Let the Training Begin!

Isn't starting a new training cycle exciting? Everything's fresh, new, and fun, and motivation is sky-high. That's how I'm feeling this week since I started my training for my spring half marathon, the local Just a Short Run (JASR) Half Marathon at the end of March. The race swag is a pair of shorts, hence the name.


This race includes a 5K, 8 mile, half marathon, and 30K. Many runners use JASR as a training run for the Pittsburgh Marathon. I've done the 5K and half marathon the past two years, and it's one of my favorite races. It takes place in North Park, a park just north of Pittsburgh that's very popular with runners and home to many races. The first 5K of the course includes one big, steep hill but is otherwise flat. After the first 5K, the course follows the five-mile rolling-hill loop around the lake twice. I run at North Park a lot and really love the course. But the main reason I chose the race over the Pittsburgh Half Marathon is because of the weather. The past two years have been cold but not frigid, which is ideal for me, and it's unlikely that it will be really warm at the end of March. Of course, I could also say that about late November here and we've recently had several days in the 60s, so you really never know! But, I should say that it's unlikely it will be really warm in the morning on race day, which is all that matters. The Pittsburgh Half Marathon at the beginning of May, on the other hand, is basically like playing Russian roulette with the weather. It could be anything--raining, cloudy, warm, cool, hot, sunny--you name it, it's possible! JASR is a safer bet for me because I only run outside and have no way to acclimatize to warm weather before the race. The other thing I like about JASR is that it's small with no spectators. I think I'm the only one who's annoyed by crowds, but if I'm having a tough time I want to be alone in my misery, and even if not I want to focus. So that's why I chose JASR.

Race Goals

While JASR will be my goal race for spring, my main goal is really just to complete another Hansons' half marathon training cycle and build a foundation for my first full marathon next fall, when I plan to use the Hansons' method. If you're new to my blog, you can read my review of the half marathon method prior to my goal fall race and my thoughts on it after finishing my race. The gist is that I feel like it prepared me for the distance better than the Hal Higdon plans I previously did. I did really well on the plan and liked the routine and felt more strong, fit, and confident than ever before. That all comes with a price though--it's a very hard plan with high mileage, six days of running, and very tough workouts. The full marathon plan is harder with more mileage, so I think going through the half marathon plan again will better prepare me for the full.

Having said that, I will have a goal race pace since the Hansons' plan prescribes paces based on goal pace. My goal pace will be 10:40, 10 seconds faster than the 10:50 pace that's my PR from my October half marathon.

Training Plan

While I really liked the Hansons' plan and thought it worked well for me, I did think there was some overkill with how tough the workouts were. I've said this before, but the first speed workout is 12 x 400-meter repeats. 12 repeats! As the first speed workout! Who does that? Maybe like Meb. I was just trying to get a little faster, not go for a BQ, so I just didn't think I needed all that speedwork. In an interview with Competitor.com last year, Hansons Half Marathon Method author Luke Humphrey shared his thoughts on the three best workouts to improve a half marathon personal best. Guess what he thinks is the most important? "First, I would say general mileage. The more you can handle, the better. Plus, it sets you up for a marathon buildup if that’s the next step. Sorry, I know that’s not a singular workout, but I think it’s the most important. And, the Hansons philosophy simply won’t work if you are trying to follow it, but want to run 20 miles a week." I'm going to put his theory to the test by slightly modifying the training plan to keep the mileage but do a little less speedwork.

I also want to try to get a little more mileage overall. In my last training cycle I ran just over 500 miles in 15 weeks, with peak week at 43 miles. This plan calls for 598 miles in 16 weeks, with peek week at 46.5 miles.

Here's the basic components of the plan and how I'm modifying them for this training cycle. Note that the book contains three plans--beginner, advanced, and just finish. I used the beginner plan and will be using it again.

Weeks 1-4: Building Mileage

The beginner plan starts off with building mileage with five days of easy running. The advanced plan has one week of easy runs followed by all the speedwork and six days of running. I'm going to modify the beginner plan to do six days of running starting week 2 with one day of hill sprints as speedwork. The book Racing Weight suggests doing 6-10 x 8-10 second hill sprints a week to improve performance and body composition. Because I'm trying to get down to my goal weight by the end of the year and hill sprints reduced body fat in one study per the book, I want to keep doing the hill sprints. I think they'll also prepare me for the more intense speedwork that comes in the next phase. In the fourth week I'll also start the tempo runs, which this plan defines as race-pace runs with warm-up and cool-down miles.

Weeks 5-8: Speed Workouts

Speed workouts progress each week, from 400s to 600s to 800s to 1K, with paces alternating between 5K and 10K. I plan to reduce the number of repeats but keep the mileage.

I'll be keeping the tempo (really, race-pace) runs and long runs the same.

Weeks 9-15: Strength Workouts

After the speed phase, the plan transitions to longer repeats (1- to 3-mile repeats) at 10 seconds faster than race pace. Even though the pace was slower than the speed workouts, these workouts were really challenging for me. But it was in these workouts that I practiced pushing when it felt tough, which were a huge help in my race. I don't plan to alter these workouts.

Week 16: Taper

The taper actually starts in week 15 with reduced mileage, but week 16 is just easy runs. Again, I won't be altering this.

Here's what the plan looks like.

Training Strategy

I plan to do all my long runs on the race course at North Park, unless I absolutely can't for some reason, like if we have a blizzard and I can't get there. I also plan to incorporate some hills, even just the bridges, into some of my easy runs. Last winter I ran hills so much and believe it really helped make me stronger, not to mention that it prepared me for a hilly course.

Last winter I was determined to not skip any training runs, and I didn't. I was very proud to do every single training run outside, whether there was snow or ice or -20 degree wind chills. And guess where that got me on race day with temps in the 60s? The Pittsburgh Half Marathon was my second most miserable race experience, right after my very first half where I made every fueling mistake in the book and was sick the entire day. All that training I did was useless in the face of the warmest day we'd seen that spring. Sure, it would be nice to not skip any runs, and I'll certainly shoot for that. But I think a missed run now and then won't hurt, and if the conditions are really bad I might make the call to do an easy run instead of a workout or skip the run altogether. In other words, I'm going to give myself a bit of a break with this training cycle.

I also want to continue strength training, even if it's just once or twice a week for short sessions. I'll do daily stretching and try to fit in a yoga session at least once a week. In the last training cycle  during my peak weeks I added a second session of stretching and will probably do that too. I also started daily foam rolling once the plan got intense. I really disliked the foam rolling at first but then didn't mind it once I got into the routine of doing it every day. I believe the foam rolling and stretching really helped keep me free of injuries while training.

So that's my plan! Let the training begin!

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