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Half Marathon Training from a PT’s Perspective

exerciseprogramming running strengthtraining weighttraining Nov 04, 2020

Would you like to listen to this on the Postpartum Performance podcast? Give a listen to Episode 4: Half Marathon Training from a PT’s Perspective 

At the start of 2020 I decided I wanted to run another half marathon. I had gotten into long distance running during college in undergrad. Started with a 5K (Bryon’s Run in Waukesha, WI) and became hooked with the ability to push my limits, explore the college town I was in and get some stress relief from school. Since then I’ve run 6 half marathons, with this most recent one was my 6th and one marathon. Each time I’d decide to commit to training for a race my goals would change. From the first half marathon with a goal to complete it under 2 hours to some of my later races with a goal to cross train more than up the mileage. 

I’ve had many of you reaching out asking about my training program, What I did, What I ate, and How I felt. Today I’ll be sharing some of my tips for training for a half marathon and actually enjoying the process. 

So I’ll begin with saying over the past 4 years I hadn’t run distances longer than about 3-4 miles. I personally was not excited to do long runs. I was more interested in weight training. So when I decided to train for another half marathon I was basically starting back at square one for rebuilding my runner foundation. My last 3 half marathons I have focused on strength training and cross training to feel strong and confident in my runs, and not necessarily the assumed training plan some people would think.

I chose to base my training off a Hal Higdon program (which I had done in the past). Intermediate 2 Program (speed program)It was a 12 week training program.  My goal was for cutting off time and pushing myself. I knew I’d be able to complete the distance, it was more about the mental challenge to push my pace rather than resort to a more comfortable pace. 

The main components to this program included easy runs 2-3 times per week with distances varying from 3 miles to 5 miles. Long runs started at 5 miles and worked their way up to 12 miles on the program. I chose to not go longer than 10 miles because I personally felt I didn’t need to get that close to the full race distance with my training. Speed work was the new part of my training this time. They included tempo runs which mean continuous run with a buildup in the middle to near 10-K race pace.  It also included intervals once a week running 400m’s at my 5k pace starting at 5 repeats working up to 10 throughout the training program. 

Personally for me I can sprint and I can do the long duration running. The middle range speed work pushed me out of my comfort zone as a runner but it also allowed me to get my pace quicker to the goal pace I wanted for the race. 

The program was designated to have one day for cross training. Given my history with weight training and interest in continuing my strength training I had 3 days a week for cross training. I honestly believe this was my saving grace. When I initially started training I was experiencing some left knee pain which can be discouraging and frustrating for anyone, let alone as a physical therapist.  Rather than giving up, I had my husband, Dave, help revamp my cross training for the areas that needed some more strength, mobility and stability and reduced my mileage for 2 weeks to less than 4 miles for running. With my consistency in the exercises prescribed and the cross training I was able to eliminate the knee pain and prevail through the program symptom free. 

The beauty of running programs such as this one is it can provide an easy layout to follow but also can be used as a framework like I did to tweak and adjust to the needs and design I wanted this go around. I chose to do my long runs on Mondays, cross training on Tues, Thurs, Sat. Wednesdays low mileage runs, Friday’s speed work with intervals or tempo runs and Sunday as a full rest/recovery day.

If you’re interested in starting to run and train for longer mileage I’d be more than happy to provide some insight and guidance on a running program to follow in addition to a strength training that will build your foundation to be resilient in your program as you increase your mileage. 

So that completes the details regarding the x’s and o’s of the running program I was following. I chose to do mostly road running primarily with a few dirt trails and beach runs sprinkled in just to change things up. 

Before each run I would complete a series of warm up activation exercises to prepare myself for my run. These included a hip mobility drill, ankle mobility drill, exercises to activate my glutes and core and single leg exercises. I know some of you runners might be thinking-jeez that must take a while...and really it didn’t. 5-10 minutes if that, but by doing those preparation exercises I felt stronger in my runs and was able to avoid overuse injury, pain or extreme soreness after runs.

After runs I would do a cool down walk, especially after the intervals and runs I was pushing my pace.  I would complete a stretching flow sequence with a focus on mindful breathing and lower body and chest stretches to aid recovery. 

Cross Training

A snapshot of my cross training workouts looked a little like this: started with some rehab exercises specific to me focusing on mobility and strengthening with some activation exercises while warming up. 2 of the 3 cross training days would then be followed up by strength training, usually a movement like the barbell back squat, hex bar or barbell deadlift and some plyometrics to work on explosiveness after a heavy lift.  The end of the cross training days would include a strength circuit of either a 20 minute EMOM or 5 round circuit for time.  The third day of cross training would include more of an active recovery day with more mobility work and some high rep circuits for endurance strength training. 


Recovery Days
  • 1-2 miles walks with my husband
  • Gentle Yoga/Stretching/Mobility 
  • Naps


Training for a race is more than running and exercise. Just as recovery plays a role--Nutrition plays a very important role. While training for this race I was eating a primarily whole food diet, dairy free and gluten free. I began eating a moderate amount of carbs because I honestly “felt like I needed to” but the carbs I chose were sweet potatoes, rice cakes, starchy vegetables.

  • Dates (2 for runs >9 miles)
  • Training Hydration
    • Water
    • DIY Electrolyte Drink

-1 ½ - 2 cups water

-Juice of ½ lemon

- ¼ tsp pink Himalayan salt

- 2 tsp raw honey local


Put all ingredients into a jar with a lid and shake well to combine. This recipe fits perfect in a pint mason jar. Store in a the fridge up to the week.

  • Race Day:
    • Water and Coconut Water for Race
    • 2 dates
  • Post-Race
    • Egg and veggie scramble
    • GF tortilla
    • Coffee 

I found that with my training I felt strong, my body was less bloated, I leaned out a little (I especially noticed this in my face) which I believe was from reducing foods with added sugar --which I wasn’t eating regularly but I wasn’t also avoiding them before. I tend to be an accommodator when it comes to social settings and always willing to try a new food- through God’s grace the global pandemic allowed me to be intentional with my nutrition which I believe helped with my training and overall mindset.

 I want to preface that I wasn’t perfect while training, I enjoyed some treats here and there and some wine. But in general finding a nutrition plan that works for you can make all the difference.  Fueling your body with the right nutrients and amount of food was critical for me. 

 My initial goal was a 1:45 time (8:00 minute mile pace) As I was training I came to realize my speed was just shy of reaching that goal (thinking of the SMART I tweaked it to a goal of 1:47:30 (8:12 pace avg). On race day I completed my half marathon in 1:47:52 with an average pace of 8:14 per mile. SO CLOSE to my goal, but still a PR!

Everyone has a journey when they decide to train for a longer distance running adventure. I hope were able to gain some insight into my latest training program from the perspective of a doctor of physical therapy and novice runner and learn more about what should be included from an individualized strength program, appropriate running mileage and training, nutrition, hydration and recovery.

Click here to download our free PDF: The 5 Best Strength Exercises for runners - A free, eBook download to help you improve your running performance long-term by allowing you to get stronger, run faster, and avoid nagging injuries and setbacks.

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