Running a half marathon can be grueling and it can be overwhelming for most runners starting out. I have been there before. The exhilaration of finishing your first half marathon, the challenge of training to get a PR on your next one, the satisfaction you get from getting faster over the years. I have also been at the point of disappointment with back to back years of not getting faster or not hitting your running goal. For me, this plateau in my running fitness (at least for half marathon races) occurred 5 years into my running journey after hitting my Half Marathon PR of a 1:33:56 that occurred in Hartford, CT in 2015. The following year I ran my second fastest time of 1:35:36 right back in Hartford in 2016. After that, I hit a wall and a streak of 15 straight half marathons over the course of 5 years with all times above 1:46:00. Over 10+ minutes slower than my 2 fastest half marathons… I even had a +2 hour race in there on a hot humid super hilly course and one 1:57:00 when I ran on sunburnt feet.
You could be a beginner half marathoner (we love beginners, by the way) or a dedicated runner who is feeling frustrated because you are not getting faster for your half marathon times, or you are constantly in the injury cycle, or you want to be proactive so you can continue doing what you love and running half marathons.
In this blog, I am going to be sharing with you the lessons I’ve learned to run faster and easier following my recent half marathon training block for my 28th half marathon. I will tell you specifically how I have now been able to string together 2 straight half marathon training cycles, getting nearly the same exact time – a 1:44:00 and a 1:44:08 – shaving off two plus minutes from any of the previous 15 half marathon races over the last 6 years. More importantly, I am the healthiest I have ever been as a runner. I’m running more miles than I have ever run and feeling strong during these races and have been able to have kick at the end of the race to actually pass people and move up spots in my age group during the final 2 miles. I will share with you 10 lessons learned during this training and dropping a surprise about what I will be training for this upcoming fall…
Listen to the Podcast Episode during your next run!
To provide some context for these half marathon training tips I will be sharing, I want to preface this the fact that my recommendations are just that… my recommendations. However, I will tell you that they have been thought out, integrated with previous knowledge as an experienced physical therapist and coach for runners for the past 19 years, what I have learned through literature conducting research in this field, as well as synthesizing all that I have learned in the previous 127 episodes of the Healthy Runner Podcast where I have learned from expert guests in the field that we have had on the show. I not only listen but implement strategies learned into my own training and that is what I encourage you to do moving forward in order to improve.
That is why I am doing this. I believe in lifelong learning and as a runner, I think you should too in order to enjoy lifelong injury free running!
In terms of my actual race, it was the UCONN Half Marathon. This is by far the longest I have ever gone without running a half marathon (8 months!).
As a dad to two girls (coming from not having a dad around when I was a kid), my girls come first and it has been a very busy weekend schedule with indoor track, travel volleyball, and lacrosse for my girls. Hence, I was not able to run an April or May half marathon as I usually have in the past 10 years. However, consistency is key because over the past 8 months, I have been working on getting stronger and building up my base miles per week AND, most importantly, staying healthy.
This race is now the second in a row in which I executed a smart strategy obtaining negative splits for the first half and second half of the race. For this race, I felt strong and was able to move up 14 spots in the last 5 miles and 3 spots in my division.
For me, staying mentally and physically healthy is why I love to run and this race was a true test of that as I can honestly say, I left it all out on the course.
This allowed me to run the same time (8 seconds off to be exact…which is a lot in a half marathon) as I did back in the first week of October despite the warmer temperatures June brings. I’m not complaining though, 75 degrees without humidity is just about the best you can ask for in June.
I had three things that I was really using to get myself through this race and use as my strategy.
1. Follow the SPARK Blue Print (CLICK HERE FOR THE BLUEPRINT!)
2. Make the last mile my fastest mile.
3. Still be able to give kick at the end.
Your strength training does not need to be a fancy, extensive program. Keeping it simple will be one of your best options. I went down to having a Quad dominant day and a Glute dominant day! I focused on keeping it simple but making sure I was getting the proper muscles to work so I could strengthen them. It was all about the compound movements and really strengthening those muscles. Meaning, higher load and lower reps to actually recognize the gains!
