The Anatomy of a Training Plan: Half Marathon Peak Week

Anatomy of a Training Week_ Half Marathon Peak Week

There is a difference between theory and practice. You can know the training principles as abstract concepts, but putting them into practice in a training plan can be a completely different story. You can read all the articles on Runner’s World but unless you know how to translate the theory into practice, you may end up with a hodgepodge of different elements rather than a training plan progressing toward a particular goal.

I thought it would be a fun exercise to examine the anatomy of a training week from a coaching perspective – why certain workouts are done at certain times. This is the anatomy of a half marathon peak week, for a runner averaging ~40-45 miles per week.

This particular training week comes from my own training log, from the plan I wrote leading up to running a 1:34 half marathon (3 minute PR) in May. This week marked my peak week of half marathon training, the final week before the taper. I want to delve into the theory behind this plan to show why it worked.

Anatomy of a Training Plan: Half Marathon Peak Week

Peak week will look different for every runner. Injury history, training background, current fitness, goals, the race course, and several other factors affect how a peak week takes shape. 

As a bit of background: I consistently ran ~30-35 miles during the off-season and ran about 40-45 miles for most weeks of half marathon specific training.

  • Monday: 6 mile easy run (9:01/mile average)
  • Tuesday: 5 x 1 mile at 10K pace (9 miles total): 6:53, 6:55, 6:59, 6:54, 6:57
  • Wednesday: 7 mile easy run (9:11/mile average) + Pilates
  • Thursday: Complete rest
  • Friday: 4 x 2 miles at goal half marathon pace (7:15/mile avg) (13 miles total, 7:48/mile avg)
  • Saturday: 6 mile easy run (9:27/mile avg)
  • Sunday: Strength training: kettlebell, upper body, mini-band

Let’s examine the anatomy of this training week, including the purpose of each workout. 

The Anatomy of a Half Marathon Peak Week

Easy Days

Easy runs may be boring, but they are vital to any smart training plan. These runs build an aerobic foundation for harder workouts and boost your endurance. This post delves into the details of what constitutes an easy run and how to include them in your training. 

Even during a peak week, a majority of the mileage is at an easy effort. Easy miles account for roughly 70% of the weekly mileage (this includes warm-ups, cool downs, and recovery jogs between hard intervals in addition to easy runs). During most weeks of training, I estimate my ratio of easy miles to hard miles at approximately 80% easy, 20% hard.

Hard Days

This week included two hard workouts: mile repeats at 10K pace and 2-mile repeats built into a long run. Many plans traditionally include two hard workouts – speed work and a tempo run – plus a long slow distance long run. When I write training plans, I like to vary it from this conventional routine to fit the specific goals of the runner and the race. This variation of two hard days per week allows for more recovery during a peak week and for a long run workout, which is more specific for the demands of the half marathon.

Typically, most training plans have two hard days per week for recreational (non-elite) runners. This can range from one faster run plus an easy-paced long run to one hard workout and one hard long run to two hard workouts plus a long run – based on your experience, available time, injury risk, goals, and other factors.

The two hard workouts are separated by easy days and rest: an easy day and a complete rest day following the mile repeats and two easy days following the long run. The easy days allow recovery and adaptation between the two hard workouts.

High(er) Mileage

Some training plans favor high-mileage over intensity, pushing the limits of endurance by focusing on a large quantity of easy-paced miles. Approaches such as these include the Maffetone Method, the Lydiard Method, and the like. On the other end of the spectrum, some plans feature low-mileage at a high intensity, such as the Run Less, Run Faster approach.

Most runners, myself included, benefit from striking a balance between quantity and quality.  Especially for the half marathon and longer, I prefer a middle-ground approach. The half marathon requires a high level of endurance that comes from a combination of overall weekly mileage and a weekly long run of 10+ miles. If you have a goal beyond just finishing, hard workouts at goal pace and faster will develop the speed and stamina necessary to run faster across the distance.

Appropriate Training Paces

Hard workouts should not be raced. 5 x 1 mile at 10K pace could turn into a near race-effort if the intervals were run any faster than prescribed – and that in turn would have hindered my ability to be in peak race fitness at my upcoming half marathon.

10K pace is approximately 20 seconds per mile faster than current half marathon pace. As training progressed, my half marathon pace workouts were indicating a range of 7:15-7:19/mile for my race pace, so I based my peak 10K workouts off of this and aimed for 6:55-6:59/mile.

Read this post to learn more about how to calculate your training paces.

Anatomy of a Training Plan: Half Marathon Peak Week

Specificity

Why no 800m repeats at 3K pace or marathon pace miles this close to the half marathon? I utilized 5K-pace workouts earlier in training, but the closer I get to a race, the more specific the workouts become to the unique demands of the distance. For the half marathon, this means specific workouts will train endurance and fatigue resistance while also lengthening how long you can hold a pace near your lactate threshold.

Specific workouts also build the body’s ability to resist fatigue at race pace. They require a strong base of fitness and should only be done in the 4-6 weeks before a goal race. You cannot always be in shape for peak performance, or else it never really is peak performance.

Half marathon specific workouts often entail running at race pace or slightly faster (10K pace). This particular training week features both 10K pace and goal half marathon pace workouts. Since my mileage is higher and I had done long runs for several weeks leading up, a long run itself wasn’t specific enough to my goal. Instead, adding in faster miles made it specific to my goal of running a half marathon PR.

Furthermore, these particular workouts are peak-level specific workouts. You would not run 4 x 2 miles at race pace early on in a half marathon training cycle. I started with shorter efforts, such as 3 miles at goal pace, 2 x 2 miles at goal pace. As the race approached, I increased the duration of goal pace workouts.

Strength Training

I do not consider strength training to be an optional type of cross-training; it’s a non-negotiable aspect of becoming faster. Cross-training is an aerobic workout that replaces a run by applying a similar physiological stimulus. Strength training supports running by applying a different physiological stimulus. This post explains the benefits of strength training more in-depth.

Typically, I lift weights twice per week and try to do so on my hard workout days. This particular week was slightly different, due to the nature of a peak week. I only lifted one and did an intermediate Pilates workout. My focus was more on maintaining strength at this point in training.

Rest and Recovery

To quote Brad Hudson, “There is a difference between doing a workout and absorbing the workout.” Rest days are essential to allow your body to fully recover and adapt to the training load. Otherwise, you are just piling on stress upon stress. Lack of rest means you never allow your body to adapt to the workouts and become faster. One complete rest day allows the body to absorb workouts without hindering the other aspects (mileage, workouts) of the training plan.

In addition to a rest day, I was sleeping 7-8 hours per night during this week. I also cut back on my alcohol consumption, ate enough nutrient-rich foods, and foam rolled a couple times within the week.

How Would I Progress this Week for the Next Training Cycle?

I really enjoyed the two hard workouts and will probably repeat them for the peak week of my fall half marathon. I do think that training plans should progress as you grow as a runner, meaning that repeating the exact same plan doesn’t work.

To progress this plan, I would add in a few more easy miles – such as increasing the 6 mile runs to 7 miles and/or adding an extra mile to either of the hard workouts – to further improve endurance and fatigue resistance. The training paces would also change to reflect improved fitness and faster race goals.

Interested in coaching and having someone take the guesswork out of your plan? You can learn more about my coaching services and contact me here.

How do you structure a typical training week?
What questions do you have about how to build a training week?

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3 Responses

  1. I have switched to doing my strength training on hard effort days this training cycle — but it’s hard! I used to do them mostly on easy days. I get the reasoning behind it, but It’s oh-so-tempting to skip it. Like today!

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