“I finished your half marathon program, and I am already starting to plan how I can improve for next time. How should I proceed? Do I repeat the whole program right away if I want to improve our time, or can I start at a certain week?”
Great question! Here’s what Coach Sage has to say:
“To answer the question within the first 10 seconds: yes and no, mainly no. And it’s not just because I want you to visit our website and purchase another half marathon training plan. We offer different levels, so the intensity changes as your experience develops. Factors such as the time you can dedicate to training, your weekly mileage in miles or kilometers, and your speed—all play a role. Whether you’re a first-time half marathoner aiming to finish, targeting a sub-two-hour finish, or pushing for times like 1:40 or 1:30, you may opt for a more advanced or beginner plan accordingly.
Our goal is to see you progress. The key aspect of our training plans, as with all programs, whether online or guided by one of our experienced running coaches, is that your training unfolds within a predetermined timeframe. You might have a specific race in mind, such as an April marathon, an ultra marathon, or a 10K or 5K in the upcoming weeks. Consequently, you structure your training in blocks of 6, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24 weeks, or even extend it over several months and years.
When following a rigid plan, like a 16-week half marathon program from Higher Running, you adhere to a specific sequence of workouts. It’s a static framework that progressively builds your fitness to peak at a designated time. Altering or deviating from this formula introduces variables that can disrupt your progress. For instance, reflecting on my past experiences, achieving sub 30-minutes in the 10K in college, I adhered to a meticulously planned formula. I documented my training log, ensuring I followed a specific sequence of workouts, such as eight times a kilometer.
Continuing with my personal experience, after the eight times a kilometer and five times a mile, hitting 80 miles a week, I’d predict my time based on certain workouts. This predictive approach sometimes yielded the expected results, but the issue lies in its lack of adaptability. The training plans, that secret formula, is essentially a static construct. It might prove effective repeatedly, but life is inherently dynamic.
Our lives undergo changes; aging is inevitable. While maturity can bring about improvements in speed and strength, the chronological aspect might introduce challenges in recovery. Life’s various stressors—work, family obligations, sleep disruptions due to projects, diet changes, and engagement in other exercises—create a complex and unpredictable environment. Life rarely adheres to our plans.
Illnesses and injuries can further throw us off course, forcing us to deviate from a set and static training plan. The temptation to repeatedly return to the same plan is understandable, but the reality is that such rigidity loses effectiveness over time. I’m not urging you to purchase our advanced half marathon training plan because you’ve progressed; rather, I’m emphasizing the importance of recognizing and adapting to the dynamic nature of life. This flexibility is crucial for sustained progress as a runner.
You can indeed leverage the plans repeatedly and likely achieve considerable success. However, it’s advisable not to commence from week six, particularly after a significant peak race, especially in the realm of half marathons, marathons, or ultramarathons. Post such an event, recovery becomes imperative, and a system reset is essential. This concept aligns with what we term “periodization”—the strategic adjustment of training over time. The plans are crafted with this in mind; after peaking for a major race, there’s a need for recovery, followed by a phase of resetting and re-establishing the aerobic base.
Personally, I find it beneficial to take a substantial break after a long-distance race. For shorter races like a 10K or 5K, where you might have a more frequent racing season, the dynamics are different. While you wouldn’t reset entirely to the beginning of aerobic base building in the plan, you’ll eventually cycle back to it after a few months. Peak fitness can only be sustained for a finite period before the risk of burnout, loss of aerobic edge, and mental fatigue emerges, particularly if you’re over-racing.
Therefore, while you can recycle the plans, especially if you’re still within your goal time range, adaptability is crucial. If life circumstances change, if you become faster or have more time and energy for training, consider adjusting the aerobic base mileage. For instance, you might transition from 40 miles a week or 60 kilometers a week to 60 miles a week or 100 kilometers a week. Flexibility in adapting the plan to your evolving capabilities is key to long-term success and sustainability.
Looking ahead, if you’re considering a more advanced plan in the future, a crucial aspect is understanding how your training evolves over time. The key takeaway here is the concept of periodization. In an individual coaching scenario, say with one of our Higher Running coaches, the aim wouldn’t be to repeatedly run the same half marathon or marathon race. While some individuals persistently pursue a specific marathon time, such as cracking three hours to qualify for Boston, the optimal approach often involves running the marathon, achieving your goal like a 3:05, taking a rest break, resetting the system, and then transitioning to shorter distance races like 5Ks or 10Ks.
This shift initiates a season of speed development, potentially following our 5K/10K plan or a half marathon focus, spanning the next three to four months. Only later in the year would you return to marathon training. The essence lies in cycling your race distances. The same principle applies to ultramarathon runners. Instead of repeatedly engaging in 100-mile races, diversify your race distance, perhaps opting for a 50K or under 100K after a longer race.
Changing up your race distances and speed development necessitates different training plans. Merely following the same plan for the same distance race won’t yield consistent improvement or success. This diversity not only stimulates mental freshness but also introduces new stresses to which the body must adapt—a crucial aspect of training plans.
The sequence of workouts is vital, encouraging the body to overcome challenges, achieve super compensation, and ultimately become stronger and more efficient. For instance, improving your half marathon time can set the stage for breaking your marathon PR. Those who achieve a sub-3 hour marathon potential often build upon a foundation of a fast half marathon time, such as under 1:25 or 1:22.
The key is in extending endurance, changing training plans, and embracing the dynamic nature of your running journey.”