On Glute Day I added deadlifts. I’ve really never done deadlifts before because I have a history of back pain. One note I want to make, quality of the exercise is always going to be more important than the amount of weight on the bar. Make sure your form is good and leave your ego at the door like I did! We’re doing this to strengthen our body, strengthen the glutes, to make us stronger as runners. Find yourself a good instructional video on how to do Deadlifts! Make sure you’re hinging from your hips, make sure you’re keeping your core tight and keeping that weight close to your shins and squeezing your glutes at the top.
One of the biggest things I can mention is doing plyometrics. I did plyometrics all winter long. I really was getting my body used to landing and feeling strong with the jump training. In order to be explosive and get your muscles to the place where they can spring off during your strides, you need to be doing plyometric exercises. Doing them all winter long was a game changer.
I did less stretching and focused more on my strengthening. I didn’t stop doing my dynamic warm up, but I did cut back on the stretching of my hamstrings. Stretching the calf muscle after a run will be MOST beneficial for everyone. Honestly, stretching your hamstrings probably won’t move the needle much for any of you because we’re never pushing our hamstrings to their end length when we’re running. I’m not saying don’t stretch, it may feel good and it’s good to do after your runs (always do it after), but you really want to focus on your strength training instead of your stretching.
If you aren’t sure what a dynamic warm up is, you can check it out HERE.
We did a deep dive into strength training for runners with Scott Greenberg on episode 120 of the Healthy Runner Podcast which you can find HERE.
There needed to be specific changes made in order to stay consistent and make sure mileage was being hit for the goals I wanted to achieve. I kept my weekly volume up, hitting 30 miles per week in the “off season”. Keeping up with this mileage was important because of the way it impacts the body as your body is going to physiologically adapt to that amount of running, build up your capillaries and therefore exchange oxygen more efficiently and help with training your lungs to handle the long races. Not only do we want to be keeping our mileage consistent, but you’ll want to do longer long runs during this season too. The most important thing we can do as endurance athletes is to allow the physiological changes to happen to our bodies! We are endurance athletes. If you’re running more than a 5k, you are an endurance athlete.
Don’t forget, you’re not going to be able to jump right into doing a half marathon. You need to build your capacity for running mileage GRADUALLY AND CONSISTENTLY.
All of this is going to be your base training. Make sure you’re establishing a good base to get through the rest of your training! In Episode 105 we discuss what base training is and share some great tips, check it out here.
You create a plan for the week… you plan on sticking to do that plan… and then, life happens. Schedules change. Plans change. Learn to go with the flow and be okay with it.
I have never been a flexible person. I’m type A, I like the structure and like having the plan. However, with my girls being so busy, some weeks I had to move around what I was doing. I would do long runs on Friday, Thursday or even Wednesdays if we had a long weekend away for volleyball tournaments.
It’s okay to change your frequency at the gym too. Sometimes it’s 2 days at the gym instead of 3 days, because the weekly mileage is really what’s important. Don’t get me wrong, you need to get your strength training in as well but make sure you’re keeping your mileage consistent.
If you feel an ache or pain… don’t ignore it. I didn’t feel any aches and pains at all until I was peaking. I felt my plantar fasciitis symptoms coming back as during my 2 peak weeks that I was 40+ miles per week. I was feeling that pain first thing in the morning and was feeling that tightness.
What did I do? Double down on my foot specific stretching and stability. I was stretching the fascia, I was using my massage gun and really massaging out that connective tissue. I listened to my body and made sure to take care of those aches and pains before they got worse.
Don’t be in training mode and ignore everything! You have to listen to your body first. You can modify. When you listen and adjust, you’re going to be better off.
