Training for a Half Marathon PR: 3 Essential Ingredients

The half marathon is one of the fastest growing races in the world – and for good reason.

Cheering finishers at the 2017 Colfax Half Marathon

At 13.1 miles, it’s long enough to require endurance and mental toughness, but short enough for most runners to tackle with less than a year of running experience.

Unlike a marathon, where the body is limited by the amount of carbohydrate (fuel) it can store, the half marathon allows most runners to finish strong. You likely won’t “hit the wall.”

Nevertheless, it will still take hard work. You can’t “fake” your way through a half marathon like you can a 5k race.

But with the right training approach that prioritizes the elements of fitness that are specific to the HM distance, you’ll experience tremendous progress and hopefully, a faster finish time.

There are three fundamental types of workouts that are critical for success in the half marathon.

Let’s begin with the most general – the long run.

Half Marathon Workout #1: The Long Run

Every runner must run a weekly long run – no matter what distance you’re training to complete.

They build general endurance so you can:

  • run further
  • complete longer and more intense workouts
  • maintain faster paces for longer periods of time

In other words, long runs build your capacity for work. They increase your ability to tolerate a high workload.

Or, as Bill Squires said:

The Long Run puts the tiger in the cat!

Beginners should particularly focus on long runs because their lack of endurance is the top obstacle to faster racing.

Long runs increase running economy (efficiency) so that you can run faster with less effort. It’s like increasing your car’s fuel economy – you can go further on the same amount of fuel.

They also make the half marathon distance comfortable – so you can then worry about running it fast rather than just completing the distance.

During a 12-20 week training period, add a mile to your long run every 1-2 weeks but take a “recovery week” every 4-6 weeks where the long run distance dips by 2-3 miles. Run at least 10-11 miles during training to ensure you can complete the half marathon comfortably.

More advanced runners will want to run significantly more than 13.1 miles during their peak long run – even up to 20 miles.

The longer you can safely run, the more you can focus on speed on race day.

If you want more guidance on building your long run and mileage, this article shows you how (it’s NOT the 10% rule…).

Half Marathon Workout #2: The Tempo Run

Tempo runs are what I consider “bread and butter” workouts for any runner training for the 10k – 50 kilometers. They’re that useful!

This is because they help push your endurance to new levels. More specifically, they increase your body’s ability to clear lactate from your blood stream, which is a byproduct of hard exercise.

Tempo runs help you run at a faster pace without accumulating excessive lactate, ultimately helping you maintain a faster pace for a longer period of time.

There are quite a few definitions of “Tempo:”

  • The pace that you can hold for about an hour (often correlating with 10k Pace for some runners)
  • A “comfortably hard” pace (for those who like to run by perceived effort)
  • The pace that causes your heart rate to reach 85-90% of maximum (if you prefer heart rate monitor training)

Beginners can start with tempo intervals which are simply 2-5 minutes at tempo pace with 1-2 minutes of easy running as recovery. Aim to complete roughly 15-20 minutes at tempo pace.

Advanced runners can skip the recovery running and instead run 3-5 miles at tempo pace with no rest.

And of course, you’ll want to run a few easy miles before and after any tempo workout to ensure you have a proper warm-up and cool-down.

Half Marathon Workout #3: HM-Specificity

Specificity is the golden rule in running: training must be specific to the goal race.

These workouts are slightly more advanced, so if you’re a beginner, you can just run easy mileage, long runs, and tempo workouts.

But advanced runners need an extra challenge for a new personal best. Half marathon-specific workouts closely resemble the race. At its most basic, you’ll run at half marathon pace for 6-8 miles.

Here are two more examples:

  • Two repetitions of 5km at goal half marathon pace, with 2 minutes of easy running as recovery.
  • End a long run of 13-18 miles with 3-6 miles at goal half marathon pace (this workout makes you run fast in a fatigued condition, making it even more specific to the half).

Workouts like these should be done in the final 4-6 weeks before the goal race so you don’t get too fatigued or burned out too early in the season.

Most beginners will see rapid improvement without these challenging sessions. If you’re not ready for workouts like this yet, that’s ok! You can simply skip them.

These workouts help you build a foundation of endurance so that your next 13.1 miles can be your best. Focus, prepare intelligently, and run strong!

If you’d like help with your half marathon training, we have many coaching programs to help you snag your next personal best.

A version of this article initially appeared on Competitor.com.

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How Allan Overcame Piriformis Syndrome (and became an athlete)

Can you ever imagine running 3:17 in your first marathon – and still not consider yourself a “real” runner?

running healthy

Me neither.

But Allan is a runner who felt that way. After his speedy debut at 26.2, he still felt like something was missing.

Allan committed to serious running in 2015 and ran his first marathon in the fall of 2016. He did a lot of things right in his training by progressively increasing his mileage and including a variety of workouts.

But throughout the training and after his race, Allan recalled that he:

“felt very one-dimensional in my running and did not really feel like a runner.”

How could that be?

A Pesky Piriformis

During marathon training, Allan developed piriformis syndrome – quite literally, a pain in the butt.

The piriformis is located deep in the glutes behind the gluteus maximus. Piriformis syndrome occurs when a tight piriformis muscle compresses the sciatic nerve. Pain can occur in the glutes and radiate down the leg.

Although Allan was able to finish the marathon successfully, he wanted to get rid of his piriformis pain so he could resume training after his recovery.

He got a lot of benefit from Strength Running’s free injury prevention series but he wanted every advantage.

