Thursday, March 27, 2014

Half Marathon Training, Sparkly Runner Style

One of the questions I get asked most often is "I want to run a half marathon, but I'm not sure how to train. What training plan would you recommend?"

The best way to answer that question comes down to a lot of factors- When is the race you want to run? What is your general fitness level? How much time do you have each week to devote to training? What pace do you want to be able to comfortably run?

So, in short, there's not a one-size-fits-all training plan. However, what worked for me was a combination of plans that each have helped thousands of people cross the finish line.

I signed up for my first half marathon in October of 2011. I would run Disney's Princess Half Marathon in late February 2012. I had already been running for about 18 months but the most I'd run at one time was 6.2 miles. Weekly, I'd say I was running about 6-10 miles. I felt like my fitness level was appropriate for a beginner half marathon training program.

When looking for training plans, many people suggested Hal Higdon and Jeff Galloway. I bought Galloway's book, "You Can Do It: Half Marathon," and looked up Higdon's plan online. While Galloway's was 19 weeks, Higdon's was only 12. In the end, I chose to use Higdon's plan and Galloway's method.

Jeff Galloway's Beginner Plan. You can find it here

Cheesin' it up with one of my favorite books!

Hal Higdon's Novice 1 Plan. You can find it here.

Both of these websites have a ton of free training information and I highly recommend each of them. Both of these men are experienced runners and coaches- they know their stuff. Also, both of these plans DO NOT have a time goal. They both stress that your first half marathon should be about finishing, not finishing within a certain timeframe. One of my favorite Galloway quotes is that you should finish "upright, smiling, and wanting to run another one" at the end of your first half.

So, now I had a 12-week plan. As I was using Galloway's method, I used his handy chart to figure out what my run/walk intervals should be. If you aren't familiar with this method, basically you run and then walk at pre-determined intervals. It is a great method for all types and all levels of runners and has multiple benefits. You can read more about it here.

Galloway's pace chart.  Source.

Once I had the plan and the method figured out, it was time to actually train. In a nutshell, here's what my training looked like:
  • 27 training runs over 12 weeks
  • 125 training miles total
  • 2-4 hours of running per week
  • Two short runs during the week (2.5-5 miles) and one long run on the weekend (6-10 miles)
  • Four long runs total- 7, 8, 10, 8 miles each with a cutback week in between
  • Short taper runs in the last two weeks before the race

All of these miles were logged back before I used Map My Run. I made an excel sheet to track not only my mileage, but also what I ate, the weather, and how I felt during the run. This was really helpful to me as I was also figuring out how to fuel properly during the long runs. I found that keeping track of what I was doing was incredibly helpful and motivating.

All this detail... it makes me giggle! I was tired and achy a lot- wow, wait until Dopey training, past Sarah ;-)

These notes are hilarious! Apparently it was so cold that winter that my butt went numb! :-)

Even though both of these plans had strength training or cross-training worked into them, I did not do any of that. I just focused on the running. Looking back at my plan now, I wish I would have done the 10 miler closer to the date of the race, probably about three weeks out from race date. You can see that I didn't follow either plan to the letter- I just used them as more of a guide. Now, I'm pretty much a stickler when it comes to following a training plan because I want to make sure that I get all of the long runs in that I should so I can feel and do my best on race day.

The plan listed above got me through my first half marathon. Since then, I've stuck to a similar pattern to keep myself conditioned: two short runs during the week and a long run on the weekend usually averaging 15- 20 miles a week.

Disclaimer- I am not a medical professional nor running coach. The information presented here is just my experience. Always consult with your physician before starting any kind of physical exercise program.

QOTD: What training plan did you use for your first race?


  1. I love that you laid this out. For someone who's always done just three to five mile runs, the jump to a half seems so huge and unmanageable. I really appreciate seeing your notes, aches and pains. It makes upping the distance seem obtainable. GO TEAM SPARKLE!

    1. It is totally obtainable! By just increasing what you're doing a little at a time, your body and mind will adjust to the distance. And I'm glad you enjoyed my notes :-) Team Sparkle 4eva!!!! :-)

  2. I too was intimidated by the miles but found the gradual increase in a training plan very manageable. My training pattern was very similar to yours. I followed a modified version of Jeff Galloway's Dumbo plan since I had the 10k before, which had me running two short runs during the week and 1 long one on the weekend. Some weeks also had a walk the day before the long run to mimic the back to back races. I am a huge advocate of the run-walk method since my endurance isn't anywhere close to strong enough to run a half marathon without any walking.

    1. The run/walk method is just so awesome- it is really a game changer for a lot of people who never thought they could run for hours at a time. I wouldn't be able to keep running if I hadn't found it.

      Keep up the good work! :-)

  3. Perfect layout of a plan...but I have questions, of course. I fought the timed run/walk for a long time but for the last couple of months have been using it on my long runs and definitely feel a difference in my endurance (!) Since a lot of Disney races have Galloway followers, I've seen a lot of stop/starting but what about at other non-Disney races? I'm assuming most follow etiquette and move to the side or look prior to stopping. I've been just using my watch, but is it better to have device that beeps at you to tell you when to walk? I thought my Garmin wasn't working at DL 10K but it was just the people around me with their beeps for stop/start. HA. I've been doing 3:1 but am closer to 11:00 min/mile than a 10:00. Should I keep at the 3:1 (and ahem, maybe train more?) or change to 2:30/1? Keep up the blogging - you are doing great!

    1. Hi Robin! Yes, most people that run/walk stay to the right side of the course. It is also good practice to raise your hand as you begin to slow down to a walk so the folks behind you know that you are walking- I do this at every single race and I've never had an issue.

      I also use a Gymboss timer- they are great and you can set them to beep or vibrate during your intervals. Previously, I used my watch but I've found the timer to be really thoughtless and easy.

      As for the intervals, I would keep doing what works for you. I have found that sometimes I can run faster with a 1:1 than a 2:1. And I usually run 11 minute miles with the 2:1- even though I should technically be doing 2:30/1. I think doing what feels good will keep working for you but I'd also encourage you to experiment with different intervals to see what makes you faster or stronger.

      Thanks for reading! :-)