A Holistic Approach to Half Marathon Training

Sunday, I was listening to the episode 71 of the Primal Blueprint podcast, an interview with big wave surfer Laird Hamilton, done by Mark Sisson. Two pretty impressive names in fitness. Two memorable messages stuck with me from that episode: train smarter, not harder, and approaching training more holistically. I found this last message most important because it perfectly describes my current approach to training for the Stonehaven Half Marathon.


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If you don’t already know, my goal for this race, the first Sunday in July, is to run it under two hours. While I’ve been half marathon fit since the start of 2015, I still took on a training programme for this race to meet my goal. Joining the Stonehaven Running Club was a very strategic move because the club trains where the race is held, but also because each session is run by a certified running coach. The club has all sessions for this year – four per week – set out on a very large spreadsheet: I know what I’ll be running three days from now, three weeks from now, three months from now. I run twice a week with the club, working on some facet of interval training, mainly on hills. Tuesdays always seem to be hill repeats done at varying distances and repetitions, while Thursdays are either threshold sessions or fartlek sessions.

I have learned so much from these sessions!!! During every hill session, we must run both uphill and back down at a higher intensity. To paraphrase one coach “Running downhill is where you can make your gains. It’s just as important to run hard downhill as it is uphill,” and this is exactly what I’ve been doing. By the end, my legs are jelly and heavy (that’s what train low, race high can do to you!): I’ve definitely worked!

As for my third run of the week, I do my long run on my own, either Saturday or Sunday. I know the race start consists with the first four miles going uphill, so I try to emulate this as best I can. The race then finishes downhill, so again, I try and plan a route to mimic this. Rather than my longest run being no more than 11 miles, (which it has been in the past), I sought the advice of Coconut Friend Amie, who confirmed with me that I could go beyond 13.1 miles to train for this race because I was fit for it. She also recommended that for every longer distance long run (9+ miles), I run the last two miles at threshold pace, again to simulate digging deep for race day and pushing hard to the finish. I’ve done this for the last four weeks now, with fantastic results. I’m able to still run sub-9 minute miles with many miles already in my legs, and finish a run at either sub-8 or sub-7 minute mile pace!

This new running strategy of club speed sessions + long runs finished at threshold pace has really paid off: last Thursday at running club, I was on pace for a new 5km PB on trails. This is a big deal because trail times are always slower than road times, and this was set on an undulating trail course no less. I say ‘on pace for a new 5km PB’ because the route itself wasn’t quite 5km (3.1 miles). I ran about 2.98 miles in 26:17, which is 24 seconds off my 5km PB.

I also set a new half marathon PB during a long run. 13.1 miles is the only PB I have yet to break since my primal switch, and this is only because I didn’t run a half marathon in the latter part of 2014. Sunday, I did it. As part of a 14 mile long run, I ran to a new half marathon PB of 2:04:38, more than five minutes off my long-standing Aviemore Half time set in 2013 (2:09:51). And the most interesting part of it? I wasn’t even paying attention to the distance + time, I was checking my Garmin for pace instead then realised I was approaching 13 miles and it all just clicked. I continued on with a big smile on my face.

Two PBs, speed and hill training, long runs, trail runs, threshold runs. It’s always varied, and my body is responding well. And all with running only three days a week.


After all the research I’ve done, I’ve come to learn that nutrition and fuelling, with regards to training, is an integral aspect of a training programme. I continue to read and learn, with a more paleo athlete approach lately. Two books that I have on the go are The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Loren Cordain and Joe Friel, and Stupid Easy Paleo Steph Gaudreau’s The Performance Paleo Cookbook, specially designed with an athlete’s nutritional needs in mind. This book not only gives you the macronutrient breakdown for each meal – useful for me to figure out what to eat for recovery – but also gives much information about fueling, and possible examples of how to do it. The book is also arranged according to fueling needs (preworkout snacks, recovery meals), rather than courses like breakfast, lunch, dessert. Finally, this book has amazing recipes. I can’t say enough good things about it.

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I’ve learned from both books that when eating to recover, it’s actually carbs that are more important than protein. Yes, protein and its amino acids – mainly Branch Chain Amino Acids isoleucine, leucine and valine – are vital to repairing muscles, but it’s actually the carbs you eat and the timing of them that play a crucial role in recovery. Consuming starchy carbs helps to restock glycogen (muscle energy) stores; examples of these types of carbs include sweet potato, white potato and white rice. Consuming high glycaemic carbs, like high sugar fruit or dried fruit, helps boost low blood glucose levels brought on by exercise. Both types of carbs, along with a quality protein source, need to be eaten in the post-exercise window after a session; the time in which you spend doing this depends on the length of the exercise session. You should consume these foods in a ratio of 4:1, carbs:protein.