After investing in the comprehensive Injury Prevention for Runners program, he went through all of the program material in its entirety and committed himself to every aspect of staying healthy.

One specific element of prevention stood out to Allan: the importance of a dynamic warm-up:

The dynamic warm up definitely helps me at the start of a run. I find I am always “up and going” right from the start of the run, whereas before, it was normal to have a very sluggish first kilometer before I started feeling “normal.”

But a simple dynamic warm-up is just one aspect of staying healthy. Soon, Allan went all-in.

A Commitment to Athleticism

Allan originally planned to pay for a gym membership but was pleased to find that the routines could all be done with little or no equipment. This saved him a time-consuming trip and hundreds of dollars per year.

He was also surprised by their intensity:

 At first, I thought the strength training was on the “light” side (I guess I thought I needed to be flinging weights around in a gym to get real benefit).

However, after my first go at the Stiletto routine, I was amazed to find how sore my glutes were a few hours later (as one example). And that was just one set, at the lowest reps for each exercise.

In order to stay healthy and continue training consistently, runners have to do more than just run. The body needs a strong foundation to handle increasing mileage, workouts and races.

Running alone doesn’t accomplish this. This is where strength, core and flexibility work builds you into a strong and capable athlete – not just a runner.

And as Allan demonstrated, this does not require hours in the gym with heavy weights.

When it came to commitment, Allan went all-in with Injury Prevention for Runners.

With a tighter focus on general athleticism, variety, dynamic flexibility, and runner-specific strength Allan quickly began to reap the rewards.

But it’s important to note that you don’t need to train like an elite or spend hours cross-training every week. Allan was pleased with the structure of the training plan, calling the setup “brilliant” at maximizing adherence.

Allan correctly realized early on that running was only one part of being a healthy, fast runner.

The other components to the program weren’t “extras” – they were truly a necessity to stay healthy and become a more well-rounded athlete.

Making these strength and core sessions part of your routine requires a commitment, but the long-term benefits are tremendous.

A Comprehensive Approach

Allan Success Story

Once Allan learned to approach his running differently, he no longer felt like something was missing from his training. He was becoming not only a faster, stronger runner but also a more well-rounded athlete.

Allan explains how he was able to see the bigger picture of successful running by working through Injury Prevention for Runners:

The most positive aspect is that the total plan is a comprehensive approach to becoming a robust, athletic runner.

Although I purchased the material “just” for the routines, when I read the whole thing cover-to-cover, I came away with a lot more insight.

The program finally gave Allan clarification on:

  1. Why strength training is important
  2. How to do it in a sustainable way
  3. How to warm up appropriately for a run
  4. How to plan workouts with variety
  5. Cues to improve running form
  6. The impact of a sedentary lifestyle (he decided to change to a standing desk!)

If you have spent much time on Strength Running, you have probably heard me say, “Consistency is the secret sauce of successful running” (we even have a t-shirt about it!).

As a result of this consistency, Allan has seen fantastic results. I asked him about some of his results and he told me:

My piriformis injury is almost gone (and getting constantly better, I expect it to be gone completely soon).

My legs feel much less burnt out between workouts.

I’ve developed a better sense of athleticism.

This program has stimulated a lot of curiosity; over the past month I have read Born to Run and Running with the Kenyans and have just generally become more a student of running.

Whether you have been frustrated by ongoing injuries or are just trying to see the bigger picture of your running, Strength Running’s injury prevention material may help.

Allan’s final piece of feedback says it best:

I recommend this to anyone who wants to progress from someone who runs to an athletic runner. It is a comprehensive and total approach that gets you going in all the right ways.

Suddenly I’m feeling like there are so many ways I can improve and I am not just going on runs, but rather developing more broadly as a runner.

You can’t ask for more than that!

The most poignant aspect of Allan’s recovery and transformation as a runner is that he now knows that there are many ways he can improve.

He doesn’t just need higher mileage. Or harder workouts. Or years of grueling long runs.

Allan has the knowledge and resources to continue progressing for years.

And isn’t that what we all want? Progress?

If that sounds like you, I invite you to get our free series about injury prevention. I think you’ll love it.

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CNN’s Tom Foreman on Running for a Lifetime

Once you build the running habit, you’ll be a runner for life. But how does running change after a few decades?

running lifetime

When I started running in 1998, I had no idea that joining my high school cross country team was arguably the most important decision of my life.

Running led me to attend Connecticut College… which led me to meeting my wife.

And it clearly led to my dream job: helping runners set big PR’s while staying healthy and strong.

Without running, I never would have embarked on this journey.

But now that I’m older and married with kids, my perspectives on running have changed.

It’s like Nick Symmonds said recently,

I love running more today than I ever have in my entire life, and I hate training more than I have in my entire life.

Those two things are very different. Running is going out for a run. You can run ten minutes, you can run two hours, you’re meeting up with friends. You’re running at whatever pace you feel like for however long you feel like. It’s enjoyable, it’s meditative, it’s cathartic.

Training is making sacrifices. It’s being away from home, it’s doing whatever’s on your daily schedule. It’s just not fun.

It’s funny how things work out.

I used to be obsessed with mileage and PR’s; now I’m focused on enjoying myself and using running to live a better life.

While my priorities have changed, I still love running with an intense passion that I doubt will ever fade.

How Running Changes as You Get Older

Tom Foreman

I invited Tom Foreman on the podcast to philosophize about running, goals, and racing throughout life.

You might recognize Tom as an emmy-award winning journalist at CNN. He’s reported on wars, natural disasters, and political skirmishes across 20 countries.

He’s also quite the runner.

