4 Month Training Plan for the Hexham Half Marathon

It’s just less than 4 months until the Hexham Half Marathon on Sunday 14th July 2019. There is no better time to start training than now. The 13.1 mile race is an endurance challenge and will take beginners 3-4 months of dedicated training to be race ready. You can’t cram in loads of training only a few weeks before the race and expect to be ready. You will need to start slowly, gradually increasing your weekly mileage to allow your body to adapt and get used to running. It’s important to be patient when starting your half marathon training as it will take time for your body to build up the capacity to handle regular runs and increased distance without breaking down. In order to prevent injury and niggles, you must also incorporate strength (a few key exercises are mentioned in our previous blog at https://www.fitnorth.co.uk/blog) and mobility work.

This beginners training plan aims to gradually build up your total weekly mileage by completing 3 runs a week, two short and one long run that pushes your distance beyond the others. You will also incorporate one to two days of strength training to help prevent injuries. Weeks 12, 13 and 14 (5-3 weeks before the race) will have the highest mileage leading into the final two weeks before the race where you will start to taper down your mileage. Recovery sessions are also included to help your body adapt, reduce soreness and get your body ready for the next training run.

If you haven’t ran or exercised for a long time and the thought of running a whole mile without stopping seems like an impossible task, you can run/walk in intervals to cover the distance, for example, start by using a 1:2 or 1:1 ratio, i.e. run for 30 seconds: walk for 1 minute or 30 seconds. You can gradually increase this to 1 minute running, 1 minute walking and build it up as you feel able to.

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F.I.T.’s First Six Star Finisher!

What is a Six Star Finisher?
The Six Star Finisher represents the big 6 marathons, London, Berlin, Boston, New York, Chicago and Tokyo. An individual who officially completes all 6 marathons is awarded the Six Star Finishers medal and certificate. As of July 2018, there were only 3,837 Six Star Finishers.


An Interview with Richard Houghton, F.I.T’s first Six Star Finisher.

What got you into running Richard?
Back in early 2011, my wife and I found out we were expecting our first child, and it signalled a massive change in my life. After always maintaining my fitness through football, this had fallen by the wayside after numerous injuries prevented me playing. The confirmation of my wife’s pregnancy inspired me to get back to fitness, to allow me to be an active Dad and a positive role model to our child, I decided I would try running.

How did you get started?
We lived in Lincolnshire then, and the loop around the field near where we lived was just under 5k. I started off running between alternate lampposts, walking the bits in between and gradually started lengthening the distances I ran. I entered a few local races of 5k and 10k distances, completing my first 10k race in 48:12. I found I enjoyed the thrill of the race and training for a set target – this was confounded by watching the 2012 Olympics.

When was your first Marathon?
In 2014, I took on my first marathon. I completed the London marathon in 3:53:36.

So, when did you start training at F.I.T.?
We relocated to Newcastle upon Tyne in June 2015. Where I joined Elswick Harriers and began attending specific strength and conditioning training at F.I.T. This coincided with me gaining a place in the Berlin marathon in September 2015, completing this in a time of 3:32:23.


That’s two Marathons down and four to go. Can you tell me about the next four?
November 2016 saw me complete the New York Marathon in 3:03:36 and the London Marathon in 2:55:32 in April 2017. Then in October 2017 I completed the Chicago Marathon in 2:57:50. By now I well and truly had the bug and the combination of training at Elswick with people who had similar goals, and the specialist training from F.I.T saw me staying injury free and my times decreasing. In April 2018, I completed the most challenging marathon yet in Boston, complete with freezing rain and horrendous weather, but I made it over the line in 3:06:18. I’ll be running the final marathon of the big 6 in Tokyo in March 2019.

What does your training look like heading into a Marathon?
Whilst the challenge of the Marathons is exhilarating and exciting, the 18 weeks prior to a marathon involve 7 days per week training, some weeks putting in nearly 90 miles and attending the specialist gym sessions at F.I.T which have been central to my success. All the training means lots of late nights/early mornings. My wife and wider family supporting me to accommodate the commitment this has needed including adapting holiday plans and altering social calendars. The day after our second child was born in August 2018 I was back out on training! I’ve had huge support from family, all the staff at F.I.T and my fellow runners at Elswick.


What impact has training at F.I.T had on your running?
When I first began at the gym, I struggled with plantar fasciitis and my general strength regarding running, often picking up minor niggles and strains such as knee pain and adductor issues. Since I have been at the gym, not only has my running massively improved and my times have decreased, but I have also been injury free. From a general fitness perspective, I have never been in better condition, my whole-body shape has changed, and my weight remains steady and lower than it has been in years. The sessions at the gym have literally transformed my running and my whole lifestyle.

Richard completed the Tokyo Marathon on March the 3rd2019 in a time of 2:53:55, which is a new Pb.

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Here at F.I.T. we are so proud of what Richard has achieved. He always trains hard and what ever is asked of him he steps up to the challenge. The commitment that Richard has shown is a testament to how he has managed his body and remained injury free. Since Richard started training at F.I.T, he has improved his strength, flexibility, mobility and core strength.

