Reflecting on the First Six Weeks of my Half Marathon Training Block

I’m now halfway through my current half marathon training block, and I thought this was a good point to stop and reflect on how things are going.

I’ve made a few adjustments throughout these first six weeks, but I’ve more or less stuck to the original plan that I laid out. Early on, there was a point where I experienced some fatigue. But by and large, things are going well – and I think I’m well on my way to setting a nice PR.

Where I Started From

First, let’s take a quick recap of where I was at the beginning of this training block.

I got back into running in last April, built a base over the summer, and did a few easy time trials in the fall to set a baseline. This included a half marathon in 1:57. After recovering from that, I spent about two months training my speed for a 5k PR – 22:37. Throughout that training, my weekly mileage was 30 to 35 miles per week.

Following that, I spent a week recovering and running easy mileage. That first week after the 5k, I was very fatigued and my heart rate was higher than usual. But in the second week I was able to bump my mileage to 40 mpw – again all easy miles – in preparation for this training block.

My goals were to spend 12 weeks running 40-45 miles per week, incorporating two workouts and a long run, and set a new half marathon PR in April.

Interval Workout Progression

One of my weekly workouts is an interval workout. I originally planned on progressing from 5k intervals to 10k intervals to threshold intervals. The idea, based on Science of Running, was the progress closer to my specific race pace over the course of the 12 weeks. I also wanted to increase the volume of these intervals. I’d been comfortable doing 5k of intervals during my 5k training, but with the slower pace I wanted to bump this up to about 6 miles of hard running during the workout.

In retrospect, I don’t think I should have included the 5k pace work. Combined with the increasing volume, I think these were too taxing. I may also have been running a pace slightly closer to 3k pace than 5k pace. When I backed off the pace a little bit to closer to 10k, they were much more manageable. I was able to slide the volume up to 8x1km, which I could then switch to 5x1mi.

For the last three weeks, the workout has held constant at 5x1mi. At the beginning of the training block, I estimated my 10k pace to be somewhere between 7:20/mi and 7:30/mi. In the first workout, the pacing was a bit off by I averaged 7:28/mi. The next week, I managed to pace more evenly and still hit 7:28/mi. The third week, I hit 7:27/mi. So I’m pretty solidly on pace, and this week I’ll be increasing the volume to 6x1mi. I want to maintain a similar pace, but I’ll be satisfied if it drops off a few seconds closer to 7:30/mi.

Overall, I’m happy with this progress. I like the mile repeats, and they aren’t as hard as I thought they would be. I feel like I’m getting better at pacing them more evenly, and I’m feeling better during the recovery portion.

After the 6x1mi workout, I’ll be transitioning to longer threshold paced intervals. The final workout will be 2x3mi at threshold pace (~7:35-7:40/mi).

Tempo Run Progression

My second workout of the week is a tempo run. One of the reasons I didn’t follow a Jack Daniels or Pete Pfitzinger plan for this was that I wanted to include some half marathon tempo work.

For the first few weeks, I didn’t include a tempo run. I wanted to ease into the higher mileage and the higher volume of quality work. But in week 4, I started with a short tempo run around marathon pace.

Including some warm up and cool down miles, my Friday run is typically 7-8 miles. I include some miles at tempo in the middle. My goal was to start these around 8:15/mi and, over the course of the plan, bring them down to around 7:45/mi.

In the first week, I ran 3 miles at tempo with an average pace of 8:11/mi. This was kind of hard and slow, but that may be because I was in Florida for the weekend and I’m not used to the heat and humidity. The following week, I increased the volume to 4 miles and brought the pace down to 8:03/mi. The third week, I managed to run the 4 miles at an average pace of 7:43/mi.

The good news is that I’m hitting my goal race pace and it isn’t too hard. The bad news is that I have a bad habit of speeding up a bit too much at the end. In the last workout, the final 2 miles were all at least slightly faster than the target pace. Mile 3 was only a few seconds fasters, but the final mile was around 7:35/mi.

I want to resist the temptation to speed up, because I know it will bite me in the ass during the race. I want to pace evenly and conservatively, at least through the first 10 miles. At that, I’ll feel comfortable speeding up if I feel good. But the last time I ran a half, I was a bit too overeager in the beginning and those first few miles caused me to blow up around mile 8 and struggle in the second half of the run.

Long Run Progression

Going into my 5k training block, my longest runs were 12 miles. My goal for this training block was to increase the volume to 16 miles and also introduce some tempo work. In part, I thought this would help me stay strong over the full 13.1 miles of the race. But this is also geared towards the future, since I’ll be training for a full marathon in the fall.

While the distance is still tough, I’m making progress on this front.

In the first three weeks, I left out the quality work and focused on the distance. I ran 14, 15, and 16 miles respectively. The 14 miler wasn’t bad, and I probably ended up running a little faster than I should have (9:03/mi). My legs were still fresh from two weeks of easy running. The next week, that changed. I managed to finish the 15 miles without too much struggle, but the pace was slower (9:33/mi). The following week, I really struggled in the last couple of miles but I was managed to slowly (9:38/mi) finish all 16 miles.

