Designing My Own Half Marathon Training Plan

I spent the last twelve weeks training for a 5k, and I set a new PR of 22:37 in a time trial. My goal all along was to use this training block as a bridge to a better half marathon – and ultimately a marathon.

I tentatively have my sights set on a half marathon in Atlantic City in late April. Depending on how things look, I might just end up doing another time trial. But either way, I plan on starting a new training block next week focused on paring down my half marathon time.

So naturally, I looked at some plans out there. I wasn’t fully satisfied with any of them, though, so I ended up building my own.

Why I Didn’t Use a Pre-made Half Marathon Training Plan

I’ve written more extensively about choosing a half marathon training plan here, and the truth is I’m just not that satisfied with anything I’ve read in popular books. Without rehashing all the details, here’s a quick run-down.

I liked Jack Daniels training principles for my 5k training block, so I considered using one of the half marathon training plans in Jack Daniels’ Running Formula. But I had a few problems with it. For the first six weeks, it included a lot of hard intervals at mile pace, and I didn’t think this speed work was important coming out of the 5k training block. There was also nothing half marathon specific. The vast majority of the “quality” miles were at repetition, interval, and threshold pace, which are all faster than half marathon pace. Other than easy runs, there was very little in the way of tempo at half marathon or slower paces.

You can read more about the pros and cons of Jack Daniels half marathon training plans here.

Another option was Pete Pfitzinger. I liked Faster Road Racing, and I took a look at the Pfitz plans. I planned on maxing out around 45 miles per week, so I considered the 31-47 mile plan. I’m now running six days a week, and I really didn’t like the idea of packing all of those miles into 4 days. I can bust out an eight to ten mile mid-week run if I need to, but I still want some lower mileage days to recover. I also thought the long runs were a bit short. Other than one fourteen mile run, none of the long runs actually reach half marathon pace. And again, like with Jack Daniels, there’s virtually no half marathon specific work – it’s all VO2 max (5k pace) or lactate threshold pace.

You can read more about the pros and cons of Pete Pfitzinger half marathon training plans here.

Hal Higdon is another popular choice for half marathon training. You can find these plans in Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Training. The beginner and intermediate plans are definitely not going to get me to where I’m trying to go, but the advanced plan isn’t bad. He’s not very specific about mileage, and depending on how you read the plan it might seem a bit low. But if you add in warm up miles, it would probably be in the 40’s. I like the fact that the intervals change pace from 5k to race pace, and I like the inclusion of the “pace run” on Saturday. This is essentially a race pace tempo run. But I think there’s a bit too much in the week with a set of intervals, a threshold tempo run, a pace run, and a long run. The plan includes all the right elements, but it could use a bit of work to periodize it better instead of trying to do everything almost every week.

Then there’s the plan in Hanson’s Half Marathon Method. The mileage level is about right, although it peaks a little high for me (51 miles). The plan builds a lot – from 33 to 51 miles – and I don’t think that’s a good idea for me, since I’m not already comfortable running 50 miles per week. On the plus side, I really like the periodization of the Tuesday workouts. They start out as “speed” workouts at around 5k pace for the first half of the plan, and they transition to longer, slower intervals for the second half. Meanwhile, there’s a tempo workout at half marathon pace beginning at 3 miles and working up to 7 miles. That’s definitely a lot of half marathon specific work. If I had to pick one of these four pans, I’d probably choose Hanson. But I would tweak it a little bit for my purposes.

My Approach to Half Marathon Training (And Marathon Training)

My approach to this half marathon training is informed a few things – the training principles laid out in Jack Daniels Running Formula, the training principles included in Steve Magness Science of Running, knowledge of what I’ve done over the past twelve weeks, and knowledge of my goals in the months to come.

First, although I didn’t like Jack Daniels’ half marathon plan itself, there’s one key principle that I’m taking from his approach. He argues that you should periodize the quality running so that you start with less of it and slowly increase more. This gives the body more time to adapt to the demands of harder running, especially if you haven’t done so before. In Jack’s plans, this means that quality running progresses from repetition to interval to threshold.

I’m going to take this principle and implement it a little bit differently. Since I’m increasing my mileage going into this plan, I don’t want to jump right into two or three workouts per week. Instead, I’ll start with one intense workout. The rest of the days will be easy to moderate – allowing me some time to adapt to the higher volume and intensity of training.

Second, I’m drawing a lot off Steve Magness. I really liked his approach to periodization, which he bases on the coaching work of Renato Canova. The general idea is to begin with work that is both slower and faster than the goal pace. Over the course of the training plan, move closer to the goal pace. Towards the end of the plan, emphasize the goal pace itself. This means transitioning the “speed” side from 5k to 10k to LT to half marathon pace. On the flip side, starting with easy running, then marathon pace, then half marathon pace.

Third, I’m developing this plan knowing that I’ve already spent ten weeks focused on speed. I did a lot of mile pace to 5k pace work during my 5k training block, and I improved my speed considerably. My weaker point is definitely the endurance side, so I want to focus more on tempo runs and slower intervals. I also know that my peak mileage was 36 miles per week during the 5k training block, and I want to get up to about 45 miles per week while training for this half. I’ll bump it up a bit before I start, and then I’ll use the early, easier weeks to bump it up the rest.

