How to run a sub 1 hour 35 half marathon with just 6 prep runs!

So about 6 weeks ago, I got asked if I would like to join a ‘celeb’ (#Zlister) team to run the London Half marathon for Cancer research.  The most running I did at the time was 400 meters outside the gym when it was sunny, and with only 6 weeks to prep it wasn’t the smartest idea, BUT the team was good and it’s a great cause so I said why not.

13 miles or 21KM, 5 weeks, and little running experience. What was the plan?

As with when you want to achieve anything in life, there must be a plan to get from where you are now, to where you want to get to. That plan started with me realising that Cheltenham festival (1 week of partying) was just 1 week before my run, leaving me now with just 4 weeks’ prep and a bad hangover to shake off between then and the race.

I spoke to a few people I coached and my family who are keen runners, and decided that with little prep time it was going to be a case of ‘do as much as I can when I can’ for the next 5 weeks. I didn’t make a detailed plan, I didn’t even stress about how far or quick I was going to run, the main focus was spending more total time on my feet running week to week.

Runs 1 & 2

Were literally just a case of getting out the house and on to the road. I wore a pair of old beach trainers I bought for holiday and the only aim was to keep moving. Run 1 was 30 mins & the second 40 mins.

Run 3 & 4

These were both with my mum who is a seasoned marathon runner! The first was 10k and the second was just short of 9 miles, both left me walking like id left something in my pants. I was pretty happy with the 9miles, it was over an hour of running and I knew that to do the half I only needed to do that again plus another half an hour or so… which with the buzz of competition I could manage.

Run 5 & 6

These were in the same week as the half marathon and followed on from a week of boozing. You’re never going to get better at anything with a week to go, so the plan was just to do runs that wouldn’t fatigue me too much but would give me a bit of confidence. It also gave me a chance to break in my new geeky running shoes (the geekier the better when it comes to running).

The Half marathon

“Get to 9 miles and then just keep going” and that’s exactly what happened. I got to the 9 mile mark in 1 hour 5 minutes and the last 4 were absolutely savage… BUT, this is where I backed myself to run a good time. I’ve trained and competed for years doing some workouts/ pre seasons/ rugby games along the way that sucked so I know what it feels like when your body says no.

My chip time from the race came in at 01:34:56… just 4 seconds sub 1:35 (a benchmark I wanted to hit). Now imagine if I didn’t try quite as hard for even 30 seconds of the last 4 miles, imagine I finished with a time of 1:35:04, I’d be furious knowing that if I ran just 4 seconds quicker I could have hit my target! I think anyone setting out to run a race, or even starting on any goal needs to embrace that somewhere along the way it’s going to get fucking tough and you’ve just got to suck it up. Nothing easy is worth doing and all that…

The extras

“Running a half marathon after 6 prep runs” is a bit more eye catching than “running the half off running whenever possible and a good base of strength and fitness”. The truth is I train hard week in week out to keep my strength and fitness levels up, I’m pretty fit aerobically and my body is robust from all the strength training I do. A half marathon drums up a hell of a lot of force through your muscles/joints/connective tissues and I wouldn’t advise anyone doing one without a good base level of strength and fitness, even if you think that you are mad enough to get round on will power… as you risk injuring yourself.

 I also tried to ‘adopt’ running into my life wherever possible for the 5 weeks prep. So although I only did 6 actual recorded runs, I incorporated some treadmill running into my gym workouts, I ran to the car, ran to the gym sometimes, I just tried to run whenever possible. This is a good mentality to have when working towards any fitness goal. You can’t just turn it on when you feel like it, you’ve got to change the way you do things day to day. Small wins every day will always trump 1 big effort every now and then.

My advice to anyone wanting to do similar:

  • do the necessary prep so that you can stay injury free and go into the race feeling confident.

  • Embrace the fact it’s going to be tough, finish knowing that you gave it everything you could have as you will regret not going that 10 seconds quicker.