Training advice for a newbie


I'm both new to running and new to this site... i'm really looking for some general advice on training since i've read so many conflicting articles I don't know what's right or not! Anyway, here goes with a bit of background:

I took up running last November, initially after being challenged at work by a colleague and wanting to get fit - previously I had done no exercise in years.

I took part in my first half marathon this April, and posted a time of 2:03:54, which I was a little disappointed in as I wanted to get under 2hrs - with hindsight though, I didn't train properly - my training involved me just going out and trying to run harder, faster and longer each time. I'm guessing this is a common mistake for newbies.

I'm now planning on doing the same half marathon again in 2014, and 3 weeks later the London Marathon and have a 20 week plan to work through, starting this November. My plan involves a weekly combination of:

Easy pace runs (1 or 2 per week, between 2 to 5 miles)

A tempo run (varying in time, between 30 mins to an hour)

A hill session (as above, between 30 mins to an hour)

A session doing squats/leg exercises

A long weekend run (anywhere from 6 miles to 22 miles).

Weekly mileage peaks at around 40.

I can run a 10k in just under 51 mins currently, and the fastest pace i've posted on a 2.5 mile run is an average of 7min 40sec p/m - although I tend to hover around the 8min p/m mark. Generally it isn't my legs that I struggle with, it's my lungs.

So the questions I have are:

1. Without showing the specific plan, does my training plan above over 20 weeks look enough to prepare me? or is there something i'm missing / anyone can suggest that will help?

2. How important is diet, can it significantly improve performance (both when training and building up to a race)?

3. Are gels/supplements recommended during a race? I've read conflicting reports - I don't currently use them for training and didn't do during the last half marathon.


Any other advice and tips are most welcome - and sorry for the length of my first post!


  • Training - my advice would be to remember the 10% rule and the principle of gradual progress. Only upgrade something (intensity or distance) once each week, and by no more than 10%. Eg 10% further, 10% faster etc. Not sure about 3 weeks between a half and a full marathon ... it depends on your body and how much running you've been doing up to that point. most people are on a taper around that point in their training.

    diet - it's a huge discussion point that I'll leave to others but I'd say yes it's very important.

    gels - it depends on your body, and on the length of the race. some kind of energy food is good idea as races get longer. you wouldn't _need_ it for anything 10k or less in my opinion.

  • There are much more experienced runners on these forums than me who can offer you all the technical help you need.  I am going somewhere with this......  From my own personal experience the best advice I can offer is to make sure that your long runs are at a slow manageable pace.  I have done 2 marathons and have blown up in both of them and (after seeking advice on RW forum) have established that it is down to my training LSR’s being done at a faster pace than my intended marathon pace – big mistake.  I can run comfortably around the 8m/m pace and have a HM PB of 1.42 but I now run my LSR’s at over 9m/m.  I would suggest you target around 9.30 pace and try and get at least 3 X 20mile runs into your training plan and don’t forget to taper for the last 2/3 weeks.  If the planned HM does not fit into your training schedule then give it a miss and concentrate of the marathon.  Good Luck.

  • Whilst it looks like you have the right mix of training, can I ask why you're making things complicated for yourself and not just using a readily available pre-written coaching plan, such as one from Hal Higdon? It'll take all the hassle of working out increases in mileage, strength building versus endurance and speed etc etc.

    No disrespect but writing coaching plans is not as easy as some would have you believe (simply do 1x tempo, 1x intervals, 1x long runs, 2x easy runs a week). Which sessions do you pick? What adaptation are you trying to create? When should you pick specific sessions? Which sessions are specific to the goal you're trying to achieve (200m reps for a marathon?)?

    As someone new to running, you will be on a fast upwards curve - I predict that your 2 hour HM will be broken with just some good consistent training for the marathon (FWIW, I think a HM 3 weeks before is about as late as you want one in marathon training).

    if you want to work on a 20 week plan and it's your aerobic capacity that's weak, just spend the time from now until the start of the programme building slowly to work on that aerobic base. You've plenty of time so don't rush - take your time, run slow and you won't get injured and you'll get the consistent training you need.

