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Improve My Training: Reduce the Density, Double the Chance of a PR

This masters runner with a busy schedule is looking to PR in the half marathon. We evaluated her training log and provided tips to help her reach her goal.

We’re offering Outside+ members and PodiumRunner subscribers the chance for a personal coaching consultation. Submit two weeks of your training and answer a few questions about your running history and goals, and we’ll publish selected logs along with suggestions from an expert coach for improving your training. To be eligible to submit your training, sign up for Outside+ or Podium Runner. If you’re already a member and would like your training evaluated by an expert running coach you can submit your training here.

Runner Profile

Name: Jane

Age: 46

Goal: Run a 1:50 half marathon in October

Sample Two Week Training

Monday (4/26) 5.6 miles @ 10:08 pace + yoga in evening 
Tuesday (4/27) 3.6 miles w/ 6 x 40 second hill repeats + 10 push-ups, 50 air squats, stretches.
Wednesday (4/28) 4 miles @ 10:41 pace
Thursday (4/29) 3.35 miles @ 10:27 pace + strides
Friday (4/30) 8.4 miles hilly @10:29 pace
Saturday (5/1) YOGA
Sunday (5/2) REST
Monday (5/3) REST
Tuesday (5/4) 3 miles @ 9:57 pace + strength and mobility exercises
Wednesday (5/5) 3 miles @ 13:04 pace
Thursday (5/6) Massage and Body Work for hip pain/mobility
Friday (5/7) 8.6 miles w/ 3 miles x 3 – hilly long run + strength and mobility exercises
Saturday (5/8) YOGA
Sunday (5/9) REST
Monday (5/10) 4.3 miles @ 10:14 pace + 10 strides (7 barefoot on grass) + strength and mobility

Jane is a 46-year-old mother of two training for an October half marathon where she hopes to better her PR of 1:58 from 2019. She plans on competing in her very first trail race next month — a 10k. She recently ran a 5-mile time trial in 46 minutes, taking 8 minutes off her best set in 2018.

Jane has some nagging pains that include chronic tightness in her right hip/glute/piriformis and right ankle pain/instability since October 2020, but she’s very proactive with staying on top of prehab exercises and strength training to assure she stays healthy. Due to life and family constraints, she’s forced to fit all her running into Monday through Friday. She says the lack of consistency is her biggest issue, noting, “I have the time to run and train better than I have been, but I lack focus, consistency, and am constantly changing my training — unsure of what to do and trying different things to see what fits and works.”

Training Evaluation

Let’s start off with a few things Jane is doing well.

Praise #1: Incorporating Yoga & Mobility

I’m a huge fan of runners incorporating yoga into their training regime. The majority of running injuries originate from the hips. Hamstrings hurt? Fix your hips. Foot pain? Fix your hips. Knee issues? Fix your hips.  I once did a 30-day yoga challenge with my athletes and every single runner who completed at least 7 minutes of yoga a day for the 30 days said they felt better. Two of my favorite are Yoga with Adriene 7 Minute Pre-run and 7 Minute Post-run. Jane mentioned she has chronic tightness in her right hip/glute/piriformis area and it appears she doing a great of proactively managing it. Kudos to you Jane for spending the time to prehab. Learn about yoga for runners

Praise #2 – Hills

Frank Shorter famously once said: “Hills are speed work in disguise.” He could as truthfully “Hills are strength training in disguise.” There’s no better time to hit the hills hard than right before you start your goal race training cycle. I find way too many runners shy away from incorporating hills and hilly routes not because they’re tough, but they fear the slower pace isn’t ideal, or won’t look good on Strava. Fear not. Even if your average pace is over a minute slower on a hilly route, you’re going to do more to advance your fitness in the long term. Jane’s log reveals she is not afraid of hills. I commend her for the variety of hill work she includes. Just like interval training, where it pays to hit all the pace ranges, it pays to hit all the hill ranges- short and fast as well as long and rolling. 

Woman running uphill in the city.
Photo via Getty Images

Two tips to improve Jane’s training:

Tip #1: Reduce Training Density

Ah, everyday life. The annoying thing that gets in the way of our running. Family constraints make it tough for Jane to run on weekends, so she’s forced to get her running in Monday through Friday. This means she’s running 5 days in a row many weeks with a speed or hills workout and a long run in that short window. 

Training density is perhaps one of the most overlooked factors in people’s training. It’s a measure of how much training you do in a set amount of time. In Jane’s case, she’s essentially doing what is a 7-day training load for most (one speed/hill and a long run) in a 5-day time frame. Even though she takes Saturday and Sunday off, the week is so dense with back-to-back running that there is a good chance she’s worn down by her Friday long run. This could be contributing to her nagging injuries. 

I suggest Jane alter her running so Wednesdays are always a rest or yoga day. Plan the weekday speed or hill session on Mondays or Tuesdays and long run on Fridays. This drastically reduces her density to more in line with a 7-day training cycle, giving her body recovery time after the early-week training load. Once she feels comfortable with this schedule, she can aim to increase the duration of each run. This would “make up” for the missed miles caused by cutting out one day per week. I think she would also benefit from doing longer weekday runs, even if less frequent. 

Tip #2 – Double The Chance of A PR

I love the half marathon. I think it’s the perfect distance to race- the training isn’t as time consuming and emotionally demanding as the marathon — and you can race them more often. Since her ultimate goal this fall is to PR in the half marathon, I’d suggest aiming to run another half marathon either six weeks before the October race, or six weeks after. Planning to run two half marathons back-to-back provides a couple of benefits. 

First, and most obvious, it doubles your chances of a PR. The half marathon has a much quicker recovery time than a marathon, so I’ve found most runners can take it easy following the race and then jump right back into heavy training for another 4 weeks. 

Second, it takes the pressure WAY off needing to PR in your goal race. Now that you have two goal races, you can approach the first one relaxed. Often times relaxed running is when your best performances happen. Finally, if the first one doesn’t go as planned, you can use it as a learning experience and apply what you learned to the next race.  

I want to thank Jane for submitting her training for Podium Runner’s training evaluation. I wish her the best of luck in October. If you’re an Outside+ member or PodiumRunner subscriber and would like your training evaluated by expert running coach Cory Smith you can submit your training here. Not yet a member? Join today.

About the coach:

Cory Smith is the founder of Run Your Personal Best, an online running coaching business that has helped hundreds of runners achieve personal bests in distances ranging from 800 meters to 100 miles. He holds a USA Track & Field Level 1 and 2 Endurance Certification and was the former Head Cross Country/Track Coach at Penn State Brandywine. Over his running career Cory has held three Maryland state records, was a two-time National Championship qualifier while at Villanova University, and holds personal bests of 4:03 in the mile and an 8:05 3k.