Wednesday, January 18, 2012

More on training plans: All about Hal

I'm delighted to share a post here today written by my lovely friend Sharone, a kindred spirit and fellow average Jo runner.  Sharone provides a great introduction to perhaps the most popular and average-Jo-friendly of all the training plans, the Hal Higdon Plan. Please read on to learn how this training plan has enabled her to eat cheeseburgers run longer distances!

I backed into running against my will. My friend Kelsey convinced me to do a sprint triathlon, and once I pushed past the initial wanting to die stage that was my first few weeks of training, I realized that I kind of loved running. It was the most satisfying of the three sports, and it was the most efficient use of my workout time. Not to mention that it requires me to have more discipline and determination (confirmed) than skill (questionable). And it’s something I’ve come back to over and over in the four years since, especially for races.

Since the triathlon, I’ve run irregularly, usually 3 to 5 miles at a time. I’ve also done a few 5Ks. I never come anywhere near winning. I’m middle of the pack, happy to have lately worked my mile time to just around 10 minutes—and that’s one of the things I love most about running. Besides the fact that it keeps me in cheeseburgers (not an exaggeration), running offers a challenge to work harder and a chance to see measurable results. The Go Green St. Patrick’s Day Run will be my first half-marathon, and I’m really nervous terrified excited about it for that reason: it will be hard, and at the end I’ll be really proud of myself.

I’ve told you my running life story as a build-up to telling you why I chose Hal Higdon’s novice half-marathon training plan for this race. As Jo mentioned, the Hal program is based on the principle that gradually increasing total weekly mileage over twelve weeks will give runners the training they need to run longer races. Before I started Hal, I’d been working through a run-walk-run program that I loved, but as I came into the home stretch for the race, I wanted more experience running longer distances without stopping. Also, I know quite a few people who have used Hal and swear by him.

Maybe most importantly for me, I went with Hal because I found a way to make the training so easy that I barely have to think about it. I don’t have kids, but I’m writing a dissertation and working multiple jobs, so I need a program that doesn’t require a lot of mental exertion. Enter BluefinSoftware’s Hal Higdon’s Novice Half Marathon iPhones app. I’ve used their Ease into 5K and Bridge to 10K run-walk-run training programs and loved them, and this app is even better. It’s super easy to use. It tells you what distance to run or how much cross-training to do on which day. 
You can use audio from iTunes, Pandora, or any other music app you like, tap the go button, and it will tell you when to start running and when to stop. And it keeps track of your time, distance, and routes for all your workouts and puts them into pretty charts so you can see your progress (one of my favorite parts). 
I love charts, and I love progress, so for me it’s perfect. It’s a little expensive for an app ($9.99), but if you can swing the money, I think it’s worth it.

So. The nitty gritty. Here’s how Hal’s plan works:

Each week of training consists of three running days, two easy cross-training days of 30-60 minutes each, and two rest days. Hal suggests running 2-3 miles on one of the cross-training days, which affects the total weekly mileage. He also suggests incorporating stretching and strength training somewhere into the week. But really, the plan’s very flexible.

* If you run the suggested races, Hal recommends rest for the two days prior to the race.

I’m a few weeks into Hal and I’m pretty happy so far. I’ve found that the suggested cross and strength training has made a huge difference in my running: better speed, energy, stamina, the whole deal. I like to combine the cross and strength/stretching by doing yoga or pilates, which are great because they give special attention to the joints that are getting the most strain. I feel stronger and more confident, and my mile times are coming down. All of these things make me really happy.

That’s probably the biggest thing I’m learning from all of this. The combination of Hal and the Bluefin app and the distances and cross-training really works for me, and it motivates me to train just as much as the 13.1 mile race I’m staring down in nine weeks.

What have you found that works for you? Hal Higdon? Some combination of plans? What do you do to make training as easy as possible?

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