    In answer to your other questions, yes nutrition is important but i wouldn't say it necessarily improves performance on it's own. It's just another piece of the training jigsaw.

    I wouldn't worry about gels for now. it's not where you're at in your training or racing. concentrate on building a base

  • On the face of it, your plan looks fine, although peaking at 40 miles is perhaps doing yourself a disservice.  Given the time you have available, I think you can and should look to get that nearer to peaking at 50 if you can find an extra couple of hours per week nearer race time.

    Nutrition.  I don't think you need to worry too much, so long as you can see you're having a balanced diet. I guess that the issue for long distance is to keep your iron levels up, but this isn't often an issue for men.  You need normal iron levels to help your blood transport oxygen to your muscles.

    Gels...  generally not needed until you get past HM distance - they're for supplementing your glycogen stores, which really should not run out until you're past 15-18 miles.  Having said that, I do quite like a bit of Kendal mint cake 9-10 miles into a half... but that's probably a mental thing rather than anything physiological.

  • Thanks for the replies...


    Daz - good advice on the LSR's, my mistake in the past is in trying to go as far as possible as fast as possible. The most I ran before the last HM was 11miles, but I clearly didn't plan properly and burnt out at around 9 miles. My plan does taper off in the last 4 weeks and the HM is part of that

    Johnas - maybe I didn't explain properly, the plan is pre-written although i've had to make some small mods to it to suit work etc. Think you're right about the aerobic base though, which will come presumably with longer, steadier runs (same as the advice from Daz).

  • Apologies - I had deduced from your post that you had written your own plan. Is the issue here that you don't trust the plan you've picked?  how did you choose it?

  • It's a 16 week beginner plan that i've downloaded, that i've adjusted slightly (started 4 weeks earlier and added some hill work) - given that i'm relatively new - running less than a year - I wasn't sure if I should be challenging myself and aiming a little higher, as I guess a beginner plan will only deliver limited results.

    There was no real rationale behind why I chose that specific plan, there are plenty about. Is adjusting an existing plan, even slightly, a bad idea? Should I instead find one that suits my needs exactly and stick to it religiously? Note that i'm not looking to do the marathon in a set time just yet, i'm happy to build to it and have a time in mind when I know how i'm pacing nearer to the time.


  • Hi CarlW

    I have used the plans a few times for assistance, but have never been a slave to them. it makes sense to tweak them around the other things happening in your life. I dont think any of us have the luxury of putting running above all else.

    Having said that, the plans are put together the way they are for a reason. Generally through other more experienced runners, who have discovered the pitfalls and risks already. By following the flow of the program,you should hopefully reduce the risk that an injury might stop you in your tracks.

  • FWIW I think you're approaching things sensibly and picking a plan to suit your ability is a wise idea. there's no problem moving days around to suit your work/life balance as long as you follow the rule that you always follow a hard day with an easy day so you get a proper recovery.

    based on the info so far, can I recommend Hal Higdon Novice 2 to you ( Its an 18 week plan and although it doesn't include big interval or hill sessions, i think it's the right plan for your ability. If you feel you want to add more speed specific workouts etc as you progress, then you can always look at some of his more advanced plans for ideas of what sessions to do but as a beginner, you’d be wise not to go straight out doing hill reps and interval sessions.

    Don't let the 'Novice' in the title put you off - I used Hal Higdon for my first marathon and juggled the plan round to suit my life and although at the time I had more races and 1 more year training than you, it got me round in sub 3. It was simple to follow, was the right mix of mileage (including weekly increases/cut back weeks) and 'race pace' running and gave me a good base to start thinking about my running more seriously. 

    I hope that helps. 

  • Thanks Johnas - I think i'm overcomplicating it, the link you've posted looks sensible and, as you say, I can always throw in a few variable sessions towards the end if I need to. I do want something simple and also something that won't become overbearing.

  • good luck Carl. I'm pretty sure with some consistent training you'll knocked those 3 mins of the half  in the process.

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