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January 4, 2013

How I Ran A Half Marathon in 1:30 While Training Only 3 Days Per Week


No going to lie, I kind of hate running. I’ve never considered myself a runner. And I’ve never had that “running build”–you know the one where the people look like it’s effortless, like their gliding over the ground, barely breathing hard?

Instead of running, I always felt like I was “muscling.” And I guess in many ways I was, using the sheer strength of my legs to overcome the size of them, which are NOT conducive to running.

And yet, though I have never ever considered myself a runner, I’ve run a lot. I ran middle-distance track in high school and cross-country. And in my 20s, I ran a lot while prepping for figure competitions. And I ran a few 5ks and triathlons “for fun,” basically to see if I could do them.

And then in 2008, I ran my one and only half-marathon in 1h 33m, or a 7:07 min/mile pace. And I credit my strength and speed for getting me through it. And I’ll never do one ever again.

I was recently asked how I trained for it, so I thought I’d once and for all write it out.

Like I said, not a huge fan of running–always preferred weight training and even teaching fitness classes over it. So I found online a half-marathon training program that had me running 4x/week (the least frequency of any I could find), and then I knocked it down to 3x/week and reconfigured it to fit my preferences.

First, to understand training for a distance event and wanting to do well in it, you have to already have a base of strength and speed. I had been used to doing interval training (short, intense workouts) and so my cardio was already fairly good. Plus, like I mentioned, I have strong, albeit big, legs. They helped push me through when a lot of other runners’ legs inevitably got tired.

There’s a perception that the thinner or lighter you are, the faster you can go. And I think there’s maybe some validity to that–but strength is a huge factor too. That’s where the importance of muscle comes in. And I had a lot of that.

In this pic from the race, I weighed about 155 lbs. And yes, I am wearing Nike Shox, ha! Like I said, not really a runner.

I had a great race. I didn’t do anything different with my nutrition in the days leading up to the race, as I didn’t want to have any digestive upset. I woke-up, drank some black coffee and ate a bowl of oat bran mixed with whey protein powder. And then I ran the race about 90 minutes later. I did not use gels, snacks or anything else during the race, except for Jade provided me with a small packet of honey at mile 9.

I stayed with a small group of guys running at a fairly even pace up until that point. I did not listen to the splits at the mile markers because I didn’t want it to psych me out, plus I had my iPod on. So I had no idea how fast (or slow) I was running–no watch either.

Then at mile 9, right after I saw Jade I remember thinking, “Ok, only 4 more miles. That’s nothing” and I literally took off like a bat out of hell. Being the competitor I was back then, I distinctly remember picking off women one at a time–going, “Ok, just gotta reach and pass her…” and then when I did, I sought out the next woman, and on and on. Lol. I passed a lot of them and ultimately came in #12 in women out of about 1000 women.

It was a very cool accomplishment, but also exhausting and painful. I won’t ever do another one, but I am happy I did one and now it’s done :)

So, how did I train?

Like I said, I already had a fairly good cardio and strength base, so I only ran 3x/week and 2 of them were on the treadmill and were interval style–usually both 35-45 minutes in length and one flat road interval workout and the other hill sprints.

The biggest consideration I had in my training approach was the fact that long runs made me miserable. I felt heavy, distracted, bored and anxious to be done as fast as possible. Hence, I usually ran as fast as possible.

So I designed a program that prioritized intensity over duration. I pushed myself on my short treadmill runs, incorporated hill sprints, which definitely helped during the actual race, and I did my best to not die of boredom on my 1x/week longer runs outside. I also only trained for about 8 weeks.

Here’s what my plan looked like:

Download the protocol here: 8 Week Half Marathon Protocol

Here are some the interval workouts I used:





In addition to this, I probably taught 1-2 cycle classes per week as well.

Overall, I had a good experience because I didn’t feel like all I was doing was steady-state jogging all the time. I sort of refused to do things the traditional way where you just have to jog a lot. I wanted to see if I could run a good race when I did a lot of sprint/interval work, and just paid close attention to my nutrition, my sleep and my recovery time. I also supplemented with L-carnitine (pre-workout), high-dose L-glutamine (post-workout) and BCAAs (pre, post and before bed).

Remember, this protocol is not for beginners. This will work best for someone who is already in fairly good cardio shape and also has fairly strong with significant muscle. If you’re already an intermediate to advanced exerciser, it will work well.

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