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Progressive Training: The Smart Way to Run

by Karl Gruber
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Considering the world we live in today, it’s not hard to understand why many runners, especially new ones, want to see results immediately. We live in a world where instant gratification is a daily reality, and many runners attempt to apply this formula to their running. When I coach a runner who is getting ready for their first half-marathon and show them a 12-week training program, they’re seemingly okay with it. But when I tell them my half-marathon training program is really 16 weeks long, their response is usually, “What!?” 
 
I throw in an extra four weeks because many newer runners are really gung ho about running their first 13.1 mile race, but do so without building an adequate training base. Although these runners may not necessarily like the fact that I added an entire month to their training program, come race day, they are usually pretty happy with their results. By including an extra four weeks of training, the runner has whole month to establish a nice aerobic and fitness base before the real training starts. 
 
As I have mentioned in previous writings, many who set a goal of running their first half-marathon think they can bulldog their way to the finish line based on the fact they used to be an athlete and still have that competitive drive. This may the case for a few, but for every runner that manages to struggle to the finish of their half-marathon, there is another runner with the same mindset that didn’t give it their all during training, dropped out of the half-marathon or performed far below their expected finish time.
 
This idea of establishing a sound fitness, aerobic and cardiovascular base before taking on a half or full marathon came from my own experience as a long distance runner. I consistently ran 25 to 35 miles for over two years before I finally signed up for my first full marathon. By that time, I knew I was ready to take on the challenge of increasing my weekly training mileage and running a 26.2 mile race.
 
This blog post, however, is primarily for the runner who desires to complete a half-marathon, since jumping up to a full marathon right away is a more daunting challenge. While 13.1 miles still is a long distance to run, it still seems more doable – that is until you realize just what kind of demand a longer distance run puts on your body. If anything, it gives you a new respect for just how hard running is, especially when running longer and longer distances.
 
All this being said, it should be obvious by now that a long, slow and progressive build up in your training mileage is the smart way to go for both half and full marathon distances. You’ll notice this is exactly what I recommend in my 16 week half-marathon training program.
 
WEEK 1 WEEK 2 WEEK 3 WEEK 4
Mon – Off
Tues – 2 miles
Wed – 3 miles
Thurs – 2 miles
Fri – Rest or XT 
Sat – 30 mins XT 
Sun – 3 miles
Mon – Off 
Tues – 2 miles
Wed – 3 miles
Thurs – 3 miles
Fri – Off or XT 
Sat – 30 mins XT
Sun. – 4 miles
Mon – Off
Tues – 3 miles
Wed – 3 miles
Thurs – 3 miles
Fri – Off or XT
Sat – 40 mins XT
Sun. 4 miles
Mon – Off
Tues – 3 miles
Wed – 3 miles
Thurs – 2 miles
Fri – Off or XT
Sat – 40 mins XT
Sun – 5 miles
TOTAL – 10 MILES TOTAL – 12 MILES TOTAL – 13 MILES TOTAL – 13 MILES
 
XT – Cross-training such as weights, swimming, yoga, etc.
 
This is the first four weeks of the base-building training, which is geared towards beginner and intermediate runners. You would run four days a week with Mondays as a recovery day from a longer run on Sunday, while Fridays are an optional day off or to cross-train (XT). Once a runner achieves this base, their distance and time continues to increase week after week until week 15 when they start their taper to be well-rested but in peak fitness for their half-marathon race.
 
One thing I emphasize to all runners I come in contact with is that no training program is set in stone because we all have different schedules to deal with. I think it is very important when you have a scheduled day of running, but your body and mind are just screaming for a rest day, then do so – take the day off. It is more important to do a quality run or workout than to go run some junk miles that may just tear you down even more. 
 
It is good to have a training program that resonates with you and allows you to progressively build up your body and running abilities over a fairly long period of time. Come race day, when you turn the last corner of your race and see the finish line, you’ll be ready to put the hammer down and go get your much deserved finisher’s medal!

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