Can I believe my training plan?
March 3, 2011 6:47 AM   Subscribe

Can you help me understand how the training plan I am following for an upcoming half marathon will translate to my performance on race day?

To be clear from the outset, this is my first half marathon. I've run two 15k's and am really a recreational runner just discovering that I dig longer distances. I am not running this to race per se nor to beat a PR. I am somewhere between "I just want to finish!" and "I am seriously training for a fast run with a great finishing time."

I am following a training plan from's Smart Coach (sorry, I think you need to log-in to even see the feature), in which you input a recent race time (I used my 15k time) and it provides you with a training plan and predicts the pace at which you will run the race itself. I am also kind of triangulating with Hal Higdon's plans to make sure that I am more or less on a sound, trusted track.

So, I'm following what I believe is a more or less conventional training plan, which is that I am doing per week: 2 low mileage runs at a comfortable pace, one tempo run or speedwork, and one long run, also at an easy pace. (To be clear, all of this is tailored to my personal training level and recent run times, so when I say "easy pace" and "low mileage," I mean for me specifically.)

What I don't understand, or maybe believe, is that after doing most of my mileage at an easy pace (save for my weekly speedwork or tempo runs) is this: when I get out there on raceday, I will be running significantly faster, which is what the SmartCoach predicts, with an average pace that is 1.5 minutes faster per mile than my training runs.

Can anyone tell me how this is possible and/or share relevant experiences that speak to this? I can't believe that after getting used to running 9, 10, 11, 12 miles at a particular pace, I will be able to do 13 miles at a more demanding pace.

Thank you in advance!
posted by Rudy Gerner to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If it's your first half, you have an automatic PR. :)

SmartCoach is OK for me, most of the time. I ignore their paces, and focus on the mileage, when I follow a SmartCoach plan.

They are absolutely right that you'll be (probably) about 60-90 seconds faster on race day than your training runs, if you're training correctly. It does depend on doing all the workouts, how many miles you put in, etc. But, for example, I train long runs at about a 10:40 pace, and my 5k pace is about 8:50. (My goal HM pace is 10:00 even, which I'm hoping will work out for me at my next Half in a few weeks).

It's called race day magic. Call it adrenaline, smart training, whatever, there's something about race day that allows you to use the many hours of training to your advantage, and you RACE, rather than run.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:55 AM on March 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I'd echo that. I have no idea how race magic works, but if I put in the work, I often find myself at the finish line faster and further than I've been before.
posted by advicepig at 7:12 AM on March 3, 2011

Best answer: The speed work makes sure your body doesn't forget how to run at race pace. The rest of it builds up your ability to run for a long time. The race is a one-time thing (within the local temporal framework) in which bringing together "running long" and "running fast" makes for a good race.

You'll be beat the day after the race. If you trained at race pace and length, you'd be beat *every* day-after-run. That would suck, and you'd have to take a couple days to recover. Every time you trained. That's not effective, therefore, you train speed and train distance separately.

I can run 8-minute miles for about three miles on a regular day. If I want to run longer, I go for about a 9:15 pace. On my first half, I did 8:35s, and I wasn't even tired (I was holding back to keep pace for my pregnant-but-didn't-figure-it-out-til-next-week sister).
posted by notsnot at 7:20 AM on March 3, 2011

Tempo or speedwork builds speed. By not going all-out the entire run, you're actually able to maintain a faster, more even pace on average.

Low mileage runs build and maintain general aerobic capacity without overly taxing your body, as well as accommodating your body (tendons, joints, etc) to the stresses of running.

The high mileage run pushes your aerobic capacity and endurance.

The program is likely periodized and trying to strike the balance between putting enough stresses on your body that you improve in speed and endurance while still recovering enough. The reason you don't go all-out, as long as you can is mostly due to the problems with recovery--your body can't adjust to that kind of stress quick enough and you can overtrain, get injured, or simply be too worn out to perform your best on race day. Not to mention it is often more effective to train separate systems (speed, endurance, etc) separately.
posted by schroedinger at 7:28 AM on March 3, 2011

I just have to chime in with a counter anecdote here. I did my first half mara off the back of a Higdon plan last year, and I had heard all about race day magic.

But for me, there was virtually none. Maybe two minutes over the whole half mara.

The caveat is this is just for me - I'm certainly not claiming this is the case for everyone. And also that I am super disciplined when it comes to my pacing etc. I feel like I know my body well, listen to what it's telling me, and run to capacity.

Also, the course was more up and down than my usual training runs, it was often off-road and in parts almost well-trodden trail running, and I could probably take my foot off the pedal in training a little more. Also, I had no nerves/adrenalin to speak of on the day.

But yeah, for me, the pace I run - maybe not on my long runs but on my "pace" or tempo runs - 12km an hour (aka 1km per five minutes) was what I was running on the day give or take about ten seconds a km.

Make of that what you will, but magic doesn't exist for everybody.
posted by smoke at 2:16 PM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, gang. This is helpful. I'll see what happens on race day and report back!
posted by Rudy Gerner at 5:38 AM on March 4, 2011

Response by poster: In case anyone checks back, the answer to my questions is: "Mostly, yes." My pace was pretty close to what my training plan promised--just a bit slower and I think that had a lot to do with my own holding back too much early on.

Thanks, everyone!
posted by Rudy Gerner at 5:58 PM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

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