Author of My Year of Running DangerouslyTom has a handful of marathons and ultramarathons under his belt and is chasing a BQ soon at the Cincinnati Marathon.

More than anything, Tom has a unique perspective on what running means at various stages of life.

Speaking with Tom is always a treat so I hope you enjoy this conversation. I think it will bring you new appreciation for running!

Download on iTunes or Stitcher.

If you enjoy this episode, an honest review on iTunes would be wonderful. There’s no better way to let me know you appreciate the show!

A big thanks to Tom for spending time with us on the podcast.

And if you haven’t read it, his book is a meditative stroll through the wonderful joy that is running.

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Tony Gentilcore on Why Runners Need to Lift

Is it surprising that I don’t think strength workouts are cross-training? Rather, strength work is just part of your training as a runner.

Strength Training

Cross-training is supplemental exercise that can be helpful to your running, like cycling.

But just like form drills, strides, or dynamic flexibility exercises, I consider strength training to be an integral part of how to train distance runners.

If you’re not strength training, then you’re not training.

And to help you get things right in the weight room, I invited a top strength and conditioning coach on the Strength Running podcast to talk about:

  • What are the benefits of strength training?
  • Do runners need to lift differently than other athletes?
  • How do you strength train without a gym membership?
  • What are the most common mistakes in the weight room?
  • Do women need to lift differently or tweak their programs?
  • What are the “little things” for weight lifters?

Even if you’re comfortable in the gym, you won’t want to miss this episode.

Tony Gentilcore: Heavy Things Won’t Lift Themselves

Tony Gentilcore

Cofounder of Cressey Sports Performance, Tony now owns his own gym outside of Boston and trains top-level athletes and everyone else.

A frequent contributor to major fitness and media outlets like T-Nation, Women’s Health, and The Boston Herald, Tony also runs a popular strength training blog.

Tony made my job easy as podcast host because he has a great sense of humor and can make exercise science seem easy. I hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as I did speaking with Tony.

Download it here if you have an iPhone or on Stitcher if you use the Android platform.

Resources & Links:

2017 is the Year of Fundamentals and we’re focusing on the bedrock principles that make good runners into incredible runners.

And lifting is one of those fundamentals. It is not a “nice to do” – it’s a must-do if you’re interested in reaching your potential and reducing your risk of injury.

We’ll be going into much more detail in the coming months about weight training for runners.

But until then, I want to know some of your top questions about strength training.

Leave them in the comments below and I hope to answer as many as I can!

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Training Log Snapshot: The Week Before My 3,000 PR

Looking at old training logs is exciting – I can almost feel how each workout felt. Just like looking at old race photos:

Running my steeplechase PR at the 2006 New England DIII Championships

Keeping a training journal, log, or diary is a powerful way to measure the stats of your running. Whether that’s a digital log or an old-fashioned notebook, either option works great.

This is what I’ve always tracked:

  • Daily, weekly, monthly, and annual mileage. Total volume is a powerful predictor of success.
  • Total time of a run, splits of workouts, and important paces
  • How I felt on a daily basis
  • What shoes I wore and the mileage of each pair
  • Drills, strength exercises, strides, warm-up movements, and other ancillary work
  • Total amount of cross-training and general effort of each session
  • Where I ran (for fun!)

I’ve always kept my logs in paper format. For me, it’s more gratifying to hold my training journal and see it in real life.

With platforms like Strava, Daily Mile, and Garmin Connect there’s opportunity to track a lot of other fancy metrics like:

  • Ground contact time (how much time your foot spends on the ground during one stride)
  • Vertical oscillation (how much you bounce up and down)
  • Elevation gain/loss
  • Cadence (steps per minute)

Some of these can be quite valuable (cadence and elevation metrics, for example) while others aren’t very actionable.

In other words, if you know your ground contact time… then what? How is that information used? Is it a “nice to know” or “need to know” metric?

In most cases, you don’t need the fancy data. The simple metrics are often the most helpful – they’re foundational.

Today I want to give you another snapshot of an old training log. This time, it’s during indoor track leading up to my 3,000m personal best.

Training for Speed: Inside my 3k Training

During my senior year of college, I set PR’s in nearly every event:

  • 800m (2:05)
  • Mile (4:35 – though I ran 4:33 post-collegiately)
  • 3,000m (9:04)
  • 3,000m Steeplechase (9:57)
  • 5,000m (16:02)
  • 8,000m XC (26:19)

Despite a few injury problems, this was a breakout year for me. And I want to share some of the training that led to these results.

Check it out:

Track Training

There’s a lot going on during this week. First, some basics:

  1. “SC drills” = “steeplechase drills.” I was doing a lot of hurdle mobility and dynamic exercises to prepare for the outdoor season.
  2. Like my training plans, the ‘ symbol represents minutes and the ” symbol represents seconds
  3. Speedstars, Marathoners, Vents, Miler XC’s, and Lanangs are shoes (the Nike Ventulus, Lanang, and Miler XC are racing spikes).
  4. In college, nobody had GPS watches. So we ran based on time and estimated mileage based on a 7:00/mile average.
  5. “… @ T” stands for “@ threshold pace.” It’s how tempo workouts were written.
  6. Total mileage for the week was 67 with the monthly total being 233 through 26 days of February.

In case you can’t read some of the splits:

Workout: 1,000m @ Tempo + 3x800m @ 5k -30″ pace + 4x200m @ 800m pace. Splits: 3:25, 2:28, 2:26, 2:26, 31, 30, 30, 30.