Get some great stretches and foundation for taking care of your feet with our Plantar Fasciitis Free E-book.
Recovery. Recovery. Recovery. Make sure you are taking care of yourself and your body. We want to make sure we’re not doing too much without recovering – that’s what will lead to injury.
Epsom Salt Baths are great for muscle recovery. For those feet that are feeling tired, these will be great.
A great recovery option includes our essential amino acids, which we love to get from The Amino Co, one of our sponsors. Check out their products here.
We’re also recently sponsored by Naboso Technology. We had Dr. Emily Splichal on the show on Episode 116 of the Healthy Runner Podcast who shared with us how to activate, strengthen and recover from running with her products. Check out all the info from that episode HERE. The Naboso ball has been great for rolling out those trigger points in the feet, the Splay toe spacers have been phenomenal for stretching and the recovery socks have been amazing. Be sure to check out those products.
In one our earlier episodes of the Healthy Runner Podcast, we got into how to recover from a race, you can check out episode 38 to get all that info.
This goes back to our Spark Blueprint or our 5 tips to run strong and healthy. Tip #5 is to train smart with proper progression!
You don’t want to over do it with training and tapering. Your peaks should be just that, a peak, not where you’re training regularly. If you’re running the longest run of your life in your training one week, you should not be doing that the following week! This can lead to injury and burnout. They’re called peak weeks for a reason!
Make sure you are tapering appropriately and recovering appropriately after those taper runs. Not sure what tapering means before your race? You can check out Episode 91 where Coach LaToya shares her knowledge on Tapering
I’ve shared this before that I’ve had rigid custom orthotics in my shoes for years and I’m working on decreasing the amount of stability in my insoles. I went from customs to off the shelf orthotics. It’s still carbon fiber material but it’s more flexible.
I also dedicated time and energy to strengthening my foot muscles and progressing my short foot exercises. I was really nervous that if I backed off the inserts, that I would get back those symptoms I had before I wore them. However, I’m happy to report, I haven’t had any symptoms because of the effort I’ve put into strengthening.
Footwear is so important. Be willing to change up your shoes. You can wear more shoes per week and have more variety as well. You’ll want to have your new shoe, your tempo shoe, and your interval shoe. Now, not everyone can do this, but changing up the shoe can definitely help you. What’s your base shoe? Which shoe are you going to get the most mileage out of? Your speed work shoe should be lighter. If you’re in a situation where you haven’t maxed out your shoes yet, consider getting your new shoe before you do that! By changing the shoe, you’re changing the stressors and the wear patterns will be different too.
NO. TRAINING. ON AN EMPTY STOMACH. You have to make sure you’re fueling appropriately and make sure your stomach has something in it to make sure you have something to fuel you through your race.
Carbs are essential and carbs give me SPARK to get through my training. For my half marathon training I really utilized UCAN bars and dates with almond butter. They’re easily digestible and work out well for me! If I’m crunched on time, I might go to the gel if I’m doing harder effort or do a gel half way through an interval workout on the track. You need to fuel before you go out! You wouldn’t go out on a drive with no gas in your car, so don’t do that to yourself!
Our nutritionist, Brooke Czarnecki RDN, taught me a lot. She created a great nutrition program within our healthy runner coaching program.
Throughout your training, determining breathing techniques that work for yourself are going to be essential. Focus on your diaphragm and deep breathing during your easy runs. It also helps to breathe through your nose. Make sure that your breathing well so that you’re keeping easy runs, EASY. I’ve been feeling really successful with my breathing lately and it’s because I’ve been putting so much effort into it on my easy runs. I huge thing is going to be using our nose breathing. Trust me, it was not easy. During your easy runs, go slow and make sure you’re focusing on your breathing. Breathing appropriately will help to control your heart rate spiking during the run. Breathing through your nose will help you to keep that heart rate in the easy zone and not have it spiking to that middle heart rate pace.
If breathing is the limiting factor for you, really think about doubling down on the breathing!
