Half Marathon training

My next goal race is the Newport Liberty Half Marathon (registration opened recently and the price increases on August 13th) and it is now just under 8 weeks away.

My main focus in my training so far this year has been to increase my mileage but it’s that time of year when that gets harder – vacations and those days when the heat and humidity are just screaming at you to stay inside in particular (although that didn’t stop me taking on what, looking back, was an insane 17 mile run through NYC on Sunday 19th with RVRR, which I will write about soon).

Whatever your level, there’s still time to train for this race (although if you’re an absolute beginner runner this will likely depend on your general fitness level).

What approach should you take?

This will largely depend on your goal, and your goal will most likely vary based on your running history, so we’ll break this down into different scenarios.

1. Absolute beginner

It isn’t entirely out of the question that you may be able to run a half marathon with 8 weeks of training (I’ve seen it done), but it will depend greatly on your general fitness. The fitter you are, the more likely you are to make it. Your first step here is to see if you can run 3 miles successfully – pace is not important but if you are constantly stopping because you are out of breath then you will want to consider finding a later race, or going for a lower goal this year and work your way up to do this next year. Please note that it is advisable to consult with a doctor before beginning a training program.

How to get there:

  1. This is where you need to be careful and don’t overdo things. Take it easy and make sure most, if not all, of your runs are at an “easy” pace (you don’t want to be completely exhausted at the end of your runs).
  2. You should plan to run at least 3 times a week, starting at 2 to 3 miles per run in the first week along with a longer run at the end of that week (ideally try 4 miles)  and if possible add a day of working out in another way (perhaps you belong to a gym, perhaps you enjoy cycling, perhaps you do yoga regularly – try to keep up whatever was keeping you fit before).
  3. Time is tight to get up to race distance, but don’t be tempted to increase too quickly. Keep your shorter runs the same for the second week and try to increase the longer run, then the next week increase all the runs slightly. Repeat this pattern. You should be able to complete the half marathon if your longest run gets up to about 10 miles.
  4. Don’t forget rest days – particularly after the long run. Your body needs time to recover.
  5. Consider getting a coach – there are training plans available that may help you, but your goal is going to be tough and a coach will be able to provide the best approach for you (they should also be able to determine fairly early on whether your goal is reasonable).

2. Beginner

Perhaps you’ve run some 5k races, and hopefully you’re running a few miles a few times a week, but you haven’t run more than 4 miles before and you’re wondering if you might be taking on too much – don’t worry, there is probably enough time to get ready.

As you’ve already demonstrated an ability to run a few miles at a time, you should be able to make it. If you are not already running a few miles a few times a week, also look at the beginner advice above. From there you should be able to:

  1. Try a 4 miles run on your third run of the first week of training.
  2. The following week increase the length of one of your other runs as well as making that last run of the week 4.5 miles. You may already have heard about the 10% rule of weekly mileage increases – with a lower workload you should be able to exceed that level of increase, so don’t feel bound by it. Equally, don’t force a higher increase – listen to your body; you should be able to feel how you are reacting to the increases and can adjust accordingly.
  3. If you can, introduce a 4th run, but also consider cross training (or ideally both) but don’t forget to include rest in your schedule.
  4. Increase in subsequent weeks aiming to get to about 10 miles for the longest run the week before the race with other runs maxing out at 5 miles.
  5. If you have the time, repeat the same workouts for a second week later in the training plan to allow your body to adapt to the increases.
  6. Don’t forget rest days – particularly after the long run. Your body needs time to recover.

3. Intermediate – low mileage

Perhaps you’ve recently run a 10k, have been running a few times a week and are covering more than 9 or 10 miles each week and are ready for a step up. Finishing a half marathon is a matter of:

  1. Using your longest run from the previous few weeks as a starting point, gradually build that long run until you cover 10 miles in a single run as the race approaches.
  2. Increase the length of your other runs during the week.
  3. Look at the Beginner advice above for more ideas on how to improve beyond this.

4. Intermediate – higher mileage

Perhaps you’ve already got yourself running over 10k regularly, and over 15 or 20 miles per week. At this level you may even have a goal time to work towards.

This scenario probably best represents my first half marathon build up for the final 2 months. The focus here is on ensuring the long run increases (along with the other runs). Keep most of your miles at a conversational pace, but you are likely to want to introduce tempo runs, or other effort sessions to some of your runs, especially if you have a time goal.

5. Advanced

This is where you know you’ve got what it takes to finish, perhaps you have run a half, or multiple half marathons before, and you have some decent training mileage in the bank. In this case you are sure to have a time goal.

In the past I have typically only managed to run approximately 25 miles per week, and not necessarily consistently. Despite this I have had some halfway decent half marathon times. My best time, however, came during training for my one and only marathon in 2013 (incidentally at the Newport Half). A solid base mileage is always going to help reach a time goal, but of course you will need to introduce speed workouts and tempo runs to your training to reach that goal.

