probably a bad idea, racing, running, training

Long-distance running relationship

One of my former co-editors at the magazine moved to San Diego about a year and a half ago. In Dallas, we ran together a time or two and she came out and cheered me at the White Rock Marathon, but when she moved to Cali, go figure, she got a little more serious and turned to me for advice — don’t fault her for this. She’s actually a very smart girl. She just didn’t know any better.

Last night, I was reading over our correspondences, which capture the oft-ridiculous conversations that occur among runners, but in the form of Facebook messages.

I decided to pull some of the highlights because they are entertaining, occasionally informative and also because readers can let us know if I’ve given her any terrible advice.

Part one: what is hill work? (And don’t you wish you hadn’t asked)

1.19 2010 Marlena:

So…one of girlfriends asked me to run a half-marathon with her … but I’m feeling totally bummed about how much my run times have been sucking lately, so I’m feeling discouraged. I fell out of my routine over the holidays and I can really feel how much speed I lost over those couple of months. But she has run this half-marathon twice and she said it’s one of the prettiest courses ever because the whole thing goes along the cliffs overlooking the Pacific. It sounds fun, but I have to whip my ass into shape before I’ll even entertain the idea of running it.

Do you have any tips for building speed?

I remember you saying that every week, I should do about two tempo runs, one long distance run, and some hill work (see, I really WAS listening). But I have a few questions: 1. Should my tempo runs include hills, or avoid them?

 2. What is “hill work”?

 3. I’m training for a half-marathon, so how long should my long runs be?

 4. My boss (who has run several marathons) said cross-training has really helped her improve run times. She also does swimming, yoga and strength-training. What are your thoughts on that? And are there any other complimentary exercises that are good for runners?

 5. I have never done an organized race. Do you think I should try out a race before my half-marathon? Any input/tips/guidance would be much appreciated. Sincerely, your bummed runner friend : (


1st of all—yey! Soo excited. What’s the date of the half? Does the course have hills? If you’ve been running distances, your base is there. The best thing to do for speed is speed intervals and progression runs or tempo runs and then of course you want to do slower long run once a week.

For a half I would start at about an 8-mile long run and build up to 14-15 miles.

If the course has hills, I’d do a few hill workouts, if not, you can work some good hills into your long runs and be OK. You need 2-3 tough days and the rest cross training or VERY easy running. The recovery days are AS IMPORTANT as the hard days. Do not make the mistake of ignoring rest!

My cross training now is straight Bikram yoga. I think it has not only helped my recent injuries, but I also see it having a great affect on my running already after only a month of going 3 x a week. (I ran my fastest 10k ever during a training run the other night!) I would enter a 10k a few weeks or a month before the big race, to test your race pace and get a feel for the race environment.


Sweet! I’m glad to hear that I’m on the right path!! Whoot-whoot!

OK, so the race is April 17. I have three months to get ready!! Right now my long runs are 10 to 14 miles. Should I drop down my distance, or keep it there?

Also, I’d like to do the half in under 2 hours. That’s respectable, right? I don’t want to set the bar too high because I don’t want my first big race to be a heart-crushing disappointment…so I was thinking anything under two hours would be OK? Or is that unrealistic?

I get what you’re saying about the speed intervals (my boss tells me these are called “fartleks” in the running world), and progression runs. I’m pumped to try both because right now, but tempo run method has been “run-so-fast-you-want-to-blow-chunks.”

So….I dunno…I’m thinking I might do this damn thing…and I’m kinda giddy and paralyzed with fear all at once.

P.S. I forgot to tell you that yes, the course has hills. I know there’s at least one brutal hill, but seriously, I run some pretty damn big hills several times a week right now. I could probably use some more “hill work” though???  Here’s a link, in case you wanna check out the race!!


2 hours is a good goal for a hilly course like this—totally realistic. Since you are so familiar with the course you will be able to reassess your goal time as you get further in training.

Here is the most basic form of training schedule my friend who just ran a 3:15 marathon gave me (she improved from a 3:30 to a 3:15 in a matter of months and when you are already that fast, taking off 15 minutes is a huge accomplishment) … marathon and half-marathon training are similar, only you won’t be doing any 18+ mile long runs.