From there, I planned on adding some surges of quick running – around half marathon to marathon tempo. Week 4 I was down in Florida for the weekend, and the heat and humidity complicated things. I planned to run 14 miles, but I was really struggling in the second half. I started with 5 miles of easy running, which was fine – albeit a bit slow because of the heat. Then, I ran 8×1 minute surges with 5 minutes of easy running. The first half of this went fine, but as the workout continued I struggled to maintain a faster pace. I finished the last surge, and I was dying. At this point, I was about 10 miles in, and I just had 4 miles of easy running to go. I caught my breath and did ok at first, but around mile 12 I was really feeling it. I stopped to walk a few times, broke back into a jog, and I eventually called it quits at 13.5 miles.

Thankfully, the next week went a lot better. Back at home in the cool New Jersey weather, I planned on running the same workout but during a 16 mile run. I made it through the workout fine, and my pace during the surges was better than the week before. I was definitely tired after the last surge, but I wasn’t completely wiped out. I did still struggle through the last mile.

Last week, I switched to the final phase of workouts – a long with marathon paced tempos inside. I backed off the distance again to 14 miles. I figured over these 12 weeks I could build up to 16 miles a few times and drop back to 14 miles to ease up a bit. Each time I’ve done 16 miles, I’ve struggled at the end. I’m hoping by the end of this 12 weeks I’ll be more comfortable at that distance – because the marathon plan is going to involve a lot of those longer runs.

This week’s long run was by far the best of the training block. I started with 6 easy miles, and then I ran 4 around marathon tempo. I was aiming for 8:00/mi to 8:15/mi, and I averaged 8:06/mi. I found myself running the easy miles a bit on the fast side, which I’m hoping is an indication that I’m getting more comfortable with the training volume and I’m less impacted by the fatigue. We’ll see how next week goes, when I do this workout again in a 16 mile run.

I also managed to hit a new personal best over the half marathon distance throughout this long run. My time in the last time trial was 1:57, and I covered the distance in 1:55 yesterday. This is a clear sign that I’m on my way to a solid PR in a few weeks. While this was a tough workout, it was definitely not a race pace effort – and if I pushed myself I know I could have run faster. I wouldn’t be surprised if this time comes down a bit more in one of my later tempo runs, too.

Recovery Runs

Last week, I tried something new for my recovery runs. I had been doing 3 to 4.5 miles of easy running on the pavement, and this worked out ok.

But the snow finally melted, and I tried taking my recovery runs out to the trails. I loved it. The trail running forces me to slow down, and I don’t feel bad going at an easy 11-12:00/mi pace. My interval workout is Wednesday, my tempo run is Friday, and my long run is Sunday. Last week, I did easy trail runs – about 45 minutes – on Thursday and Saturday. By the end of each, I felt nice and loose, and I felt great for my workout the following day. I’m going to keep this up this week, and I think this might be my new routine to do all of my non-workout runs on the trails.

Setting Expectations

Now that I’m about halfway through, I can think more about my goal pace.

For some reason, I didn’t work a tune up race into the training plan. But I decided that a 10k a few weeks out would be a good idea. Pete Pfitzinger suggests doing a 10k tune up race two to three weeks out, and I think this will be a good way to gauge my fitness before doing the full half marathon. It will also give me an opportunity to update my 10k PR, which is from last fall and is definitely not representative of my current fitness.

There aren’t any in person races around my, so I decided to do something a bit unconventional. I scheduled the 10k as a time trial on a Wednesday, instead of doing it on a weekend. This way, it can replace my interval workout. I’ll also drop the tempo run that Friday to give myself plenty of time to recover. This way I can still do my full long run on Sunday, although I may or may not keep the tempo miles in depending on how I feel.

The 10k time trial will be two and a half weeks out from the half marathon. I think running 46 to 47 minutes is plausible, and I’ve got an easy goal of 48 minutes. If this were my goal race, I could probably get closed to or beat 46 minutes. But I won’t be tapering for this, and I don’t want to go all out so close to the half. I’ll probably start out at 48 minute pace and then speed up a bit.

As for my half marathon, I’m still trying to dial in that pace. I think 1:45 (8:00/mi pace) is very achievable, and that’s my easy goal. My real target is 7:45/mi – which is about 1:41. And I think, as a stretch goal, I may try to beat 1:40. I think it’s possible, but I’ll wait to see how the next few weeks go. I’d much rather take it conservative and hit 1:42 than be aggressive again and fail to reach 1:45.

Also, I had originally planned to possibly run the half marathon in Atlantic City. I didn’t sign up for it because I wasn’t sure how things would be going with Covid. Now, the race is full. So it looks like I’ll be doing a time trial again. But, truthfully, I’m fine with that. I’m happy to wait until my full marathon in the fall for a real race. This is really just a stepping stone and tune up for that.

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