RaceGrader - Authentic Race Reviews - Swim, Bike, Run

Half Marathon Training

Posted by: on March, 3 2012

Hello there Coach,

I just signed up for a half marathon end of March (10 weeks to go). This race is a trail run and a steady climb gaining about 900 ft in altitude. Do you have any specific training programs or tips to prepare for this race based on it being on trails and at altitude? I ran a half marathon (on roads) comfortably in about 2:05 last fall. My goal this time is to finish in the same time, despite the altitude.
Thank you!

Markus –
That’s really cool that you’re tackling such a challenging race. I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Good news is that if you’re motivated to become a better runner then this race in ten weeks makes a lot of sense. The bad news is that it will be difficult to run 2:05 in a trail race with 900 feet of elevation gain unless you gain significant fitness in the next 10 weeks. Why? 900 feet of elevation gain is no joke, especially when you consider that you’ll be running 900 feet downhill as well and downhill running causes more cellular muscle damage than uphill running (which is why the Boston Marathon is such a challenge for most people – they feel great in the early downhill sections, but at the end their legs are beat up in a way they’ve not experienced in training and they fail to run to their potential). Secondly, the fact that you’re running on a trail means that you’ll struggle to run the same pace you would on a track or a road. Stinks, but that’s the reality of trail running – it’s slower than running on the roads. But the good news is this – the race sounds like a lot of fun and if you train hard for the next 10 weeks, you can then recover for a couple weeks, then take a short build up of just six weeks or so and run another half marathon on a flat road course where you can run a PR. With that in mind, let’s disect your current half marathon PR and design a workout that you can do a few times between now and the trail race.

2:05 for the half marathon is roughly 9:32 a mile, which is 2:22-2:23 per 400m on high school track. If you’re in 2:05 half marathon shape then you can probably run close to 9:00 pace for a 10k (i.e. about 56 minutes). My suggestion in your training would be do do a simple workout on the track where you run 800m at 10k pace, so 9:00 (2:15 per 400m lap, or 4:30 for two laps) then run a 400m lap at 2:30, or 10:00 pace. That’s three laps total and you should get to where you can run 18 laps continuously (i.e. after your recovery 400m go right into the next 800m at 9:00 pace). Take your total time for the 18 lap workout, which is 4.5 miles in length. If you warm-up a mile or two and cool down a mile or two (these miles don’t need to be on the track) then you have a nice workout. If you repeat this workout 3-4 times between now and race day you’ll simply do the following – you’ll try to get your 400m recovery lap down from 2:30 (i.e. 10:00 pace) down to 2:22-2:23 (i.e. 2:05 half marathon pace). You don’t change the pace of the 800m…just stay right on 2:15 per lap for those two laps, but see if you can run that workout with quicker recoveries. Again, it’s a great workout because you get 3 miles at 10k race pace, then a mile and a half at half marathon pace.

So that’s one workout you can add to your training. You should be doing a weekly long run and you should be doing strides – potentially uphill strides – two or three times per week. On the weeks you don’t do the workout above, I’d simply go for a nice, hard trail run. You need to practice moving well over rocks, a skill that takes time to develop. And finally, you definitely need to be doing General Strength routines from our video series every day that you’re running.

The trail race sounds like a lot of fun Markus and I encourage you to take some recovery time after it, then go back to training and see if you can’t run a PR in a traditional road half marathon.

*Coach Jay’s advice is provided as general training information. Use at your own risk. Always consult with your own heath care provider for questions relating to your specific training and nutrition.

And don’t forget, if you have a training question for Coach Jay, email him here: coachjay@nike.com.

Interested in Coach Jay’s General Strength videos? Click here to check them out.

Always be in-the-know. Follow Nike Running on Facebook.