Beef is particiularly high in Branch Chain Amino Acids

I’ve been doing this, and my legs are feeling good, my fitness is improving. The more I progress through my primal journey, the more I start to see meals as a series of macro- and micronutrients that benefit help my performance, my body, my mental health. Consuming a nutrient dense diet of quality protein, an abundance of vegetables and plenty of healthy fat helps me recover faster, stay injury-free due to an anti-inflammatory diet, benefits my immunity, and allows me to just keep going, although sometimes too much which takes me to my next point….


In a word, my work life has been awful. My colleagues and I are stressed and stretched to the max at work, with no end in sight. I’ve move beyond the mind-buzzing phase to now mind-numbing phase, and now rather than trying to push it at work, and get tons of stuff done, I’ve taken a step back for the sake of my mental and emotional health. I go home earlier than I used to because my mind is so tired, and I know if I push it, I could end up ill. Stress is plays a major factor in one’s overall health, and I’m not going to tempt illness fate.

I’ve also been enduring a better kind of stress lately, one that I’ve been aspiring to, hoping for and wanting for a while now. I officially have a second job, hence part of my above stress. You may have seen yesterday that I’m now also a resident freelance writer for Primal Eye Magazine, the UK’s first paleo magazine! I write for the categories of fitness and health, with my first article going live yesterday. I have been working towards becoming a paleo or primal specific writer for a few months now, and getting this job is just more confirmation that writing and spreading the primal word is what I’m meant to be doing.

Every second weekend, I have a deadline I need to meet. I’m in regular contact with both my editor and fellow magazine writers, all of whom are very knowledgeable and well known in the UK paleo community. I feel quite honoured to be writing alongside them actually. I write about a topics I’ve already covered on the blog, and some that I wanted to delve into but never had the time. Until now.

Currently, the magazine is only online, but it is hoped to be in print by autumn. The magazine is also a reason why the blog may at times be quiet, apart from What I Ate Wednesday posts. But even those are going to change eventually.


The most vital aspect of any training regimen, but also just life in general. Sleep is when we rest, but it’s also when your body does an overall system reboot to repair and revitalise your cells. I know sleep is so important, but with the stressors above, and the fact that our corner of Scotland is so far north (sunrise at 4:22 am, sunset at 10:04 pm), both are preventing me from getting a consistent good night’s sleep. I usually have no problem falling asleep, it’s staying asleep until my alarm that troubles me. In the last few weeks, I’ve been waking up at least an hour, if not more, before my alarm goes off, only to try and doze in bed. It also doesn’t help that Pat wakes up at 5:30 am three days a week for half ironman training. I know: first world problems. These all add up though, and were taking its toll. Until now, hopefully.

I’ve employed a few solutions:

– No resting or napping after school. I did this a few days last week and found it really difficult to fall asleep at night.

– In bed by 9:30 pm, ideally with lights out at 10 pm or at least reading in bed by then.

– Rather than use my face mask to block the early morning light, we’ve made a makeshift blackout curtain from a tartan wool blanket. It’s working wonders!

– Stop the internal chatter. I do a lot of singing in my head, usually Arcade Fire. It needs to stop. I also think about all my stressors too much. That needs to stop. One thing I’ve been doing is either thinking images, rather than internal chatter, or just thinking about the motion of running. My brother-in-law and I were Skyping Sunday, and he said that if he can’t sleep he reminds himself that “No matter what, you’re still resting.” I’m now do that too.

– Finally, I need to stop blogging just before bed time. Rather than forcing myself to post often, I will continue to write but to a cut-off time, to diminish screen time, and to wind down. My internal chatter continues long after the post is done, because I think of ideas and pieces all the time. Most of my planning gets done in my head, then I just need time to sit down and write the piece. I write in Microsoft Word anyway, so if a post isn’t done, then it doesn’t get published and just gets saved until the next possible opportunity. Simple as that. No exceptions.

I’m taking care of both my body and my mind, in more ways than one.

Do you listen to podcasts? Whose do you like?

What’s your training approach?

What foods do you use for fuel?


7 thoughts on “A Holistic Approach to Half Marathon Training

  1. Great post and your writing goes from strength to strength! I’d love to hear more sometime about primal training for endurance trekking and also how to balance fuelling and refuelling versus the goal to lose a substantial amount of weight while getting fit and strong, using up stored fat reserves. 😀👍

    • Thank you! To be honest, if all your trekking is walking, you won’t need to refuel. You can rely solely on fat stores and dietary fat: both are perfect for low intensity exercise. It’s only in high intensity exercise (80% or more of maximum effort) that you require carbs.

      As for strength training, I’m a big supporter of Primal Blueprint Fitness. You could use the entire programme as your training possibly.

  2. Pingback: Finella Hill Race recap | Eat Primal, Run Hard

  3. Pingback: Stonehaven Half Marathon race recap | Eat Primal, Run Hard

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