How I used to train for a half marathon – and how I do it now

I ran my first half marathon in 1995 and my second one in 1996. I then took a long break and am just about to run my 10th.

Back in the 90s, when I was in my early 20s, training was very different. I had the natural fitness of a young person. I didn’t have to worry about injury or my digestion. Training was a lot easier, but it seems a bit crazy looking back on it.

At the time, I was running most days, but probably only about two miles a day. My husband (then boyfriend) and I signed up for the half marathon two months before the day and started running five miles. Closer to the big day, we ran eight. In 1995, we didn’t even go bother to run further than eight miles and completed the half marathon in exactly two hours.

In 1996, we made more of an effort and trained up to 12 miles, completing the half marathon in 1 hour 57 minutes (my PB in 2014 is 1 hour 51 minutes and 55 seconds).

In the 1990s, I didn’t run with a watch, a phone (obviously), music or a drink. I remember the last few weeks of training were when I was doing work experience. I ate a Kingsize Mars Bar at 4pm, washed down with Still Tango (that wasn’t on the market for long) for energy and set off running after work. I did about eight miles without a drink, but I’d sensibly left one outside my mum and dad’s front door. It was 750ml of diluted squash. I stood there and downed the lot and ran another four miles. With no discomfort whatsoever. When I trained in Nottingham, where I was living at the time, I left my large bottle of squash under my husband’s car.

Fast forward to the current decade and I have to be a lot more sensible. I struggle with my digestion, so have to be careful what I eat and when. And I have two recurring injuries on my left side – the ITB and a mysterious hip/ groin injury I’ve suffered with for about four years – which I have to be careful to avoid. The ITB forced me to pull out of the 2015 Cheltenham half marathon and I was very close to pulling out in 2016 dues to the hip/ groin injury.

I also have kids and work to juggle. When I went to work in the conventional way, I could only run on four days of the week. Building in recovery time for long runs meant I could only actually run twice a week. So every half marathon training run was a long run – eight miles on Thursday and eight miles on Sunday, building to 10 miles on both days, then 12 miles on both days.

Even when I stopped working in an office, I had the kids to consider. Until last year, I wouldn’t leave them while I went for a run, so it meant my husband had to go into work late during the school holidays. Clearly he wasn’t going to do this more than once a week, so I was still just doing two long runs a week.

Undoubtedly this may have contributed to my injuries.

So this year I adjusted my training. I looked at a proper half marathon training plan, but I wasn’t up for following that. It was recommending running six times a week for ‘advanced’ and five times a week for ‘intermediate’. It was also recommending different types of running – slow running, hill running and quick bursts interspersed with slower bursts. Clearly this is good at building strength and helping you avoid injury, but I have no idea how to do these other types of running. When I run, I just like to run.

But I’ve taken the spirit of it on board and I am running more frequently, doing shorter distances, with only one big run a week.

So I’m doing two six mile runs a week, a long run (starting with eight, then increasing to 10 and then 12), plus a Parkrun. I’m enjoying it more than when I only do long runs. The six mile runs feel very manageable and I don’t feel as drained as I used to after eight miles (I still feel pretty drained after 10). And, most importably, apart from a twinge of the ITB on my very first eight mile run, my injuries have held out.

Half marathon number 10, here I come!

Running, Half marathon, Half marathon training, How I used to train for a half marathon - and how I do it now

Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. I love how your training has changed over the years!! Just like your blog writing, your consistency and regularity impress me. I’ve really found that different types of running sessions help me. I don’t do anything fancy. My shorter runs are a lot shorter – 3 miles but I pick intervals like a couple of half mile segments when I try to increase my pace. I enjoy sprint sessions on the field with my son and running up and down a hill a few times has definitely increased my speed and endurance. The most important thing is that you enjoy yourself and I seem to need the variety to keep me interested. Best of luck! Look forward to following how you get on.

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    • Thanks very much! If I ever get round to doing a marathon, I will definitely need to take a leaf out of your book and try something different. Once I’m running, I find I don’t need anything else to distract me and I’m happy just going at my own steady pace. It works for me at the moment!

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  2. I can’t believe you ran without a drink. It is really interesting to hear how things have changed over time. Best of luck on run on your 10th Half Marathon – it is on my son’s 10th birthday too (and where he was born!)

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    • Happy 10th birthday to your son! Young people can endure so much more than people in their 40s. It wouldn’t even have occurred to me to carry a drink, but I at least had sense to leave one outside for myself. Goodness knows how I drank so much in one go without discomfort!

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  3. That is fantastic and how interesting that things have changed over time. Good luck on your 10th marathon. Hugs xx

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    • Thanks very much! The changes are definitely to do with me being older and less resilient. People in their 20s can cope with a lot more without getting injured. x

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  4. Oh that’s brilliant, I’m really glad it’s going well this time. I’ve never really trained properly for a HM, I might do that next year actually, I suddenly find I have a little more time on my hands so running is definitely on my list of things to do more of!

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    • It’s great that you’ve got a bit more time on your hands! I didn’t get back into running half marathons until my daughter was at school. There was no way I could have fitted the training in with her at home. x

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  5. Wow they recommend a heck of a lot don’t they? It sounds like you’ve really got it honed down for you now and you seem to be finding a good groove. Best of luck with it all. I will be cheering for you from here on the day!!

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    • Thanks very much! I think I’ve got it right for me, as long as I don’t suddenly get injured before the big day!

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  6. Your 10th half marathon? So impressive! I love how you and your husband (then boyfriend) started out running together and neither of you have really stopped. You must both be a real inspiration to your kids. All the best for the big day, let’s hope that IT band stops giving you jip. xx

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    • Thanks very much! So far, so good with the injuries! My husband stops and starts with the running. He went back to half marathons before me (in about 2008), but then stopped. He made a comeback in 2013, but hasn’t done one since as he’s been focused on cycling. It will be interesting to see how we both get on! x

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  7. Sarah I am in complete awe of you, you are amazing! I used to run a little but had to give up because of a back problem but even without that, I could never have run any great distance. Good luck with the half marathon, I’m sure your training routine will really help.

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