by tom MCADAM
The Hackney Half Marathon is one of London’s most iconic (and fun) fitness events. With Basis located in London Fields it’s a no-brainer for us to get involved. BJ and I have signed up to race on May 22nd despite both being average runners.
Until fairly recently, I hated distance running. Like any good CrossFitter, I thought the most you ever needed to run was 400m, maybe 800m. The longest I'd ever run was 5km, and this was always done "for time" such that every longer run I ever did was at high intensity.
At some point I had to confront the cognitive dissonance of claiming to be a fitness enthusiast while also being a poor runner. Ultimately, it’s hard to deny that running is a significant component of general physical preparedness. Running is an eminently human thing to do. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years, to hunt, to move and to escape predation. In some cultures, running is even considered a spiritual gateway (for more on this read the excellent Born to Run).
So with concerted effort over the last 3 years I’ve gradually gone from hating running to not minding it and then to genuinely enjoying it. By incorporating nasal breathing into running and by slowing things down and running in beautiful places like Hampstead Heath I've even been able to start seeing it as a meditative practice.
My approach to the half
All that said, I am yet to test myself in running and I'm still slow. The Hackney Half presents a perfect opportunity to see what I am capable of.
Still, I am by no means interested in becoming an out-and-out runner. I believe too strongly in the value of strength, mobility and (some!) muscle mass to want to drop 10kg in an effort to go fast. I'm also not at all keen on developing chronic injuries or niggles that will limit my ability to train and enjoy movement down the line.
The question that presented itself to me was this: can I run a decent half marathon while staying strong and injury-free and maintaining my weight?
Below, I’m going to share my approach to training with these goals in mind:
- Run under or close to 1 hr 45 mins which means averaging a 5:00 min/km pace.
- Maintain strength and body weight.
- Stay healthy, avoiding injuries and niggles as much as possible
From next week, there are 12 weeks until the race so what follows is a 12 week programme of running and strength training.
If you’d like to follow along, you’d be more than welcome and you can download the full programme in pdf and spreadsheet format below. But bear in mind that I’ve written this programme for myself. As such, you might need to adjust certain parameters. In particular:
The programme assumes that you’ve been running consistently at a mileage of 15-20km per week for at least 6 months.
- If you’re completely new to running, I’d recommend finding a beginner’s programme. You could try this one from Runner’s World.
- If you’ve been running consistently for 6 months or more but you haven’t been running more than 15km per week, then start at your current mileage and add distance in the same step-wise fashion as in the programme (generally +1-2km per week with some weeks staying constant and a couple of deloads).
The programme assumes you’re familiar and confident with compound barbell movements like squats, deadlifts, presses and pull-ups
If you aren’t, this won’t be the programme for you but you could try joining one of our FORCE classes to get started with strength training.
Lastly, if you want to follow along with this programme in more of a group setting, you could join our RUN class on Sunday mornings in London Fields. If you put this together with two FORCE classes and a run on your own, you could replicate the below programme fairly well.
The programme assumes 2 running sessions per week and 2 full-body resistance training sessions per week. There is then an optional third run.
Each session includes:
- Either a squat OR a deadlift
- A lower body unilateral assistance exercise
- An upper body push (split between vertical and horizontal)
- An upper body pull (split between vertical and horizontal)
- Core work, emphasising rotation and lateral flexion as well as stability and flexion
This covers most of the fundamental movement patterns to maintain strength: squat, hinge, push and pull. The unilateral lower-body assistance work is crucial for running. It won’t have escaped your notice that we run one leg at a time! The eccentric loading will also help condition the muscles and soft-tissues for the heavy impact of running. Similarly, the core work will help stabilise the trunk while running to improve movement economy and help avoid compensation injuries.
Each session includes two supersets with each superset comprising one upper-body and one lower-body movement.
See below for a template:
The strength sessions will change every 4 weeks. See below for the strength training programme. I have also created a pdf for the full programme, including the running, at the bottom of the article. You can also access a spreadsheet with full details.
weights / intensity / progression
The goal is not to get stronger over the next 12 weeks because that would divert recovery resources away from the main focus which is the running. I wouldn’t be able to adapt as well to the running sessions, and I wouldn’t be able to achieve the necessary intensity while running because I’d be sore from lifting. That doesn’t make sense.
It follows that I’m not going to look to systematically add weight to the bar over the course of the programme. So how do we get the weight / reps right?
The first option is to use percentages based on 1RM. The second option is to use the concept of RPE (rate of perceived exertion). Generally speaking, we want RPE to be at around 6/10 - 7/10, depending on how fatigued you are from running. Percentages are as below:
Once you have set your weights and reps, you can just keep them constant so long as they fit in the range of 6-7 RPE. If the sets become trivially easy, add some weight. If you’re fatigued from running for a few sessions, reduce the weight. The last thing you want is to injure yourself trying to stick to an arbitrary weight target.
For obvious reasons, the running is where things get a bit more specific and technical.