The organizers of the 2015 Newport Liberty Half Marathon have offered me a free entry in exchange for blogging about the race – I have previously blogged about this race without incentive (click here to read previous post) and this offer has not influenced my decision to take part again this year, and will not influence the content of my posts beyond mentions of the race. I have decided to use this opportunity to begin offering training tips for specific race distances and this is the first of such posts. In the future these may relate to specific races I will be training for, or simply offer general advice.

If you are interested in either online or in person coaching please contact me through RunningItSoftly.com.

TomTom Runner Cardio review

A few weeks ago I was given a TomTom Runner Cardio to demo for a couple of weeks. After a quick intro to how to use the buttons (completely different from the Garmins that I’m used to) I was ready to go.

Apparently I was too eager because when I got back from my run and tried to work out how to upload the activity, I discovered that the watch was linked to somebody else’s account – presumably the last person to demo that particular watch. Set up involved downloading some software and connecting to the computer which was pretty simple – that was when I saw that another account was linked and no option to change it. The advice was to do a hard reset (which is worth bearing in mind if you ever buy one and decide to sell it – reset first). That meant I lost that activity so that’s worth thinking about if you buy a used one. Set it up first!

Unlike Garmin, TomTom does not have its own activity site for automatic upload – it uses mapmyrun (*note that I have been informed that TomTom does have https://mysports.tomtom.com which asks you to sign up by downloading the app and connecting the watch – it was at this point it prompted for a mapmyrun account and there may have been a way of signing up without it that I did not see). Personally, I use mapmyrun, strava and Garmin connect (there are various reasons I like to track in all those places) and one of the things I like about Garmin is that I have it set up such that Mapmyrun and Strava are both linked to my Garmin account and when an activity is uploaded to Garmin it automatically goes to the other two.

During the time I had the watch I wore it alongside my Fenix 3. There have been various issues with GPS tracks and pacing with the Fenix 3 (which, as of today, may have mostly been dealt with after the introduction yesterday of new firmware) so I was interested in how it compared.

What surprised me most, given that the Fenix 3 has always reported shorter distances, is that the TomTom didn’t give much higher distances. They were surprisingly close, and in one case, exactly the same:

Fenix 3: 17.24; TomTom: 17.30

Fenix 3: 8.33;   TomTom: 8.37

Fenix 3: 3.34;   TomTom: 3.34

The difference definitely showed in the tracks though, with the Garmin being off the actual line many times (again, hopefully that’s fixed by the recent updates):

Garmin not consistent with where I ran

Garmin not consistent with where I ran

TomTom more accurately showing my route

TomTom more accurately showing my route

Garmin off the road and corner cutting

Garmin off the road and corner cutting

TomTom again showing a much better "true" path

TomTom again showing a much better “true” path

During the time I had the watch I was taking part in the RVRR “Train”ing Run which is a non-competitive run. I was asked if I could pace the 8:30 group for the second half (in case the pacer for the full 34.6 couldn’t keep it going) and I’m glad I had the TomTom because I knew I couldn’t rely on reading the pace from the Fenix 3. The TomTom did a good job, although after each stop at a “station” it did take a while to settle again. Without it I think I might have been lost.

What is most confusing about this run is that, although the TomTom displayed the pace correctly during the run (often around 8:20 to 8:25), the pace chart on Maymyrun is way off – looking at the graph for pace for the activity and tracking it along, the reading it gives seems to indicate pace was in the 9 to 10 minute mile range: http://www.mapmyrun.com/workout/1018421885

By contrast the activity from the Garmin (it seems maymyrun identifies it as a Garmin 920XT) has the pace chart spot on (despite it not being so accurate during the run) – if I didn’t know which was which I would swear they should be the other way round: http://www.mapmyrun.com/workout/1017497979

For my final run, I found myself at the gym when the kids had a swimming lesson, so took myself off to run on the treadmill. The TomTom was not at all accurate at getting pace which is not necessarily all that surprising (my Garmin is better at that), however what I did like about the TomTom is that when you stopped the run, it asked you to correct the distance – a nice feature I wouldn’t mind having on the Garmin (although I really don’t run on treadmills often if I can help it).

In summary, the TomTom is a decent watch. I wasn’t a big fan of the look, but that wouldn’t stop me using it. The built in heart rate monitor is handy (particularly when it’s hot, I don’t like wearing a strap), and it was pretty good at showing me my actual pace during runs. If you want to see a lot of data while you are running it might not be the best – you’d have to scroll through the screens to see additional data. In the cold of an NJ winter, if you want to record your heart rate you would have to wear it under your clothing to get that reading, which is fine if you don’t need to glance at your watch during your run.