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Running Tips Part 2: Training plan basics

Posted Feb 03 2011 8:16am

Good morning bloggies!

How are you doing this morning? Did those of you who got a snow day yesterday have fun? Unfortunately I was not partaking in any snow day festivities and instead spent the majority of my day in my office at work. It’s not all bad though, because I managed to get a lot of work done! :D

A quick look at this morning’s eats before I get into the real subject of this post…

The bowl:

  • Kashi Go Lean Original (bottom layer)
  • berry yogurt
  • 1/2 Ida Red apple
  • pecans

And one of these beasts:

  • frozen spinach
  • 1/2 frozen banana
  • frozen peaches
  • vanilla protein powder
  • 1 tsp each maca root powder, ground flaxseed, guar gum
  • water
  • ice

As I mentioned last week, I’ve got a series of running posts coming up for you. Many of you have been emailing me to say that you’re training for marathons and half marathons, which is fabulous!! Hopefully you’ll find the series helpful, and if there’s anything I don’t cover, feel free to email me . I can only speak from personal experience but I’ll try to help you out! If you missed the first post on treadmill running, you can check it out here . This is what I’ve got coming for you:

  • Part 2: Types of runs you can add to your training to make it more exciting and effective - that’s today!
  • Part 3: My training plans, and how you can adapt them for yourself
  • Part 4: Cross training and tapering
  • Part 5: Racing tips and gear you need on race day

So, picking up from where I left off in the treadmill training post

After having completed several 5K (not all enjoyable I might add!) as a cross country team member and a few 10Ks on my own, I set my sights on something a little bigger. My first half marathon was in October of 2007, the GoodLife Toronto Half Marathon. Anyone else done it? With my cross country experience under my belt, I didn’t really doubt my body’s ability to endure the 13.1 miles, but still, the only goal I had for myself was to finish. Finish I did, and after another half, I decided it was time to tackle the marathon. We’ll talk more about this in my racing tips post, but for now lets talk about types of running.

Although I’m sure the following explanations will be so incredibly thrilling that you won’t want to tear your eyes away from your screen, I’ve also added in a couple of my favourite Nike running ads…. just because I think they’re awesome and motivating. Don’t you?


As much as I love a nice long steady run, there’s some other types of training that can help to prepare you for half and full marathons. These include:

Easy Runs: These are the ones that are good for doing with friends, because you don’t need to crank your heart rate up while you’re running. Easy runs get your legs moving and still develop your fitness, but they’re not supposed to be difficult. As a general guideline, if you are doing an easy run and can’t have a conversation with your running buddy, slow down!

Walk/Runs: If you’re preparing for your first half or full marathon, or any race at all, walk/running can be a very effective way to train. You’d start out by running for a period of time, then walking, then running again. (Simple, yes?) This one is a great way to show yourself how you’ve progressed. For example, one week you might only be able to run for 15 minutes, then need to walk for 5. The next, you might be able to run for 20 and walk for 5 or less.



Long Slow Distance Runs: These are the runs that will eventually test your endurance and ability to keep running for the entire race distance. They get a little longer over the duration of the training plan, and gradually increase to close to either the 13.1 or 26.2 miles. They’re called long slow distance runs because that’s exactly what they are, but when you become a little more experienced you an try running part of a long run at your race pace (as in, the pace you’d need to run at in order to reach your goal time in your real race). I usually did these runs on Saturday mornings because this was most convenient for me. For the half marathons, I ran a few of my long runs at the full race distance, but for the marathon, my longest training run was 20.3 miles.

Speedwork Runs: It can be tempting to think that since a marathon is run at a slower pace than a 5 or 10K, you can train at a slower pace. It’s partly true, but in order to race fast, you need to train fast! My favourite ways to do this were with tempo runs and intervals, but I’ll describe those next. If you have a track nearby, you can use it to easily measure your distance. For example, on a 400m track, you might start off running 4 laps with half a lap easy jogging after each one, then add on in the following weeks of training so that eventually, you’re doing 8 and 12 laps of the track. The idea is to run fast, get some sweat going, then use the recovery to prepare for the next big effort. And no track is no excuse for no speedwork, because treadmills can measure distance too!

Fartlek runs are another option for speedwork. Fartlek is Swedish for ‘speed play’, and involves adding short bursts of speed into a longer run. You don’t need precise distances to do a fartlek run, which is one of the reasons why they’re beautiful. If you’re running outside, you could simply pick up your pace as soon as you see a red car, then run hard until you see the next one, at which point you’d return to your long run pace.

Interval Runs: Intervals are fabulous because there are a ton of ways to change them up. Like the walk/runs, they consist of a period of work and a period of rest. They’re also great because interval training helps to increase aerobic capacity (or VO2 max, or your body’s ability to use oxygen effectively) and cardiovascular endurance. The work period forces to push hard (we’re talking I-can’t-speak hard) and the rest period allows you to recover and work hard again. Keep in mind that interval training is not what you want to be doing every day, because it puts a lot of stress on the body and always performing intervals can lead to burnout. Yuck.


Tempo Runs: I picture this one like a pyramid that increases in pace and intensity gradually, then comes back down. You can time the minutes spent at each stage, or you can just go by feel and get a little faster when you’re ready. A tempo run might consist of 10 minutes at a pretty easy, conversational pace, then build to an RPE of about 6-7 for another 10 mins, then hold a faster pace for a couple of minutes around RPE 8. Then, gradually come back down the scale.

Pre-race Races: These are actual races that you do as part of your program prior to the big race itself. On my second half marathon, I was still doing cross country so I did 3 or 4 5K races in the months before the half. These are great for getting a taste of the race atmosphere, experiencing a little race day adrenaline, and predicting what your time might be by combining shorter race times. Oh, and if you don’t like math, you can use this super handy finish time calculator from Runners World that will do all the work for you. Easy peasy.

Rest Days/Off Days: This one is pretty self-explanatory – it’s when you rest! After all of your hard efforts, your body needs time to recover and repair itself. Rest days ensure that you don’t burn out or overtrain, and can help you to run better and stronger next time. My favourite rest day activities are stretching, sometimes a little bit of light yoga (hello, savasana !), and sleeping. Yes, sleeping! Even if you only have one rest day in your training plan, if your bod is still feeling tired and heavy, don’t be afraid to take an extra one. If you don’t listen when your body needs a rest, you could injure yourself and not be able to race at all. We wouldn’t want that right? Right.

Cross Training Days: Cross training is a good way to keep your cardiovascular system working while at the same time taking some of the impact off of the joints that get stressed when you run (especially your knees). I’ll talk more about it in the upcoming cross training post, but for now just know that it’s a good thing to add to your training program.



OK, so now that you’re armed with 9 fabulous, fantastic, super-exciting types of running, how do you incorporate them in your training plan? And how do you even start building a training plan? Have no fear bloggies, I’ll talk about this tomorrow! Before you go, tell me…

  • Have you trained for a marathon or half marathon before?
  • What race distance do you prefer?
  • What’s your favourite type of run? I like intervals because they can be intense, quick, and effective, but long runs are definitely my favourite. I’m not much of a sprinter at all!

Have a great day!

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