Are you a runner or thinking of starting running? Have you been inspired by Richard’s story? Would you like F.I.T to help you get stronger and faster? Contact us at info@fitnorth.co.uk or call 0191 6452535.

3 Key Strength Exercises for Runners

To get better at running, you must run. However, using running as your only training method isn’t the most effective way to improve performance and remain injury free. With no strength training at all, you put yourself at risk of exacerbating muscular imbalances and injuries and possibly stunting your progress. Runners often neglect strength training because of a dislike for the gym or because you are unaware of the benefits of supplementing your running with strength training or you simply don’t know how to do go about starting.

This doesn’t mean you need to start lifting really heavy weights and become a gym monkey, but adding one or two sessions including the following exercises can complement your training. The aim of strength training is to enable you to tolerate training loads and therefore maximise your exposure to running training, this means being robust enough to withstand the technical and fitness training without getting injured.

These 3 key strength training exercises can be performed at home without equipment two to three times a week on non-consecutive days and on days off running.

Straight and Bent Leg Calf Raises

The calves are composed of two main muscles – the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The two heads of gastrocnemius continue upwards across the back of the knee. The soleus, like the gastrocnemius, attaches distally to the heel bone via the Achilles tendon, but does not cross the knee, instead attaching under the knee to the tibia and fibula. This anatomical difference means that the soleus contributes more to force production during running than the gastrocnemius because during running the calf has to deal with loads whilst the knee is bent. The calf muscle plays a crucial role in stride length and pace, helping initiate the push-off phase of the running stride and playing a key role in absorbing impact as your foot hits the ground. Eccentric calf strengthening will increase the resilience and shock absorbing properties of your calf, while concentric and plyometric strengthening will increase the power generation and stretch shortening cycle ability. The calf needs to be able to withstand up to eight times your bodyweight on each stride. Weak calves are often the leading cause of running injuries, Achilles tendinopathy, shin splints, calf strains and plantar fasciitis and can be the reason your pace slows on longer distances.

Straight Leg Calf Raises – Gastrocnemius

  • Stand on the edge of a step, the balls of your feet firmly planted on the steps and your heels hanging over the edge

  • Stand up tall with your feet hip width apart, legs straight but knees not locked

  • Raise your heels a few inches off the floor coming all the way up onto tiptoes

  • Hold this top position for a moment

  • Try to evenly distribute your weight through all 5 toes on each foot, try not to favour your big toe or little toe

  • Slowly and with control, lower you heels back towards the floor as much as your ankle mobility allows

  • 3 sets of 15-20 reps – to progress, increase the number of repetitions, go up on two legs then down on one, go single leg calf raises.

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Bent Knee Calf Raises - Soleus

  • Standing against a wall, hands supporting yourself on the wall, with your hips sat back (similar to a squat) and a bend in the knees

  • Raise your heels off the floor coming up onto tiptoes

  • Knees moves forwards towards

  • Try to evenly distribute your weight through all 5 toes on each foot, try not to favour your big toe or little toe

  • At the top of range hold for a moment

  • Slowly and with control, lower your heels back to the floor

  • These can also be performed sitting down on bench with your foot raised on a bumper plate or step and adding weight on top of the knees.

  • 3 sets of 15-20 reps

To progress add weight using dumbbells or a weighted vest for straight leg calf raises.
To increase the eccentric work, go up on two legs, down on one.


Step Ups

Running is a unilateral exercise therefore single leg strength is important for runners. Considering the unilateral, running like movement of a step up, it effectively challenges recruitment patterns similar to those encountered during running. The step up demands single leg postural stability and coordination as well as dynamic control of the pelvis and trunk whilst cycling the ankle, knee and hip and arms through a running-like motion.

Knee Extensors, hip abductors and external rotators

  • Use a step/box that’s 7/8 inches to … high

  • Place your entire foot onto the step/box, pressing your weight through your heel as you shift your weight forward onto the front leg to step onto the step/box driving up with the front leg

  • Stay tall throughout this movement – try not to lean back

  • As you step onto the box to straighten your leg, the other leg with drive through till the knee is level with the hip and at 90 degrees.

  • Raise the opposite arm and leg – like running

  • Reverse the movement by stepping back down slowly and controlled on the same leg you stepped up with

  • Ensure knees stay in line with your toes

  • Avoid using momentum from the back leg to help you onto the box (if you are struggling to do this, you can go from a toe-off position on the back leg)


Front Plank

Efficient running mechanics can be *attributed* to an integrated stabilizing system, a strong core, you’re able to maintain a stable pelvis while your legs are powerfully propelling you forward, and your arms are pumping like pistons. We need exercises that improve the function of the core to prevent excessive torso rotation, transfer force and stabilise the spine. Lack of core strength can create long term motor skill problems as the body continually adapts to find the path of least resistance and turns away from proper running mechanics which can waste energy from the body trying to control excessive movement and therefore lead to injury and poor performance. The front plank is a bracing exercise which entails simultaneously co-activating all of the muscles that surround the spine

  • Start on all fours

  • Lower onto your forearms with shoulders directly over your elbows

  • Step your feet back into a plank position

  • Pull your shoulder blades down and back – not rounded or raised towards your ears

  • Engage your abdominal muscles and glutes tight to keep your hips inline with your shoulders

  • To brace, imagine you’re going to be punched in the stomach and you’re tightening all of the muscles around the spine front, back and sides

  • Ensure you don’t hold your breath

  • Maintain your lower back’s natural curve (Neutral spine) – if you find your lower back is arching too much, contact your glutes and posteriorly tilt your pelvis (imagine you have a belt buckle and you are trying to bring it closer to your belly button)

Hold this position for 30 seconds for 3 sets.
Increase by 5-10 seconds when it begins to feel easy


Bar Speed - Velocity based training

What is Velocity Based Training?

