Half Marathon Training and Finding A Faster “Easy” Pace

Training for a Half Marathon, and running quicker on eays runs than before

Ambivalent about forming any 2021 training plans, I decided none the less to use one of Garmin’s automated training plans to build up for a hypothetical half marathon by the start of next year. Being in shape to run a half by January would get me in line to be ready for a late spring marathon… if coronavirus allows it to happen.

(Incidentally, BBSC Endurance currently plans to host the Lake Mead Marathon, Half Marathon and other races on January 9, 2021, which incidentally fell 18 weeks after I had started the half marathon program. So, if that Half Marathon happens, it would be a good goal race. We’ll see.)

Garmin’s automated training plans prep for either the 5K, 10K, Half Marathon or Marathon distance. You select a desired training schedule and time goal. You choose from one of three coaches, whose identity determines the algorithm that automatically prepares your training schedule. Garmin then has you do a brief 5 minute “benchmark run” to estimate your current fitness, from which your initial workout distances, intensities, schedules, etc, are set. This benchmark also clues you into how realistic your chosen pace goal may be.

I’ve built my own training schedules for years, but for many reasons decided this time around I’d prefer to let Garmin build it for me.

  • I have more schedule flexibility.
  • I’m doing other strength and cross training
  • Garmin tends to book shorter workouts, which is easier to get done.
  • I’m studying for certifications and working on other projects.
  • I wanted to train and build volume, but didn’t want to worry too much about how to go about it.
  • Not to mention… with coronavirus cancelling everything for a while, I had nothing to lose in trying things this way.

So this time around I used an automated plan.

Garmin’s three choices for coaching styles are:

  • Greg McMillan. He’s big on quality workouts, speedwork, hitting paces. Best suited for highly trained, serious runners.
  • Amy Parkerson-Mitchell. Her practice centers around injury prevention and rehab. You run mostly easy and focus on stretching out volume, before adding quality workouts later.
  • Jeff Galloway. He is of course famous for preaching a run-walk approach to Marathons. He does train other distances. He of course will have you run-walk, stretching out to long distances and occasional quality workouts.

I chose Amy’s plan admittedly because its demands were easily accessible against my other competing demands, and I prefer to continuously run over Galloway’s run-walk approach.

I also decided to try and chase the sub-2-hour half marathon I’ve had the fitness to attain but never have. My half marathon PR is 2:00:34 back in 2017, and that was probably the only half marathon I focused on training for. So I figured focusing on one combined with better knowledge and experience would get me there.

I set a goal of 1:58, which comes out to 9:00 a mile. The algorithm had me training five days a week, four workouts in a row and then a day off before a Saturday long run. It also had me doing all my easy runs at 10:30-11:00/mile.

Now, for the last few months, I’ve done all my easy runs a lot slower, more like 11:30-12:30 per mile, probably the slowest I’d consistently run in years. Practical reasons include having vastly reduced volume, and having gained weight while not training too much.

It’s also worth noting that the 10:30-11:00 range is according to Garmin’s GPS, which due to drift and lag tends to measure slow anyway. So, actually, for me to run what Garmin considers 10:30-11:00, I’d have to run more like 10:00-10:30/mile.

Is that too fast? Well, I started doing these 2-4 mile training runs, and found that I didn’t have too much trouble hitting the recommended paces. In fact, in my first workouts, my watch had to tell me to slow down! I made such a concerted effort to move my feet more quickly and push the pace to match that Garmin measured me out at 9:30-9:45.

Soon thereafter I fell into a natural pace within the middle of the range, and found that while the cadence took some concentration and I had to breathe with more intention, it was easily do-able.

All I did for the most part was move my feet more quickly, and maintain a quicker cadence than I previous had. In prior training runs, my cadence was more like 155-165 steps per minute (spm). In these runs I’ve done closer to 165-175 spm.

And I’ve made sure to keep my stride compact and repeatable. That has made maintaining the faster cadence rather easy. The only time I ever feel myself straining is when my stride starts getting a bit long. I shorten it up, and everything’s fine.

I finish these runs never feeling sore or unduly tired. I’ve felt very little residual soreness in following days. And this is despite riding the spin bike and strength training at the gym almost everyday in addition to these workouts.

Again, Garmin’s GPS measures your running pace a bit slow, and measure every mile a bit short. So in fact I was running an extra half mile in every workout, and running at closer to a 10:00-10:15 mile pace in these runs. While this is easily the fastest I’ve run everyday easy training runs in years, I don’t feel any more tired or worn out than I did running much slower.

Now, this isn’t happening in a vacuum. Other factors have contributed.

  • It certainly helped that the hot 110°F Vegas weather began to cool off right around when I started. Mornings that had been 87-90°F for runs now haven’t been much hotter than 73-75°F. It’s still hot in Vegas as of now, but not like it was a month ago. Lower temperatures reduces heat stress while running and can improve performance.
  • I stopped eating at a sizable calorie deficit, and focused on eating closer to maintenance calories, to ensure I had the energy availability to train. I had felt more sluggish while intermittent fasting and eating at a deficit than I have recently.
  • I’ve been regularly strength training for a few months now, and I imagine the overall improvement has helped streamline some of the running effort.
  • I’ve ridden the spin bike at the gym for about 45 minutes almost every day in addition to swolework and running, and I imagine the added aerobic benefit and circulation has also helped.
  • Despite eating to maintenance calories, I’ve been able to drop weight bit by bit over the last couple weeks. After briefly bumping back to 172-173 lbs, I’m now at about 170-171 and slowly dropping.
  • I’m currently not working and on a much more relaxed schedule, which certainly helps with cortisol levels and stress.
  • Though I generally eat fairly clean, I’ve been eating even cleaner this past few weeks. I’ve eliminated almost every bit of processed food from my everyday diet. I’ve placed more importance on making sure I drink enough water.

So, sure, while this training plan and the ease with which I’ve hit the paces has been a pleasant surprise, there are other contributing factors.

Still, it’s very encouraging to see that running 1-2 minutes faster per mile has not been terribly difficult. I hope to ingrain that as an easy, repeatable habit, which will make hitting a 1:58 pace goal more easily reachable.

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5 thoughts on “Half Marathon Training and Finding A Faster “Easy” Pace

  1. OmniRunner says:

    Is Garmin really that much off?
    I know race distances are always off because none of us run the exact route that was used to measure the distance.
    I guess it’s close enough for us, but not for landing on the moon?

  2. […] Garmin plan, and have done quite well on all runs throughout the plan. By maintaining the GPS-estimated assigned paces, I have actually completed my easy training runs with an average pace of about 10:00 per mile […]

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