Race: Indoor 3,000m in 9:04. Splits: 71 @ 400m. 2:23 @ 800m. 4:50 @ mile. 6:04 @ 2,000m. Ran the last 400m in 67 (36, 31 200m splits).

Now, let’s break out some big lessons:

I ran fast almost every day

If you want to race fast, you have to train fast.

While this week only had one workout (we usually ran two), there was a race and I ran strides on three other days. That leaves only two days of only easy running.

Most runners confuse fast running with hard running. You can run fast frequently – but you can’t run hard nearly as frequently.

There’s not enough strength training

This era of my running career was before my big focus on strength work (and my injury rate proved that!). You’ll see I did this core routine and random ab exercises but that’s clearly not substantial enough.

Instead, I should have followed every run with a 10-20 minute strength routine. There’s no doubt that would have reduced my injuries in college.

Most easy runs were on trails

Trails boost general athleticism, help prevent injuries, can be more effective for recovery, and are simply more fun.

Thankfully we had a large network of trails near campus and our coach encouraged us to get in as much mileage as possible on softer surfaces.

If you can enjoy some off-road running, take advantage of it! You’ll be a better runner for running more trails.

Long runs still happened!

Even though I was only training for the 3,000m (slightly less than two miles), I was still running 14 miles nearly every weekend.

It’s instructive that the best middle-distance runners in the world run significant long runs even though their goal race is only 1500m – 5k.

Don’t discount the importance of long runs – even if your goal race is very short.

“Cautious Minimalism” was applied

Too many runners think they have to choose between being a barefoot runner and running in clunky motion-control shoes.

But that’s a false choice: you can get the best of both worlds with a mixed approach.

You’ll see that I wore three different pairs of racing spikes for the workout, strides, and race but more traditional neutral shoes for the remainder of the mileage.

A small amount of minimalism and barefoot running (I’m sure that if it were warmer, most of those strides would have been barefoot) can help improve lower leg strength and reinforce more efficient running form.

How to Think About All of This

I’m not posting this to brag (I placed 26th out of 29 runners in that race!) but rather to show you the principles behind sound training.

If you want to see how fast you can potentially run, it’s helpful to:

These are the basic building blocks of running-specific fitness. Every runner needs them, no matter your ability level or race goal.

If you need help building your own training plan and putting these lessons into practice, we have a lot of resources to help you succeed.

Check out our training programs, books, free resources, and coaching services here.

My questions for you:

  • Is there anything from this training log excerpt that I can clarify or explain further?
  • What other big-picture lessons can you draw from my training journal?
  • Are these types of posts helpful? Should I do more?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below. I look forward to reading them!

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How to Review An Entire Season (and plan for the next one)

Good runners do something unique that helps them succeed: they think long-term and reflect often on their training.

This outlook improves many aspects of your running:

  • You can see what workouts and training strategies helped you improve (and what hurts your progress)
  • With better planning for the future, you can be more strategic with your training and racing
  • You learn what you like, don’t like, and need to run fast

As soon as I began thinking about my future training this way, I became more confident in what I needed to do to reach my goals.

It allows you to work backward from your goals to what you need to do today, this week, and this month to reach them.

Here’s a great example: as my junior year of college wrapped up, I knew that I needed to run about a minute faster over 8km to have a shot of making the Varsity cross country team that fall.

An entire minute over just 5 miles? That’s an enormous improvement in a 5-mile race – especially for me because I was already well trained.

So I worked backward:

  1. A 1-minute improvement demands a whole new level of fitness. I needed a breakthrough.
  2. A breakthrough in racing demands a breakthrough in training. And it starts with summer base training.
  3. I committed to running more mileage than I ever have: consistently 80+ miles per week.
  4. That wasn’t enough. I needed more but couldn’t handle higher mileage. So I committed to 2+ hours of cycling and pool running per week.
  5. I committed to “the little things” to make sure I didn’t get hurt.

That summer I ran more mileage than I ever have before a cross country season.

When my teammates found out what I was doing (we emailed our coach and the team every two weeks with our training), one of my friends remarked that I was doing the equivalent of 110 miles per week!

After months of high mileage, more cycling and pool running than I care to remember, barefoot strides and drills weekly, and strategic hill training to limit my injury risk, I was finally ready for cross country.

That season I ran 59 seconds faster than I ever had before for 8k, ran Varsity every meet, and won the Most Improved award.

Here’s an excerpt of my cross country training during that season.

Without thinking strategically, planning ahead, and committing to the work I wouldn’t have come close to running that fast.

Today, I want to show you how you too can plan a strategic season (and review a completed season).

Following up with George: How Did His Half Marathon Go?

You might recall George from episode 6 of the Strength Running podcast.

george marathon

We talked about a lot:

  • What’s the ideal length long run during marathon training? And half marathon training?
  • Should you keep running marathons if your ultimate goal is to run a faster marathon?
  • If your long runs are already 15+, what types of LR’s should you focus on during a marathon season?
  • How long should you run at tempo pace during training?
  • What is the optimal marathon pacing strategy?

George wanted help planning for a PR attempt at the half marathon. Episode 6 was a “behind the scenes” coaching call where we strategized on how he could make it happen.

Now, he’s back on the podcast to see if my ideas actually worked!

For a long time, George’s episode was the most downloaded show because folks loved listening “over my shoulder” as we strategized.

And I think you’ll enjoy this show just as much.

Download the show on iTunes or you can listen on Stitcher.

If you enjoy the Strength Running podcast, please consider leaving an honest review on iTunes!