Finally, my goal later this year is to run a full marathon. I’m looking at the New Jersey Marathon in October. If I run this half in April, I’ll have about six weeks of recovery and base building, and then I can transition to an 18 week marathon training plan. To make that transition easier, I’m putting a bit more emphasis on the long runs, and I hope to get up to doing 16 miles with some regularity. I also want to emphasize some marathon pace tempo runs. I’ll probably do the Jack Daniels 2Q marathon plan, and that requires a lot of marathon pace work. Doing some of that now will, hopefully, prepare me for those workouts.

Putting it All Together into a Plan

So, let’s take all of those ideas and put them together into a plan.

First, I thought about mileage. Again, my previous peak had been 36 miles per week. I wanted to end this training block at around 45 miles per week, which would allow me to more easily bump up to 55 miles per week during marathon training. There just wasn’t enough time to spend base building to 55 mpw before this training block. I’ll bump up to 40 miles per week in the easy weeks between my 5k training block and this training block, and then I’ll gradually bump it up to 45 miles per week over the first few weeks of the plan.

Next, I thought about the long runs. My previous longest long run was 12 miles. In the easy weeks leading up to the training block, I’ll run 12 miles followed by 13. From there, I can increase a mile each week until I hit 16. Then, I can cycle it a bit between 14 to 16 miles. This will allow for some minor lessening of the volume throughout the plan, and it will also let me start again at 14 miles each time I add new quality to the long run. First, I’ll add some surges in the middle of the run. Then, for the final six weeks, I’ll include 4-6 miles at marathon pace.

Wednesday is going to be my main workout day. For the first three weeks, I’ll do intervals at 5k pace or slightly slower. I’ll increase the volume from 6x1000m to 8x1000m. Then, I’ll transition to mile repeats at 10k pace. After 4 weeks of 5×1 mile at 10k pace, I’ll move to the last step in the periodization – longer repeats at threshold pace. I’ll do 3×2 miles for two weeks, following by 2×3 miles for the last two workouts. This sequence will a) ramp up the volume of work (from ~3.5 miles to 6 miles) and b) transition the pace from 5k pace to lactate threshold pace.

Friday is going to be my tempo run. For the first four weeks, this will remain easy and I’ll do a trail run with some hills mixed in. Then, for two weeks I’ll introduce 3-4 miles at marathon pace. Finally, for the last six weeks, I’ll work up from 3 miles to 6 miles at half marathon pace. This will get me ready for the pace, and the 6 mile run at the end will be a good indicator of whether my goal pace is realistic.

That leaves Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday as easy and recovery runs. Monday will be an off day. The easy days will be 3 to 5 miles, and it will help me meet my weekly mileage goals.

Example Weeks

Here are three examples taken from throughout the plan.

Here’s week 1, with one hard day and mostly easy running for the rest. Total mileage is 42 miles.

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: 5 miles easy
  • Wednesday: 9 miles total; 6x1000m @ 5k pace, 3:00 recovery jogs
  • Thursday: 4.5 miles easy / recovery
  • Friday: 5 mile trail run with hills
  • Saturday: 4.5 miles easy / recovery
  • Sunday: 14 miles easy long run

Here’s week 5, where the intensity starts to pick up. The weekly mileage is 46 miles.

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: 4.5 miles easy
  • Wednesday: 9 miles total; 5×1 mile @ 10k pace, 3:00 recovery jogs
  • Thursday: 4.5 miles easy / recovery
  • Friday: 7.5 tempo mile run with 4 miles at marathon pace
  • Saturday: 4.5 miles easy / recovery
  • Sunday: 16 mile long run with 8×1:00 surges to tempo pace (somewhere between half marathon and marathon)

And finally, here’s week 10. This is about the peak intensity, with some hard workouts early in week 11 before it tapers off. Total mileage is 44.5.

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: 4.5 miles easy
  • Wednesday: 9 miles total; 2×3 miles at threshold pace with 3:00 recovery jog
  • Thursday: 4.5 miles easy / recovery
  • Friday: 7.5 mile tempo run with 5 miles at half marathon pace
  • Saturday: 4.5 miles easy / recovery
  • Sunday: 16 mile long run with 4 miles at marathon pace

Setting a Goal Pace

I’m not fully confident of my target goal pace, yet.

My half marathon PR – set five years ago – is 1:54. I ran a time trial last summer, before I’d done anything besides base building. I thought I’d be able to run 1:53 or 1:54, but I crashed in the last few miles and finished around 1:57.

I know for a fact I can beat that. I’ll probably beat it on one of my long runs with marathon paced tempo. But the question is by how much.

If I plug my recent 5k time into the VDOT calculator, I get an equivalent time of 1:44. That’s a VDOT value of 43. I think 1:44-1:45 is a good baseline goal, and I don’t think I’ll have trouble hitting that.

An increase in VDOT of 2 – to 45 – would equate to a half marathon time of 1:40. I think that’s a good stretch goal. It’s possible, but I don’t think I’ll know until later in the training block if it’s realistic.

That puts my goal pace somewhere between 8:00/mi – on the slow end – and 7:35 – on the fast end.

I used 7:45 as a tentative goal pace, and I figured my other training paces (give or take 5 seconds) would be 7:00 (5k), 7:15 (10k), 7:30 (LT) and 8:00 to 8:15 (Marathon).

What’s Next

This week, I’m wrapping up a week of easy running. I put in eight miles this morning, and I’ll do 13 on Sunday. My overall weekly mileage will be 40 miles – my highest ever.

From there, I’ll launch into week 1 of this new training plan and see how things go.

I’ve also started doing Coach Jay’s SAM routine, and I think I’ll try and keep this up over the next few weeks. I figure this will hopefully help keep me strong and injury free through the marathon in October.

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