This is so important for having the best training possible. If I’ve learned anything, it’s to get good sleep and be in the right mindset.
I’ve implemented some meditation into my nightly routine. The best thing for me was getting my mind to settle down.
Between 9:00 and 9:30pm, I shut off my electronics. Reading before bed is great because it can help to relax the mind. Two books that have been really beneficial for me are The Practice of Groundedness by Brad Stulberg and Bumpers by Nic Peterson. I’m currently reading Boston Bound by Elizabeth Clor!
For the first time in 5 years, I have decided to redeem my first and only marathon by running a Marathon in Hartford this Fall!
Are you ready for yours? Whether it is your first or your 20th?
If you are struggling with your half marathon training or want to join me in my personal journey to conquer 26.2 and you are not sure what exercises you should be doing for running, or how to get stronger, or how to structure you run plan with your busy schedule, that is exactly what we help runners do in our 1:1 Healthy Runner Coaching Program.
Get stronger, run faster, and become a lifelong injury free runner with our 16 week 1-on-1 Healthy Runner Coaching Program. Get the support, structure, and accountability from experts in the health and running industry. Personalized easy to follow plans tailored to your unique needs and busy life.
Kristi signed up for our coaching program last year at this time and she .
Get Kristi’s interview by clicking the coaching link attached to this training
Let’s add a or half marathon together, with our team, providing you clarity on what you need to focus on with your running!
Specifically we will dial down YOUR…
Nutrition (we have Brooke, our registered dietitian for runners!) on our team!
The specific runs you should be doing during your week (how fast you should be running, how many miles, what running form should you use)
The specific strength exercises for running (we structure this out for you with easy to follow videos and true 1:1 support)
This will be the Marathon or Half Marathon Spark you need…BUT spots are limited and we only work with dedicated runners who want to make !
So if that is YOU and you want to join me in my personal marathon journey this fall and get in our …
Learn more with this behind the scenes video tour of our coaching program and hear from many of our athletes who were struggling with the same sticking points that you are. Just head to https://learn.sparkhealthyrunner.com/coaching
If you are skeptical about getting a coach, I was too! I personally have invested in working with Coach Lu on our team because I need someone with my experience and expertise to guide me to my goal. Didn’t have that the first time around.
You may be someone who has run 10 or 20 marathons and you think it’s silly to get a coach because you have run a marathon 20x before and you know how to train to finish a marathon. My question to you is do you want to cross that finish line without pain this time or cross that finish line with a time you will be proud about now that you are older than all those previous races?
Do you want to finish strong in that last 10k of the marathon or that last 5k of a half marathon (Like I just did last week) and feel good and proud as you crossed that finish line?
You know what? I am going to do something I have never done before, I am actually going to let you text me directly because I am so passionate about helping runners change their lives by reaching their goals.! If you are serious and ready just text “READY” (the word ready) to 203-376-6514 if you are ready to take charge of your health and running goals. That is 203-376-6514 and just send me a message of “Ready” and we will start a conversation to see if it’s the right fit to hop on a strategy call with me to learn more about our 1:1 high touch point Healthy Runner coaching program.
Naboso, which is a company that is dedicated to redefining what’s underneath your feet so you can feel more to move better as a runner!
Click here and use code HEALTHYRUNNER for 20% off your entire Naboso order! Learn more about how Naboso’s textured products connect you to your exercises and your running by strengthening your feet and helping you recover from your runs. We’ve got a special offer for you where you can save 20% by using the code HEALTHYRUNNER. Just head to: https://bit.ly/healthyrunner and use the code HEALTHYRUNNER at checkout to save 20%!
Want to learn how you as a runner can activate, strengthen, and recover from running? Listen to episode 116 on the Healthy Runner podcast to learn from Naboso founder, Podiatrist, and Human Movement Specialist, Dr. Emily Splichal herself here:
Click HERE to be directed to the discount page!