And don’t forget to download our free Season Planner worksheet to help you be more strategic with your training.

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Welcome, Runners

Run-walkers, marathoners, obstacle course racers, trail runners, ultra runners, and everyone in between: welcome to Strength Running!

Runners

Over the last several months, we’ve added tens of thousands of new runners to the Strength Running community.

We’re growing, gaining momentum together, and I think it would be helpful for everyone to know exactly what SR is all about.

No matter if you just started running earlier today or a few decades ago, we’re here for you. And the wonderful thing about Strength Running is how supportive our community is to other runners.

Every day on social, on blog comments, and within Team Strength Running I’m amazed at how helpful and positive we are:

  • Ran a new Personal Best? There’s no shortage of “congrats” and well wishes.
  • Had a terrible workout or race? The SR community will push you to learn from it, move on, and get better
  • Not sure how to think about your splits or plan a workout? We’ll help you through it.

Or maybe you just want to brag and share a photo of you ringing the PR Bell? Have at it!

Strength Running PR Bell

The community here knows that a common thread links us all together: we love running.

Maybe that’s your local 4-mile loop through the park. Or a casual 15-miler on the rolling trails outside of town.

Perhaps you’re even a marathon maniac!

No matter what you love about running, Strength Running is here to help you get better at it.

Because no matter how you slice it, runners are way more similar than we are different. After all, training principles are universal.

If you’re a 38-year old mom in California training for her first half marathon, then the same principles work for you as they do for a senior citizen in South Africa training for his 5th ultra marathon.

Our approach to training is multi-faceted:

  • We focus on the fundamentals – because they’re the most important building blocks of your future success
  • We also do the little things – because strength work, dynamic stretching, and drills help us become better athletes
  • We know that consistency over time is the real “secret sauce” to successful running (and have a shirt to prove it)
  • We recognize that prioritizing injury prevention, while not sexy, improves consistency and ultimately makes you faster
  • If you’re not enjoying yourself, what’s the point?

This ruthless focus on what actually works – rather than chasing shiny red balls – has produced remarkable results for our community.

Thousands of athletes have successfully treated overuse injuries, stayed healthier far longer than ever before, and now know how to prevent injuries long-term.

Even more Strength Runners are setting personal bests that they never thought were possible in the first place.

These success stories are why I love my job and wake up every morning excited to help runners do what they love: run (and run well).

Because the running community is the best.

We work hard. We support each other. And yes, we’re a little strange.

Runners… Yeah, We’re Weird

Running has definitely made me weirder. How about you?

These days, I embrace the unique culture of running. Just look at my shorts:

Neon? Split-leg? 1″ inseam? SIGN ME UP.

Whether you put band-aids on your nipples, think a 10 miler is “easy,” or your idea of fun is getting up at 4:00AM to run 26.2 miles, the running community is behind you 100%.

We embrace that oddness. These idiosyncrasies make us runners. Even if you’re popping a squat off the trail…

This culture makes us say “fartlek” with a straight face and talk about the gastrointestinal implications of various fueling products.

Normal folks don’t understand. I’ve heard it all:

  • “Hey, why are you wearing your sister’s shorts?!”
  • “You ran 21 miles? That’s what cars are for.”
  • “Run, Forrest, Run!” (This is my least favorite insult. Where’s the creativity?!)
  • “Hey, do you have a cigarette?”

Most of the time, getting yelled at while running or asked silly questions just makes me laugh.

Being different is unique. It makes us who we are. It brings us closer together as a running community.

And at Strength Running, we embrace that culture.

What is Strength Running?

In 2007, I had the crazy idea to coach runners on the internet. So I bought the domain name strengthrunning.com… and did nothing.

I sat on that name for three years until I realized that doing nothing is the surest path to mediocrity.

Taking action is what matters.

So even though I had no design, programming, or other technical skills I started to write for this blog consistently twice per week.

Soon I had a few hundred readers. Then a few thousand. After awhile, I got the attention of other big websites and started contributing to Active, Health Magazine, Huffington Post, and even Runner’s World.

You can also learn more about me here.

My training philosophy of focusing on the fundamentals and being strategic led thousands of runners to improve:

  • Nick lost 60 pounds and set a 10-minute Personal Best in the 10k
  • Alex recovered from 6 months of knee pain to run his fastest 5k in a decade
  • Aimee set a 38-minute (!) PR in the marathon… after a serious injury

And while it’s fun to go on HuffPo Live, speak at conferences, or know that nearly 100,000 runners read my coaching advice – the best part of my job is your tangible improvement.

That’s why I spend most of my time creating the best possible training material to help you get faster and stay healthy.

The overall goal of Strength Running is to elevate the sport of running. And you can rest assured that our coaching programs are exhaustively researched (some took years to create), tested, and proven to work:

  • Injury Prevention for Runners is our flagship program that is trusted by thousands. The results speak for themselves.
  • Nutrition for Runners is the only program created by both a USATF-certified coach and Registered Dietitian to help you fuel more intelligently and lose weight sustainably.
  • Project: Runner is like Couch to 5k except better: innovative, flexible training plans, coaching guidance, and video lessons to get you from not being able to run a mile to finishing a 5k with no walking in 10 weeks
  • The PR Race Plan is our most popular coaching service: a custom training program built to your unique fitness level, goals, schedule, injury background, and strengths.

And I’m proud that 98% of our material is completely free. With nearly 600 blog posts, 100+ videos, and a growing library of podcast episodes, there’s something for every type of runner.

Even if you never purchase anything from us, I hope you find immense value in everything that’s created here to help your running.

