Bare Minimum vs Full Training Plans: Half Marathon

So one of the things I do is write training plans for #regularpeople. It started when I wanted to tackle my first triathlon and I went looking for a plan and I could only find the super crazy type for people that are at the elite level of training and the part time level of working. So I started looking into the science of training and wrote my own. Then I shared it with a few people who loved it and swore it helped them cross the line with confidence on race day. Anyway it evolved from there. I first created a plan for half marathons that helped me cross the line on race day with a beginner level and a slightly more advanced option included. It mimicked the training I did for my first half for beginners where I crossed the line strong. It also helped me get a 9 minute PR when I stepped it up to level two!

But I got a lot of questions asking me if all that was really necessary to get across the line. That people only wanted to do one half ever and that they were really busy. Basically what was the least you could do to train for a half and still cross the line with confidence? I might have added the confidence thing myself, because well, I want that for everyone! I wrote a plan that I consider to be the bare minimum that you can do to train for a half involving the fewest number of workouts a week and kilometers run in the fewest weeks possible. So I dug into the scientific literature of endurance athletes, injury prevention and my own sense of what was ‘enough’ and my bare minimum plan was born. Since then it’s become my most popular plan so that’s something. I’m about a month out from my half now and I’ve got some new perspectives on that bare minimum plan now that I’ve used it and crossed the line!

What I thought about it at the time

At the time I was dusting off the old ‘fuller’ half marathon plan for a planned PR which I ended up getting in a big way. But I wanted to give the people what they wanted! I thought I personally would only use it to run a race with someone else which was the case this year but then they backed out. Truthfully with lots of time to change to the longer 12 week plan but at the time this fit into my summer better. Plus I had committed to this in my mind already so I pretty much had to follow through. 

How did training go

It really is impossible to separate life from training as any athlete knows but I’m going to try. If you want lots of details down to every run well just search the site for bare minimum update and you’ll have ALL the information. Specifically in relation to this plan I had a harder time getting out the door to get my runs in. Since most weeks there was only three there always seemed like there was always lots of week left to get it done. Which turned into me squeezing lots of runs in at the end of the week. When I’ve trained in the past I’ve has 5 runs a week and it was pretty clear there was no more days in the week coming so it was time to get out there right now! I think because I WAS doing a bare minimum plan with no PR planned my training overall felt less important than it had been in the past.

I did skip a few runs toward the end of the program including pretty much a whole week at the end due primarily to a hurricane that passed through. That pretty much took the cherry off the process if you will. Throughout training since I was doing so much less I pushed myself to keep all of the training to be of higher quality. At 5 runs per week it seemed easy to say “I’ll push hard next time” while running only 3 times a week I found it easier to push hard every time. Which is to say I don’t think it is impossible to prioritize training quality over training time using this plan and get a PR I just think it’s less likely. 

Overall in the past using a more fulsome plan I felt more anchored in my training program and less like I was jumping from thing to thing. Training never happens in a vacuum though life this summer was a little like that too. Typically all summer long we are just putting our heads down and working long hours for the business from not dawn to dusk. Due to honey and the heat we usually try to dial that way back in August and book jobs that keep us out of the heat, close to home (or the water) and take some time off. This helps us avoid burnout and hit the ground running again in the fall when the weather is cooler and our customers are all back to work after vacations.

This summer was a lot different though. We did take it pretty easy in August comparatively but that was because we were planning a wedding in a month. Instead of just focusing on one thing at a time we spent more time this summer working multiple projects at a time which at least makes honey more scattered and either me by extension or just in and of itself me more scattered too. Whenever I had a free evening I was off gardening for others too. For a couple of weeks in July honey was away working on two separate trips so a lot of mental energy was spent preparing for that and filling my work schedule while he was gone. To sum it up lots of great new opportunities came up this summer but they were all a surprise at the time. That meant that I was just going with the flow and the lack of a schedule frustrated me all summer. That feeling and reality carried over into my running and combined with having relatively less of it to do kept leading to me putting it off again for another day. 

Plan comparisons side by side

Having done both plans now I can tell you even though both contain lots of running, long runs and speed work I feel like there is less overlap than I’d ever thought possible. But there were some pretty obvious similarities too. I spent some time wondering if I would feel prepared enough on race day. Actually I worried about it a lot if I’m being honest and I vowed to do my longest run for this cycle of 20 km rather than 18 km as the plan called for. But then that run got skipped and so it turned out I was right on plan anyway. Here’s the thing on race day I had no doubts that I would finish strong even though peak week pretty much failed to happen.

Full plan

 Pros: 

  • Better for a PR
  • I felt more focused
  • Skipping the odd run or the same number is less of an issue
  • Less likely to get injured due to slower milage climb
  • Easy weeks at the start
  • I found I was better motivated and more consistent
  • It felt better prepared on race day
  • Allows for life to come up more for example, getting sick and stay prepared
  • Less base build up required

Cons:

  • A lot more time on the road
  • Two extra weeks of training
  • More tiered
  • Disrupts more of your life

Just differences

  • Two week taper
  • More of a slow build
  • 12 weeks

Bare minimum

Pros:

  • Less disruptive to your life
  • Fewer runs each week
  • Perfect for those that just want to do one
  • Realistic for training to run with someone else who is slower
  • Shorter training period
  • Less likely to get injured from over use

Cons: 

  • Easier to procrastinate
  • Not as well conditioned on race day
  • Skipped runs count more
  • Less of a routine established
  • Better base training is required
  • Race day felt harder

Just differences

  • One week taper
  • Gets intense fast
  • 10 weeks

Takeaways

So here’s the deal for me I liked the full plan more but I was surprised by how much I did actually ‘get something’ out of doing less. The bare minimum plan was built to suit a call from all of you and it works great. I thought it was just a plan for one and done types or if you’re doing it with someone else. I don’t think that for me anymore. Even though I do like the full plan more, probably because I think I can still cut my half time down from where it sits, there are a lot more scenarios where I would dust it off now. 

Last summer I trained hard for 5 months and two big events but I was still done my season early. This plan would be a great way to extend the season and cut down on the FOMO. If I was traveling for a race dusting this plan off for a racecation half in a new place would work great. I’m also starting to wonder if I’m not a half a year person after all. If I’m planning to run one AND focus on other things that year, this plan would work great.

Which type of half training plans have you followed in the past? Did you like it? If you’ve done both which did you like more and why?

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