Velocity Based Training (VBT) uses technology such as wearable accelerometers or linear transducers to measure movement velocity during an exercise such as a Back Squat. This provides us with information regarding the speed of the concentric movement which enables the coach to provide specific feedback and prescribe accurate training intensities.

When designing a training programme there are many training variables that can be manipulated to elicit the development of a specific physical quality. These include, exercise type and order, intensity, volume, frequency, tempo and rest. It is generally acknowledged that exercise intensity or load is the most important stimulus related to changes in strength levels and is commonly identified with relative load (percentage of one-repetition maximum, the maximal weight an individual can lift for only one repetition with correct technique). This would require the coach to regularly test the individuals 1RM for each main exercise used in their program in order to prescribe relative training loads. This percentage-based approach to calculating intensity can be problematic when we consider the time constraints and injury risk when performing 1RM testing regularly, especially with novice athletes. This method also doesn’t take into consideration the day to day fluctuations in strength and readiness to train that are caused by normal biological variability, training related fatigue or lifestyle factors like sleep, stress and nutrition.


How does VBT solve this problem? As you can see from these force-velocity graphs, as the load gets heavier, the speed slows down, this also shows the physical qualities being trained when an athlete is lifting a particular percentage of their 1RM and the corresponding velocity. We know there is a relationship between velocity and percentage of 1RM, so instead of re-testing direct 1RM for each lift, we can measure the movement velocity of a sub-maximal lift which will tell us what percentage of their 1RM they are lifting.

If we are aiming to develop a client’s ‘max strength’ in the back squat, we may prescribe a load that is 90-100% of their 1RM, or a velocity between 0.35 – 0.75m/s using exercises such as Back Squat, Deadlifts and Bench Press. Likewise, if they wished to enhance the ‘speed-strength’ quality, we may prescribe a load relative to 30-40% of their 1RM or 1.0-1.5m/s and use exercises such as Barbell Jump Squat, Trap Bar Jump and Snatch.

What are the benefits of using VBT?

We can plot an individual’s load-velocity profile and predict their 1RM in a particular exercise in order to identify and target specific physical qualities that the individual needs to improve.

The technology used provides instantaneous feedback to the athletes as they can see what velocity they are hitting during each rep and push themselves harder to hit the desired velocity which can help encourage the athlete to attempt to express maximal effort during a lift. As coaches we can use the velocity data to direct more accurate feedback and yield consistency between sessions for greater adaptation.

We can autoregulate an individual’s program as we can take into account the daily fluctuations in strength, for example, many of our clients are long distance runners and they will feel ‘fresher’ if they haven’t run 10 miles the day before. So, if a client came in feeling tired and their 1RM is lower than what it was a few days ago, we can adjust the training loads (as the velocity will have decreased) in order to match their readiness to train. This ensures that we get the stimulus and hopefully the adaptation we were aiming for.

How do we use VBT at F.I.T.?

We attach the PUSH Band to either the bar or the body (around the forearm) depending on the exercise. Each client has their own profile set up on the PUSH Band software which is displayed live on a tablet. The athlete will be required to move the bar within a specific velocity range which will determine the load they should use for a specific set. If you exceed this velocity, we may add more load to the bar or take load off if you are below the desired velocity. We may also set a 15% cut off point in each set, for example, you may be prescribed 6 reps at 0.5m/s, your rep will flash up as red if your velocity drops below 15% of your best rep. Cut-off velocities are used to terminate a set when the mean concentric velocity of a repetition falls below that value. We use an intraset velocity loss of 15% of the best rep, this means that when an athlete’s repetition velocity drops by more than 15% in the back squat, the set should be terminated to prevent them performing unnecessary repetitions and without the hampering effects of fatigue on the desired adaptation. It’s important that the athlete performs each repetition with maximum possible acceleration and speed in the concentric phase as this will affect accuracy.

We may also use the PUSH Band to test your Reactive Strength Index (RSI) using the RSI Drop Jump Test and RSI Stiffness Test. RSI is a measure of how an athlete copes and performs during plyometric activities by measuring muscle-tendon stress and their reactive jump capacity. It demonstrates an athlete’s ability to rapidly change from an eccentric contraction into a concentric contraction (also known as the stretch-shortening cycle) and their explosive capabilities during dynamic jumping activities. These tests can also be used to measure neuromuscular fatigue from training and competition.

If you are interested in incorporating VBT within your training programme, speak with one of your F.I.T. coaches today.


0191 645 2535