No matter what type of runner you are, Strength Running can help you accomplish your goals.

Join the Strength Running Community

Strength Running Team

You might have stumbled upon SR from Google. Or maybe you read something I wrote on Competitor or the MapMyRun blog.

No matter how you got here, welcome! I’m glad you’re a part of the SR family now.

But you might want to get more involved. How do you get our best stuff?

If there’s a specific topic you want to learn more about, get our free email courses:

You’ll get a ton of helpful info like free strength routines, dietitian-approved shopping lists, downloadable goal-setting worksheets, what not to do, and inspiring case studies.

I also share helpful advice and tips on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Social is where I can best respond to your questions and interact daily so give me a follow on your preferred platform and say hi!

The best way to dive into the Strength Running community is, hands-down, Team Strength Running.

Team SR is where I coach a growing group of runners who are passionate about improving.

Every month, I interview a new expert for the team. And soon, our members will be getting their questions answered by Olympic-level coaches, pro runners, and best-selling authors.

There’s no other place where you can ask questions to the smartest minds in the world of running.

We also have regular Coach’s Chats where I help guide you through any issues or questions you might have about your running. This is the only way for direct, live access to me.

But best of all? The team! Join hundreds of other runners like you to share stories, work together, hold yourself accountable, and become the consistent runner that you know you can be.

Sign up here to learn more about the team. You’ll be the first to know when we open.

Runners: We’re Stronger Together

No matter who you are or where you are in your running journey, I want to extend a personal welcome to Strength Running.

Our individual success is a lot easier when we band together and support each other.

After all, lone wolves are never as successful.

If you commit to working hard and investing in your success, I will commit to:

  • Maintaining the Strength Running blog as a completely ad-free experience (I’ll never run ads for weird supplements, dubious fitness products, or weight loss scams)
  • Complete transparency on who is a good fit for our training programs – and who should not join (profit is not my primary goal)
  • Being responsive to you: I reply to all of my emails myself and make myself as accessible as possible to help you

It’s an honor and a privilege to have such an impact on the running community.

I hope you’ll learn more about the team. But if there’s ever something I can do for you, please get in touch. My day is brighter when my runners are improving.

I’ll see you around Strength Running. Until then, run strong!

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Dr. Simon Donato on Ultra-Endurance, Grit, and the Doors that Running Opens

Simon Donato is a modern Indiana Jones: a PhD who travels the world competing in the toughest endurance races that exist.

Simon Donato

It’s not every day that you meet somebody with so many varied interests.

And when you do, pay attention. Their insights and mental models are light years ahead of the average person.

Simon Donato is one of these “Renaissance Men.” His many accomplishments include:

  • A PhD in Geology from McMaster University and a Masters in Paleontology from Western University
  • Credit as the creator and host of the television show Boundless chronicling his pursuit of adventure and ultra-endurance
  • Creator of both Stoked Oats and Adventure Science
  • Finishes at the world’s toughest races, including 220km of stand-up paddle boarding to running 250km across the Sahara Desert

He’s on the podcast today to help us find more adventure in our life.

I think runners are uniquely suited to be adventurers because of our endurance, appetite for suffering, and thirst for new experiences.

Running led me on a quest up a mountain through a rainforest to discover a glacier in New Zealand (photos).

It brought me to my wife (that was one hell of an adventure).

And it’s why I love speaking with other runners about the topic – like Travis Macy in episode 8.

Simon Donato on Professional Adventuring

Simon joins us today on the podcast to share the insights he’s gleaned as television host, author of The Boundless Life, and ultra-endurance athlete.

You can listen to the show on iTunes (for iPhone owners) or Stitcher (for Android users).

Show Resources & Links:

This episode is an excerpt from an interview included in Team Strength Running – affordable coaching with teammates, proven training, me as your coach, and team perks like discounts and other bonuses.

If you’d like to learn more about the team, sign up here (we’re opening soon!).

A big thanks to Simon for joining me and talking shop about this great sport we all call our own.

Stay adventurous!

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How to choose your next goal after a marathon

Running a marathon is a thrill – no matter if you set a Personal Best or crawl home to the finish line.

marathon

Either way, running 26.2 miles is an achievement that most people will never accomplish. It takes guts, perseverance, and a fitness level that sets marathoners apart from mere mortals.

Despite the enormous achievement, many runners feel lost after the race.

And I don’t blame them (I certainly languished after I ran my 2:39:32 PR at the Philadelphia Marathon). After dedicating about six months to training, what do you do after you’re finally done with the marathon?

Do you try for another marathon?

Do you focus on an entirely different type of race?

Or perhaps take the rest of the year off and enjoy a life of leisure and potato chips?

While many runners dream of not running, we know that it’s not in our DNA. Like one of my athletes told me recently:

It’s a slippery slope! We love running – but at the same time, we curse it.

So how do we balance our need to run with the need for time off? How do we stay excited for running?

Q&A with Coach: What to Focus on After a Marathon

In my mind, there are only three big areas that you can focus on after you race a marathon.

I dive into each one in the latest episode of Q&A with Coach. But I also go over optimal marathon recovery so don’t miss it:

Topics Discussed and Resources:

The most important aspect of post-marathon running is to have a plan… even when that plan is to have no plan!

Take about a week off, enjoy a week or two of easy running, and then start training again for your next goal.

If you need help, we have a Season Planner Worksheet that helps you answer a lot of tough questions:

  • How many tune-up races should you run before your main goal?
  • What distance should those tune-ups be? How close to the goal race?
  • How long should your entire season be?
  • What are the 3 phases of training that should be present in your season?

