3 Things Your Half Marathon Training Schedule Doesn’t Show You!

When do half marathon training schedule adjustments need to happen?

Let’s face it when you start out training for your first half marathon many runners aren’t familiar with training beyond 3 to 4 weeks. The mere first look at a 12-week training program can be intimidating. A training schedule at the bare minimum needs to show you miles(km) required on a weekly basis and running effort on a daily basis. Having a training schedule without perceived effort is not advisable.

Did you ever wonder what a typical 12-week training schedule doesn’t show you? Although I don’t have years and years of experience under my belt, I have completed 10 half marathons and 1 marathon. I found through experience that a training schedule doesn’t show three things. Schedule buffer, actual recovery time, and adaptive training. For my example, I’m going to use my 12-week training schedule right out of my book, Beginner’s Guide to Half Marathons. You can get it free by signing up for my weekly blog and occasional free book giveaway CLICK HERE.

Schedule Buffer

Most beginner training plans available these days have buffers baked into them. A buffer in training schedule terms is basically allowable sick (skip) days. Eventually, at some point, you will have a day when you’re sick, extremely tired, or just don’t want to run. If this happens it’s ok to skip a run. The one run you want to avoid skipping is the weekly long run.

The base miles that are on the training schedule can be occasionally skipped, however, you don’t want to skip two days in a row unless you’re sick. If you get sick, like the flu, you will probably be out for a few days, who knows maybe even a week. If this happens and you’re out for a week, you need to skip that week and move on to the next. for instance, if the long run you missed was for 7 miles then your next long run will be for 8 miles. So, in this case, you would jump from 6 miles to 8 miles. If you have trouble completing the 8th-mile then walk half of it.

Schedule Buffer Problems

When this can become a problem is when you are out for two consecutive weeks. Your performance can drop by up to 15% after two weeks of not running. If this happens and it’s early in your training schedule you can probably recover by jumping ahead as noted above. If it’s toward the latter part of your 12-week schedule and it’s weeks 9 and 10 that you miss you might just have to suck it up and underperform (by a marginal amount) or decide to forgo your half marathon. This situation has happened to me and I decided to go ahead and run the half marathon race. I performed my 10th-week requirements in week 11 and raced as scheduled during week 12. Was it a great race, no – but I completed it!

Actual Recovery Time (rest)

The more you run and gain experience through racing, the more your recovery times will change. My 12-week half marathon schedule has a flaw in it, but it’s not a fatal flaw – I promise. Actually, almost all one size fits all training schedules have this flaw. Everybody’s recovery time is different. This was one of the exam questions during my running coach certification course:

John is an active runner that has run many 5K and 10K races. He is wanting to run his first half marathon race. He has been running for about 3 years but nothing over the distance of 7 miles. What is the biggest factor that will determine how much rest and recovery he should include during his training:

a) The longest distance he’s run

b) Total number of sports he’s involved in

c) His age

d) His fitness level

Ok, so many of you will probably get the answer right, it’s d. (age is also a big factor but this is reflected in his fitness level). His fitness level determines how much rest he should get in between runs. Some runners, even some beginners, don’t need more than one rest day a week. Some runners don’t need any rest days at all.

Rest Examples3-Things-your-half-marathon-training-schedule-doesnt-show-you

Let’s say that Jane is 30 years old and is extremely fit. She practices yoga, runs 5 miles every day, and lifts weights twice a week. She has never run further than 5 miles in one day. Could she easily run 6 days a week during a half marathon training cycle with one rest day? Probably. What a lot of people don’t see is that her body is actually resting for 24 hours between her daily runs

Let’s look at another example. George is 35 years old. He used to play soccer in his youth and he rides bikes on the weekend when time permits. He wants to get into running and wants to start racing 5Ks, 10Ks, and half marathons. George is very enthusiastic with a good attitude. George is probably a good candidate for having two rest days. If George feels like it then he could walk or cross-train on one of his rest days.

Everyone’s actual recovery time (rest) is going to be different. If you don’t feel like resting and you want to exercise or go for a run then do it. Just make sure that your body is telling you it’s ok and you’re not forcing yourself to do something on your rest day.

Adaptive Training

Adaptive training is nothing more than switching up your runs as needed.  Let’s say that instead of running your base mile runs three days in a row, you switch them up and run your long run in between your base miles. As long as your body isn’t exhausted, feel free fit to change up your schedule as needed. Again this goes back to actual recovery time and how fit you are.

I get asked this question a lot: “I only have 10 weeks to complete the 12-week training requirements, what should I do?” In this case, you would simply skip mileage on two of your long run weeks. These skips should be done around the middle of your training schedule For instance instead of running 6 miles for the week run 8 miles and then on the next long run skip your mileage to 10 miles. So basically you are removing two weeks right around the middle of your training schedule.

If you want to run a half marathon in 8 weeks you need a weekly volume close to 20 miles a week. Instead of starting your first week at 3 miles for your long run you start your first long run at 5 or 6 miles. Continue your training schedule where your week 7 long run will be at 11 or 12 miles. Your half marathon will fall on the 8th weekend of your training schedule.

No running volume and no time

If you don’t have the weekly running volume (between 15 and 20 miles plus) and you have less than 10 weeks to train for a half marathon follow these rules:

  1. Plan on following your training schedule, but incorporate a walk/run strategy.
  2. Pay extra attention to your body for signs of overtraining – this is when injuries occur.
  3. Don’t change up the required mileage of your runs, just realize that you might need to walk a little more than you wanted to.
  4. Double-check the race cut-off time for your half marathon, if it’s less than 3 hours you might consider bailing on the race or check to see if the race allows runners to finish after race closure. Some races all runners to finish after the cut-off time but they force them to the sidewalks for safety reasons.

Wiggle Room

Another important thing to remember when logging your daily miles is to give yourself some wiggle room. If you don’t feel like running the entire 6 miles on one of your base mileage days then give yourself some wiggle room and just run 4 or 5 miles. The same goes for your really good days. If you feel like running more than your set base miles for the day go ahead and run a couple of extra miles. Just remember to listen to your body. If you do decide to give yourself some wiggle room only allows +/- 2 miles per day. Your main goal is to be prepared for the race not prove to yourself how far you can run on any given day!

Don’t forget that even after you’ve mastered your training schedule, you still need to be able to avoid these 10 half marathon race day mistakes.

RRCA Coach Scott Scott is a published author and RRCA certified running coach. He has published over 20 books including, Beginner's Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon International #1 bestseller. Scott specializes in helping new runners become injury-free race finishers. He recently completed his 11th half marathon race. 

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