Connect with Dr. Duane:
Dr. Duane Scotti, DPT, PhD, OCS is a running physical therapist, run coach, host of the Healthy Runner podcast, and founding owner of Spark Healthy Runner and has been a leader in the rehab and running community for over 19 years. He is passionate about helping runners feel strong and confident so they can stay healthy and become a lifelong injury free runner! Dr. Duane truly believes that anyone can run and that all runners should be treated differently as athletes. He is on a mission to change the traditional thinking that running causes “overuse injuries” and you must “take a break” in order to get better. Through run specific training (exercises and running progression) you can build your body to be a strong, resilient runner and stay active, stay healthy, and just keep running!
Duane received his Bachelor of Health Science degree and Master of Physical Therapy degree from Quinnipiac University in 2001 and 2003. He then went on to receive a clinical Doctor of Physical Therapy and a Ph.D. in Physical Therapy from Nova Southeastern University in 2017. Duane is a board-certified Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist, RRCA Certified Running Coach, Certified Mulligan Practitioner, certified in dry needling and has advanced training in spinal manipulation and rehabilitation for runners.
*If you’re enjoying the podcast and want to show your support, please write a brief review on Apple Podcasts. It only takes a minute and will help new listeners to discover the show. Want step by step instructions on how easy it is to leave a review? Click here to get my instructions on how to leave a review! Thank you in advance for your consideration!
Thank you (running friends) for taking the time to read and I hope you enjoy the podcast episode!
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You can teach an old dog new tricks!!! I have never considered myself a runner and I knew I needed to be smart about it because I am no spring chicken. Spark preached getting strong and healthy to be injury free and they practice what they preach. I am soooo glad I made the investment in me! I finished my half marathon last weekend and couldn’t be any happier! The program fed me all the steps I needed to essentially learn how to run long distance, build strength, nutrition help, a forum of other runners and probably most important was the 1:1 coaching. I had no idea how to tackle training for a 1/2 marathon and this program broke all of it down, had it individualized for me and we tweaked as we went to make sure I was staying healthy and strong. I had so many questions the week prior to my race and Coach Cat was always there for me and answering all the questions and issues I had-and believe me there were a lot! The biggest benefit I think I got was the strength. I am strong and fit. But most important was what I gained emotionally. I built confidence and strength I didn’t know I had, even at my age. Honestly could not have done this without Spark Healthy Runners!
My Healthy Runner journey started after I had battled bilateral achilles pain for a few months and was frustrated how it affected my running. As soon as I talked to Duane I knew I had made the right decision. His positivity, enthusiasm and genuine care are infectious. The training plan that was tailored to me included specific exercises to rehab my injury and I was so excited that I didn’t have to stop running. It took patience to only run slow for a few weeks but I trusted the process and it got me me to where I am now: running pain free. We made adjustments to the plan throughout whenever needed having someone in your corner that is always there with guidance and support throughout the process was invaluable.
I just ran my second half marathon, both with Duane’s coaching, and PR’d by over 9 minutes! I got all choked up in the last mile when I realized that I felt strong and could still kick it up a notch.
I’m so thankful for the Healthy Runner program, community and the entire coaching team for all the support!
Wanting to run more consistently, and to increase my long run distance and total weekly mileage, I was concerned about hip pain due to hip alignment issues. This is an issue I had when I trained for my first half marathon several years ago. Having listened to the Healthy Runner podcast for the past couple years, I knew Duane Scotti could help. I signed up for the four-month strength and running training program and am extremely happy with the results.
The program Duane and Coach Whitney developed for me was exactly what I needed. It was tailored to my needs and to my target race. Coach Whitney was very helpful, and with the biweekly coaching calls, we were able to fine tune the program based off my performance and feedback.
At the end of the program, I completed a 10K trail race feeling strong and pain free.
I highly recommend Duane Scotti and the Healthy Runner training programs.