You can download the free worksheet here.

Best of luck to all those racing Boston today!

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Marathon Pacing: 6 Lessons Learned from a PR Near Miss

There’s no better feeling than crossing the finish line with a new Personal Record. Missing that PR might make all that training feel like a waste, but it doesn’t have to!

Failure

Note from Jason: This post is written by Christine Sandvik, one of my former athletes who has written for SR in the past on morning running and running beyond the marathon.

I had just passed the Mile 26 sign when I finally allowed myself to check my Garmin. After sticking with the 3:30 pace group for the first half of the race, I had steadily pushed about a minute or so ahead of them over the next 13 miles.  

The end was tantalizingly close.  After a training cycle filled with highs and lows, a new PR was finally well within my reach.

Or so I thought.

I ran my marathon PR of 3:29:42 at the Boston Marathon in 2013. Even though I had run several strong marathons since then, I had been unable to better that time.  But I had pushed through sickness and training challenges, and I was convinced that today was the day.  

With less than 0.2 miles to go, I looked down and saw my Garmin hit 3:29.

What?  How was that possible?  I hoped my glycogen-deprived brain might just be misunderstanding what I saw, but that wasn’t the case.  Even if I conjured up a sub-6 minute pace to the finish, I wasn’t getting under 3:30 today.  

What had gone wrong with my marathon pacing?

I hit the finish line in 3:30:08, proud of my strong, consistent effort, but overwhelmingly disappointed by such a near miss.  Once I got over the initial disappointment, I took a strategic look back at how I could have eliminated those frustrating 26 seconds.

Marathon runners know just how many variables go into producing a strong race and the ever-elusive PR.  Training is just one of those variables.  

Race day produces its own set of challenges, and nailing your goal marathon pace while trying to focus on nutrition, weather, crowds and unexpected issues like bathroom breaks can be overwhelming.

Learning how to manage your marathon pace is a skill that you can hone with time and experience.  But I’m hoping you can take advantage of my mistakes (along with what I did right!) to shorten your learning curve and earn that PR.

Lesson 1: Let workouts dictate your marathon pace range

Training for a marathon is a lengthy process, full of ups and downs.  You will probably never experience the “perfect” training cycle, where you run every workout as scheduled and hit your target paces every time.  Life usually conspires to get in the way.

My training leading up to the Miami Marathon on January 29th was no different.  I had nearly 3 months of “perfect” training before things got challenging.  I was hitting all my scheduled mileage, nailing workouts, and my marathon pace runs were suggesting that my race pace might be faster than I originally thought.

But then the holidays came: life got overwhelmingly busy and I got sick.  I took a cutback week, and then was forced to take another when I just couldn’t shake a nasty cold.  

My final long run, a 22 miler with half the miles at goal race pace, started out ok and quickly turned into a disaster.  I walked.  I cried.  And self-doubt rapidly set in.  I know better than to beat myself up over one crappy workout, but knowing what you should do and actually doing it are two very different things.

I tried to put the long run behind me and less than a week later ran a strong medium long run with marathon pace miles.  It gave me a bit more confidence, but I still wasn’t sure about my current fitness.

Given the ups and downs in my training, and knowing that Miami had the potential to be hot on race day, I had to plan my race pace accordingly.  Just like having “A”, “B” and “C” race goals is an ideal way to go into any important race, knowing the pace range that will get you to those goals is also a necessity.  

On a perfect day, I was hoping to get close to 3:25, around 7:50/mile pace.  Given that my last month of training hadn’t been too spectacular, I was just hoping to get close to 3:30 (8:00/mile pace) and earn a PR if the conditions allowed.

When planning your goal race pace, be honest with yourself in evaluating where you are at and what you hope to accomplish.  Look at your long runs and marathon pace miles and be realistic with what you can handle.  Think about the course profile (flat or hilly) and the potential weather conditions.

On the other hand, don’t sell yourself short! I may have let my missed mileage and final long run get into my head more than they should have.  My body was ready to be pushed on race day, and I had a little too much left in the tank when I crossed the finish line.  

Although it’s tough to remember in the moment, one bad long run or missed week of hard training will not ruin an entire training cycle.  Challenging stretch goals, along with a little faith in yourself, are the best way to continue to grow and improve as a runner.

Lesson 2: It’s all about restraint

If you want to run a marathon PR, negative splits are the most efficient way to get you there.  And that means running with restraint in the early miles of your race.  

As much as we hear this advice, we’re often terrible at its execution.  The excitement of race day is hard to resist (Jason’s 2014 Boston Marathon is a great example of this!).

But be strong. Hold back.  You will ALWAYS pay for it in the later miles if you don’t.  With over 26 miles ahead of you, you’ll have plenty of time to ease into your appropriate pace.

Running with restraint is one of the things I did well in Miami. Maybe too well.  My splits show that I was gradually dialing down my pace as the race progressed.  But in retrospect, I may have held myself back too much given my goal.

MIAMI RACE SPLITS:

When you run with restraint, you walk a very fine line between holding back too much and not enough.  On a flat course like Miami, you want to run about 5-10 seconds slower than goal race pace for the first 1-3 miles, then run your target pace through mile 20, and then push yourself over the final 10k. I was probably too cautious in the first half of the marathon and didn’t push hard enough to make up that time in the second half.  

On a rolling or hilly course, pace becomes secondary to effort.  The goal is to keep your effort level roughly the same through the first 20 miles, even though your pace will vary with the terrain.  

