets of 200- 400M runs up a hill with a walk back recovery. Start with 4 x 200M and build up the repetitions each week to 8 before increasing the distance and dropping back to 4 repetitions. Time yourself on each of these so that you can monitor improvements. If you are new to hill running then take it easy to begin with until you get used to running at a considerable gradient. Once used to the gradient you should be aiming to run as hard as you can so all hill sessions should be preceded with a 15 minute jog warm up at a slow pace and finish with a 10 minute cool down jog.
3) A rest day should always follow a hill session. Stretching and Myofacial Release using a foam roller are advisable here.
4) Don’t attempt any speed training until you have done some hill training and don’t include them in the same week unless you have built up the necessary power in your legs and feel comfortable doing this. If so, make sure you space these two sessions out, leaving 3-4 days between each.
5) Try introducing fartlek training into your program to help with improving your speed. This is a form of interval training where you mix up your running between hard intense bursts with lighter jogs and some walks if necessary. I like the traditional fartlek session
Distance Example Using 1Km Circuit: Time Using a 5 Minute Circuit:
400 Metre Jog 2 Minutes Jog
200 Metre Hard Run (90%+ of max) 1 Minute Hard Run
300 Metre Jog 90 Seconds Jog
100 Metre Walk 30 Seconds Walk
Repeat this 6-8 times. Repeat this 6-8 times.
Once you are comfortable doing this 8 times Once you are comfortable doing this 8 times
Increase the distances on the hard run & jogs. Increase the times on the hard run & jogs
Now you have the fuel to burn, burn it wisely and you shall be smiling at the end of your first half marathon knowing that you will have succeeded in your aim.