In preparing to prepare (that's right, I'm a planner...deal with it!) for training for my spring half-marathon (Kentucky Derby Festival Mini-Marathon), I struggled to figure out the best training plan for myself. Typically, I would have used a personally modified version of Smart Coach to guide me and keep me focused. However, with an infant, I had accepted that I would not be able to devote the same amount of time to training as I had in the past--additionally, my Husband needed his own time to work out, so we had to come to a compromise. That meant I would not be able to train 5 days a week--and 4 would be a stretch. And while I didn't mind the thought of running easy runs with my little guy in the stroller, there was no way I could do any intense training runs with him.
When all was said and done, I realized that I could only dedicate 3 days per week to running. This depressed me a bit but I told myself to make the best of what I did have. And since I was still in training for and focused on my trail race, I put the issue to rest temporarily and decided to come back to it a week or two before my trail race. Soon after, however, I saw an article on runnersworld.com about a 3 Day-a-Week training plan for the Half-Marathon distance. Apparently, this was a modified version of a Marathon training plan that had produced positive results for many people. Developed by the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST), this appeared to be a less time consuming but more intense training plan. I read through the article and was quite intimidated. But I kept reading and I figured it was worth a shot--and it was a 10 week plan which was the perfect amount of time to get me ready for the Mini.
The plan centered around 3 runs each week--a tempo run, speedwork and of course, a long run. The goal was to improve speed, build your lactate threshold and gain endurance. These are the three things I attempt during any given training cycle so that was no issue. What intimidated me was the level of intensity needed during these runs--each one of the three types of runs were to be done at a pace faster than usually done. Which mean speedwork was going to be faster than fast. Long runs wouldn't be the typical slow and easy. No, it says in the article, "Make no mistake about it. There is real speed in these sessions." Eek! Speed is something I DO NOT have. I envisioned myself on a track, blue in the face and on my knees, crying. And I assumed, as well, that the long runs would be garbage each week. However, I told myself to give it a try. If it was too intense, I thought, I would just give it my best and hope for the best.
*The plan also requires you to cross-train, which is unfortunately something I am unwilling to do at this time. Having only 3 guaranteed days without my son meant using those 3 days for the 3 intense runs. So I wouldn't be cross-training. What I was able to do, however, was to get in some easy workouts like walks and hikes WITH my son 2-3 days per week. (That was more about getting outdoors than it was about exercise.)
*I replaced the tempo runs with hill repeat sessions. These workouts, while different, produce some similar benefits. I enjoyed the sessions with the Swag's group on Tuesday nights, and I wasn't prepared to give those up.
*Some of my long runs were longer than the schedule--this was a personal preference for me, as I already had a solid base. (When I say they were longer, usually no more than by about a mile or two.)
*The program advises that you lock into your race pace early and stick with it. I chose to begin with a conservative 5K and then speed up. This was also a personal preference that made me feel empowered, and in my opinion, allowed me to not become fatigued early in the race.
I stayed pretty much right on plan. I was determined to not miss any workouts (though I did end up missing at least one non-long run workout during the final two weeks of the schedule--but that's taper time anyway, right?) and my goal was to stay as strong and speedy as I could, though I surprised myself when I was actually able to meet (and at times, exceed) the pace requirements during my speed workouts. Those workouts were NOT pleasant, but they WERE manageable.
The most challenging part of the program was the increased speed for the long runs. It was difficult to maintain the necessary speed for runs over 8 miles. Notice I said it was difficult, but I never mentioned impossible.
My *dream* goal was to finish the race in 2:24:32--this was the half-marathon goal time which my training was based around. But realistically, even though I was confident in my training, I was shooting for sub 2:30. That, I believed, was going to be difficult but possible. And so that's what I went for. I ended up finishing the race with a chip time of 2:24:57--just 25 seconds from my "dream" goal. If only I hadn't jogged backwards to talk to a walker, and if the water stops had been well-stocked, I know I would been able to finish much more than 25 seconds faster.
I consider this training program a success and I will certainly use it in the future--I LOVED it. The intensity of the workouts kept me feeling challenged (in a good way) and I never felt over-trained or fatigued--physically or mentally. I consider my finish time pretty much right on target with the plan's goal for me and the best part was I ran the most comfortable race I think I have ever run--it was DEFINITELY the easiest half I have ever run.
If you are time-constrained due to work or family responsibilities but are willing to work hard when you do find time, I highly recommend this program for you. Read about it here: 3-Day Half Marathon Training Program