Tues. Intervals/speed

Thursday. Progression run or hills (alternate weeks)

Saturday Long run with hills 10-15 miles

Intervals: The key is hitting a certain speed and increasing the amount of time, week by week, that you are able to hold it. Start with running 800 meters (.5 mile). This is a great calculator that tells you how fast your repeats should be relative to your goal. Plug in goal time: 2:00:00, distance ½ marathon and then it will show you, for example, that your 800 meters should be run in 3:22.7, which is a 6:45-ish pace. These should get you pretty tired. You follow each interval with a sloooow jog for about 2-3 minutes (recovery), then you do another. Start with 4 ½-mile intervals. Add one interval to the workout each week. You can also change this up by doing mile repeats or 1000 meter repeats — use the calculator to figure out how fast those should be run. (For the half marathon, I think 800 meters are the best interval distance, plus they are easy to measure.)

Progression run: warm up for a mile slowly. Run 2 miles at a 9 min pace, 2 miles at an 8:30 min pace and 2 miles at under an 8-min pace. As long as you are getting a little faster with each set of 2, you are doing the workout correctly—pace should feel tough by the end. End with a 1-mile cool down for a total workout of 8 miles. This is probably your toughest workout of the week. Add miles or go faster as you get comfortable. You just don’t ever want this workout to feel easy. Do it every-other week.

On the opposite weeks, do a hill workout: find a half-mile long hill. Charge up it (hard and fast –that’s what she said!-) run back down easily. Repeat. Start with four and add one hill each time you do the workout. I got up to 8-10 repeats — no need to ever do more than that. (oh and do a half-mile warm up/half-mile cool down w/ hills)

Long runs: run easy (I don’t even time long runs sometimes) starting at about ten miles and adding a mile every week. Every 3 weeks or so, back off and run 8-10 miles. By the end, your long run should get up to 14 miles or so.

On the off days either jog about 3-4 miles really slow, or do cross training like power yoga, cycling or swimming. Take at least one total rest day per week.

Note: this is a somewhat advanced training plan. Most people running their 1st half will just build miles — 3-5 miles twice a week and a long easy run on weekends. Beginners don’t usually do speed work and all that, but I don’t consider you a beginner!

I think running the actual course during training will be the biggest advantage you’ll have. You won’t have surprises on the course, which will be to your great advantage. Use it as often as possible.

Guess what — this half is the day before Boston Marathon! Oh that reminds me. Go register right now. Once you are in, you’ll have to stop worrying and get to work!!!

See: McMillian Running Calculator.


subject: quick question

I’m going to do speed work today. I’m going to do the 800 meters, like you suggested because that’s easy to keep track of. I know I’m supposed to do a total of 4.5 miles. Just making sure: that distance does NOT include my little recovery jogging in between, right?

Also, how is your training for Boston coming? I’m so pumped for you!


OK, your speed portion of the workout is 4×800, which is 2 miles. you’ll do a mile warm up and a mile cool down and 2-ish minutes of recoveries after the first, second and third 800s, so altogether it might be slightly more than 4.5, but not by much. Does that make sense? Next time you will add 1-2 800s to the workout until you are up to about 8.

See this link for the history of the 800 as it relates to marathon: Yassos, cause you’re on the road to becoming a running nerd 


Sweet! I thought I had to start with 4.5 miles of hardcore fast running, so I fully prepared to barf…I’d scoped out a bush by the track and everything.

Thanks for the link, I’m well on my way to becoming obsessed.
Also…when I do my slow long runs, what kind of pace should I go for? Right now, I am feeling challenged but not at my max. Should I slow it down? (this weekend I ran 10 miles at 1:27, which was not a piece of cake, but again, not to the point I wanted to just throw it on the ground. Is this an OK pace…faster? slower? keep it there?)


No barfing early on. You have a long way to go. Your long slow runs should be about a minute to a minute and a half slower than your planned race pace. So if you hope to run an 8:30 pace, run your long run at about 9:30. Long runs, especially the 1st few miles will feel ridiculously easy. That’s how it is supposed to be. The purpose is getting the time on your feet and working at an anaerobic level. Occasionally you might throw in a mile at the end of race pace, but you never want to push the pace too much on your long run. It will be a different kind of tired that you feel in your body later, but you should never be huffing and puffing during long run! You are building endurance.


oh wow, that blows my mind! I’m so glad I asked you about that!

OK, OK — there’s lots more: like when I give Marlena the wrong paces for her 800s and nearly kill her. One of our biggest challenges is that we are both writers, read: very bad at math. Plus, I’ll tell you the results of her half marathon (hint: she does way better than the original goal of 2 hours) in part 2. Coming soon after I edit out the profanity and gossip.


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