Up front, I want to credit the source of much of the information that follows. This way of approaching training for running comes from Pete Pfitzinger and Philip Latter and their book Faster Road Racing. The running programme I have written is a (fairly significant) adaptation of one of the half-marathon programmes in this book. In general, much of the way I think about running has come from this book as well as Tim Noakes’ tomic Lore of Running. I highly recommend you order Faster Road Racing if you’re serious about running or if you’re interested to learn more.
In this programme, there are 6 main types of workouts, as follows:
There is generally 1 Long Run per week, with the distance building up progressively over the 12 weeks. The Long Run is the foundation of the programme. These sessions are run at a moderate pace, about 15-25% slower than your goal race pace for the half marathon, 20-30% slower than your current 10k race pace, or at a heart rate between 75-85% of max. You can start a little slower and build pace over the course of the run. For reference, with a target race pace of 5 min/km, I’m running my long runs at around 6 min/km. Sometimes, I’ll start the run a little slower, around 6:15/km and finish a little faster, around 5:45/km.
Progressive Long Runs:
Just like a long run but with a certain distance at the end run at lactate threshold (LT) pace.
Lactate Threshold Runs:
These runs involve either longer intervals or a single stretch of running run at, or a bit faster than, lactate threshold pace. LT pace is a hard but sustainable effort. Well trained runners can hope to maintain their LT pace for about an hour. For most runners, the lactate threshold pace will be a bit faster than the goal race pace and will elicit heart rates up to around 91% of max. If you’ve run a 10km race recently, this would also likely be close to your lactate threshold pace, or a little faster. For reference, with a target race pace of 5 min/km, I’m running my tempo runs at around 4:45 min/km.
VO2 Max Intervals:
These runs involve intervals of 800m-1,200m run at a hard pace. You should run the intervals around your best 3-5km pace. Heart rate can get up to around 95% of max. For reference, with a target race pace of 5 min/km, I’m running intervals at around 4 min/km. You should fill out the rest of the indicated mileage with running at an easy pace around 25-30% slower than race pace or <80% of max heart rate.
These runs involve a small number of 30s intervals run at a near maximal pace with the goal of improving running technique and economy. You should fill out the rest of the indicated mileage with running at an easy pace around 25-30% slower than race pace or <80% of max heart rate.
These are easier runs, normally the optional run, where the pace is kept to 25-30% slower than race pace and heart rate below 80% of max.
See below for an overview of the session types:
the running programme
Below you’ll find details of the programme itself.
You can download a pdf version of the programme, along with session type information and the strength training programme here:
You can access a spreadsheet of the running programme, along with session type information here:
Here are some important notes on using and interpreting the programme:
- It’s very important to use this programme as a guide only!
- You should not do everything as written even if you are feeling really fatigued.
- This is a tough programme, appropriate for someone who is quite used to training hard.
- Adjust as needed for your level of training experience and feel free to reduce the volume when required.
- When you’re feeling overtrained, reduce overall mileage on the interval sessions and decrease the volume of the intervals themselves. Try to keep the long run mileage if you can.
- Each session includes a total mileage as well as workout details.
- For sessions that include intervals, start with a 2-3km warm-up before going into working sets.
- If you’re running LT or VO2 Max intervals, do a few dynamic stretches and drills after the warm-up and before starting the intervals. Allow your heart rate to come down a little.
- Once you finish the working intervals go straight into a cool down run to fill out the indicated mileage.
- Long Runs and runs with Speed Intervals can be run straight through but it’s a good idea to do a few dynamic stretches and drills before you start and to start a little slower.
- To reiterate: if you currently run 15km or less per week, you should reduce the mileage from the beginning.
- In this case, I’d recommend trying one of the programmes from Runner’s World here. They have a range of plans depending on your experience and target time. But if you’d still like to follow this programme, adjust as follows:
- Add mileage progressively, at 2-3km per week.
- Start adding distance to the long run first. When the long run reaches 10km, start adding distance to the other session too.
- E.g. you currently run 2x 5km per week. In Week 1 do 5km for the LT run and 7km for the long run. Week 2, do 5km and 9km. Week 3 do 6km and 10km.
- You may also need to reduce the volume of the intervals at the beginning.
- Always allow at least 1.5km for a warm-up, then adjust working intervals as needed.
- E.g. if you’re running 5km for the LT Run in Week 1, you only have 3.5km for the LT intervals, after subtracting a 1.5km warm-up. In this case, it makes sense to just run one 15 minute LT interval and then fill out the rest of the mileage as a cool down.
- There are two 10km races 2 and 4 weeks out from the half-marathon.
- These should be run at or close to your best.
- Include 2km as a warm-up and do some dynamic stretches and drills beforehand.
- These races will allow you to see if you are on track for your target race pace.
- You should be able to run the 10km 10-20s /km faster than your target race pace for the half marathon.
- Do these race sessions wherever in the week you will be most rested. I have put them as session 1 because I generally take Saturday and Sunday off and feel well rested to run on Monday.
- The total mileage increases linearly over the 12 weeks, with a few exceptions:
- There is a deload in week 4
- There is a mileage deload in weeks 8 and 10 to allow you to perform well in, and recover from, the 10km races.
- The final two weeks taper down to allow you to feel fully recovered and rested for the race itself. The final week is very light.
Good luck and see you on the starting line! If you have any questions, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org