My Spiced-Up Half Marathon Training Program

by Kim on May 31, 2012

Drum roll…

So I’m officially in training for my first post-baby race–a half marathon in August. I’m not entirely sure what to expect from my body since having a baby, so I’m going to try to be more flexible and forgiving this time around.

Try. No promises.

It’s not that I have a problem with overtraining–I’m usually fine with listening to my body, and will ease up or take an extra rest day when needed. And of course, sometimes life gets in the way of training, and I end up missing a run or needing to rearrange things to accommodate a vacation, illness, etc.

The problem is the mental stress that goes along with straying from the plan. If I can’t put an X in a square on my training calendar because I missed a run, it’s total agony. Even though I know that taking extra rest when you need it actually leads to better results, and not taking the rest can either negatively impact your training or cause injury, there’s still always a little nagging feeling of failure.

I also get stressed out if I switch things around too much, even if I ultimately finish all the workouts at some point. Like when I’m out of town over the weekend and decide to swap my long run for a short one, and then catch up on the long run on Monday. I can’t help thinking that my training plan is so carefully choreographed that the slightest reorg means I’m not getting the full benefits of the plan (even though the logical part of me tells me this isn’t true).

So my #1 goal for this race is to chill out a little, mentally¬†(like I said, I’m pretty confident that the physical chilling-out will happen naturally).

And of course, for goal #2, I’d love to PR. Who wouldn’t? My current half marathon PR is 1:59 (my goal was under 2 hours and I just baaaaarely made it!), and I’d love to trim a few minutes off that. Had I not just had a baby, I’d say that that is extremely doable, but now, I’m just not sure what to expect from the old bod. So I’d say this is a distant goal #2.

Anyway, on to the plan. I’ve been agonizing for a few days over what plan to follow and how to tweak it to best meet my needs. Usually I go with a trusty Hal Higdon program, so I started by analyzing those. I knew I wanted to incorporate some speedwork to help improve my time, but I also wanted two solid rest days (Hal’s first speedwork plan is Intermediate, which only has one rest day). I was also hoping to work in some HIIT (high-intensity interval training–I like TurboFire workouts) and BodyPump workouts, just because I like them.

The Plan

I ended up with sort of a cross between Hal’s Novice 2 and Intermediate programs (the main differences being that the Intermediate program incorporates speedwork and strength, and the Novice 2 includes more cross training and rest days), with a couple of my own little tweaks.

To summarize, each week consists of:

2 short runs, 1 long run, 1 speedwork day, 1 cross/strength alternate day, and 2 rest days


First, let me say that this is a program I’ve designed specifically for myself, given my interests and needs. Others might want to tweak this further, or stick to the books with one of Hal’s programs or something similar. In the end, the details aren’t that important as long as you’re building up to race distance and including a few shorter runs every week.

  • First, some vocab…Pace runs=running at the speed you want to do the actual race in. Tempo runs=starting easy, sloooowly easing into a fast-ish speed (Hal says your 10K speed–I say “fast-ish”), and then reducing back to an easy run. The fast-ish speed is supposed to come about 2/3 way through the run and last only a few minutes.
  • I mixed HIIT workouts into the speedwork day (Thursday), since speedwork is all about intervals. Basically, I replaced 4 of Hal’s prescribed 400-meter dashes with one 25-minute HIIT workout, so there will always be at least some running speedwork left to be done.
  • For speedwork, Hal’s program calls for running certain distances in meters at a “5-K pace.” That pace isn’t super meaningful to me since I’ve never been much of a 5K-runner (to me, it just means “fast”), and who thinks in meters? (If you have a track background, probably you, but for us distance runners, 400 meters = about 1/4 mile.) Since all the jargon makes my brain hurt, I’ve decided to simplify this down and just call it “sprints,” to be sandwiched between walks, interval-style. It’s meant to be pretty organic–basically, the plan is: “run as fast as I can for a minute or two, walk until I’m fairly recovered, repeat.” (This is sort of a cop-out, since I’m just not sure what an ideal length/speed for the sprints will be at this point, but I’m sure it’ll fall into a more distinct rhythm as I get into it. It’s really not that important as long as I’m getting myself to go faster than usual for a somewhat challenging amount of time.)
  • I added BodyPump on Hal’s “Stretch/Strengthen” day. This is supposed to be an easy day, so I won’t go all balls-to-the-wall with heavy weights or anything. Also, Hal’s program can be misleading by calling out a day for stretching–obviously, stretching should be done every day.
  • I alternated BodyPump for cross-training on the weeks I do HIIT workouts and sprints, to help me avoid overtraining. This will most likely be time on the elliptical, biking, or fast walking (or stroller walking!). I’ve read that you shouldn’t do the stairclimber for cross-training, since it works your calves so much.
  • I chose Friday and Sunday as my rest days both to sandwich the long run day (Hal’s programs don’t do this, but many, many others do) and to be realistic about my schedule, since we’re often traveling on weekends in the summer. (Hal’s Intermediate program only has one rest day, but after doing tons of research about how much rest is appropriate and thinking hard about what I can realistically do, I think I need two days.)
  • A lot of programs (including Hal’s) have their long runs on Sundays, but my half marathon is on a Saturday and I wanted to have Sundays off, so Saturday is my long run day.

So that’s the plan! I’ll let you know how it goes!

I’d love to know: Have you customized a training plan before? What changes did you make?


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