On a course like Boston with lots of downhill sections early in the race, restraint is especially important or you’ll pay for your mistake in the final miles!

Lesson 3: Making up time: bathroom breaks and other unexpected issues

No matter how well you plan your pre-race hydration, fueling, and bathroom visits, occasionally you will need to make an unexpected stop on course.  Looking back, I should have trusted my instincts and made one last bathroom stop prior to lining up at the start.  I was worried about getting to my corral on time, and tried to convince myself I’d be fine.

I held out until mile 4, then was forced to dart in the port-o-pot as quickly as I could.  Understandably, that mile was my slowest at 8:24.  I knew I shouldn’t push too hard, too quickly to catch up, but I was feeling a little panicked about the unexpected stop.  As a result, my next mile split was 7:28, significantly faster than I intended.

I was lucky.  Throwing in a mile that was closer to tempo pace didn’t cause me to blow up (and looking back, the ease of that mile might have been a sign I could have been pushing a little harder).  But what I did was risky.  Don’t try to make up the time all at once.

A better approach would have been to make up the time gradually over several miles.  Because I was still following the pace group at that point, my goal was to get them back in sight.  But I didn’t need to rush and push the pace quite so hard.

If you need to make an unexpected stop on course, try not to panic.  As long as you feel up to it, pick the pace up ever so slightly (no more than 5-10 seconds per mile, max) and before you know it you’ll be back on track.

Lesson 4: The mental side of pacing: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Mental tenacity is an essential component of distance racing.  The more resilient you can make yourself through both physical and mental training prior to race day, the more you will benefit.

When you’re racing longer distances such as the marathon, your mind can go from blissfully happy to utterly panicked in a heartbeat.  Even when you’re feeling good physically, moments of doubt may begin to run through your head.  Knowing when to pay attention and when to quiet the chatter can make all the difference.

Maintaining an even pace and hitting negative splits late in a race is as much about mental focus as it is about physical training.  You have to plan ahead for the rough patches so that you know how to deal with negative emotions and sensations as they arise.

For some, it helps to broaden your focus.  Look at your surroundings or rock out to some motivating music to keep moving forward.  For others, it may help to narrow your focus.  Clear your head by focusing on a specific physical technique, such as your cadence, arm swing, or your breathing.

I used both techniques in Miami.  When the course turned into a headwind or the rain got heavy, I turned inward and focused on a steady, aerobic effort.  When the opportunity allowed, I tried to appreciate the surroundings.  And near the end, I turned to music to carry me through.  

I had plenty of moments of self-doubt, but I was able to let them go by focusing on one mile at a time and tackling teach one in a specific, actionable way.

Even though we are physically trying to maintain a certain minute per mile pace throughout the marathon, it’s our brain that will help us stay consistent.  So remember the following:

  • Rough patches will (usually) pass.
  • You can hold your pace longer than you think.
  • Pay attention to specific physical sensations and address them if necessary.
  • Distract yourself if it helps.
  • Turn inward and increase focus when needed.
  • Take each mile as it comes and don’t get ahead of yourself.

Lesson 5: Pace groups – yes or no?

The Miami Marathon was only the second time I decided to follow a pace group, with the goal of earning a new sub-3:30 PR.  Pace groups can be a useful tool, and most pacers work diligently to get you across the line in the designated time.  But there are definitely pros and cons to sticking with a group while racing.

I decided to start with a pace group in the first half of the race to relieve the mental burden of maintaining an appropriate pace.  It allowed me to settle in and follow the leader.  But in an effort to stick with the group, I pushed too hard to catch up after my pit stop, and then could have pushed ahead of the group from miles 7-13.

Because I chose to put complete faith in the pace group leaders for 13 miles, I never looked at my Garmin.  I lost awareness of my own sense of pacing for the race, which hurt me in the later miles. In the end, the pace group ran slower than anticipated and even though I was slightly ahead of them, I still fell short of my goal.  

Remember: pace groups leaders are not infallible.  The choice to follow them is a personal one, but my caveat is always to stay aware of your own pacing and respect the need to slow down or speed up in various parts of the race.  

Let the camaraderie and group effort carry you where it can, but trust your intuition and run your own race.

Lesson 6: Use your watch or GPS strategically

Marathon Pacing 101

This was my biggest mistake on race day.

I tend to race by feel and avoid looking at my Garmin.  Learning to run by feel is an essential skill you should practice often.  When you are trying to run a certain goal pace for a race, it’s critical to spend a lot of time at that pace in your training.  You need to learn how that pace feels and what it takes to maintain it.

Being overly reliant on your GPS device can be detrimental.  Why?

  1. GPS devices can be unreliable in remote locations or in the middle of cities with lots of tall buildings that interfere with reception.
  2. Focusing on pace on a hilly course will prevent you from running by effort, forcing you to work either too hard or not hard enough.
  3. If a race isn’t going as well as you hoped, staring at your pace can be demoralizing.  Watching the miles go by increasingly slowly can get into your head and ruin your race.

But watches and GPS devices DO have their place!  They can help prevent you from going out too fast in the early miles, and remind you when it’s time to push yourself late in the race.  

Had I paid attention to my time with 10k to go instead of several hundred yards, I could have easily shaved 30 seconds off my time.  Needless to say, I won’t make that mistake again.  Run by feel as much as possible but use technology when you need it!

Even for experienced runners, effective marathon pacing is a challenging skill that can require you to be a Zen master one moment and a drill sergeant the next.

I hope the lessons I’ve learned can help you pace yourself to a new PR in your next race!

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