How Hollie Smashed Her Already Competitive Half Marathon PR

How do some runners race so fast? What makes them capable of achieving such blistering finish times?

Hollie Running

Today, we’re doing something a little bit different. While it’s paramount to your success to love running, be consistent, and plan smart seasons, sometimes it’s helpful to look at the training of other runners.

And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

My friend Hollie has graciously accepted my challenge of submitting her peak training before her half marathon PR. But why look at her training? How is this helpful to YOU?

Simple: Hollie is fast – she’s run 1:22:57 for the half. And if you want to improve, there’s no better way of getting to the next level than by studying those who have done it before you.

As you read her training journal below, I want you to ask yourself:

  • What did Hollie need to do in training before she was ready to run a new PR?
  • What types of workouts did she run before the HM (and what type of workouts do you run before a half)?
  • How did she approach her training mentally? Do fast runners think differently than slower runners?
  • How can you apply the lessons you learn here to your own training (and should you)?

Enjoy this unique case study – and I welcome your thoughts in the comments below.

Enter Hollie:

2016 brought me a PR in almost every distance. It has taken me over a year to build to my current fitness level (and it hasn’t been an easy process).

Like any runner, I’ve had setbacks – and my last training cycle was filled with both personal bests and personal worsts.

To rewind, in February 2014 I ran my second marathon and finished with hip pain and mental fatigue.

After the marathon, I realized that while many athletes enjoy marathons, I personally like shorter races like the half marathon. After spending two months post-marathon getting healthy and married, I began to rebuild my fitness and train to break a nearly two-year-old half marathon PR.

That half marathon PR was on the beautiful boardwalk of Atlantic City. As you can imagine, it was flat, and the course is fast. There was no wind so it made my old PR of 1:23.23 a hard PR for me to get back to.

After I had decided I wanted to chase a half marathon PR, what did I do? How did I get there?

The short answer: I ran a lot of easy mileage, raced a lot of 5ks and then threw in speed work, too.

And here’s the longer answer:

A Year of Training

Hollie Half Marathon

Bahahaha look at those shades!

My half marathon PR had a long buildup. I ran the marathon in February, 2015. After getting back to being healthy in April, I began slowly building my base.

I slowly increased my mileage in May and June. For the most part, it was easy mileage with local 5ks most weekends. The first 5k I ran was a 20:31 (6:40 pace). That was slower than my half marathon PR pace and I realized that I had a long way to go…

Here’s what I focused on during each part of this year build-up.

May-July, 2015:

  • I gradually built my mileage. I went from 0 to about 50 miles per week over the course of 3 months.
  • I didn’t do traditional speed workouts, but I did race most weekends.
  • The first 5k I ran was a 20:31 and by the end of three months, I ran a 19:15. (At the time my PR was an 18:35 from July 2012).

August-September, 2015:

  • In August, I added one speed workout per week.
  • Throughout the eight weeks, I also built mileage to 60 miles per week.
  • I still ran one race weekly. The races varied from a 5k to my first half marathon which I ran in 1:31:49.

I didn’t see much racing fitness gained during that period. I was consistently layering mileage and speed. My body was tired, but I knew once I was well rested and tapered I would see results.

October, 2015:

I had a cutback week and tapered for the Runner’s World 5k and Half Marathon. While there were both a trail race and 10k, I chose just to race the 5k and 13.1. I’m prone to injuries and running all four races was too risky.

Plus, I wanted to excel at two races versus running four at a workout pace.

On Saturday, I broke through my plateau and ran an 18:56 5k on a challenging and hilly course. The following day, I ran a 1:28 half marathon. Both races were 2015 PR’s and gave me motivation knowing my training was working.

Two weeks later, I ran an even faster race of 1:25.45 at Rock N Roll Philadelphia. Of course, I hadn’t raced a 5k the day before either.

In October, I knew I was going in the right direction for a half marathon PR. I began searching for races and found the Carlsbad Half Marathon the following January. I made it my first true goal race and began to focus my training towards that race.

November-December, 2015: Grind months

November and December were months dedicated to training. I ran high mileage, one-speed workout and I was racing most weeks. My typical training week looked like this:

Monday: 90 minute Easy Run
Tuesday: 60 minute Easy Run
Wednesday: Speed workout, 6×1 mile repeats with 90 seconds rest or a tempo run
Thursday: Easy run
Friday: Off
Saturday: 60 Minute Easy Run
Sunday: Race between 5k-13.1

Mileage: 60-70 miles

While I could feel myself getting stronger during workouts, it didn’t translate into any PRs.

The Breakthrough

On January 1st, I started 2016 on the right foot with a 5k PR of 18:22. I wasn’t expecting a PR, and I wasn’t even tapered.

I was finishing my first of 2 peak weeks for the Carlsbad Half Marathon. The 5k was a race in which everything went well, the weather was good, and I felt good too. I knew after breaking a 2.5-year-old PR in the 5k, I was in PR shape for the Carlsbad Half Marathon.

My final three weeks before the Carlsbad Half Marathon were dedicated to training. I built up my mileage and tapered for the half.

Here’s what those three weeks looked like:

Week 1:

Monday: OFF
Tuesday: 90 Minute Easy Run
Wednesday: 60 Minute Easy Run
Thursday: 60 Minute Easy Run with Striders
Friday: 5k PR (18:22)
Saturday: 90 Minute Easy Run (fast finish)
Sunday: 90 Minute Easy Run
Total: 70 miles

Week 2:

Monday: 75 Minute Easy Run
Tuesday: 90 Minute Easy Run with Striders
Wednesday: 6X1 mile repeats with 90 seconds rest (warmup/cooldown total of 15 miles)
Thursday: 60 Minute Easy Run
Friday: OFF
Saturday: 60 Minute Easy Run
Sunday: 10 Mile Race (6:31 pace)+Warmup and Cool down (16 miles)

Taper Week:

Monday: Rest
Tuesday: 60 Minute Easy Run with Striders
Wednesday: Progression Run (total 11 miles)
Thursday: 30 Minute Short Shakeout Run
Friday: Rest+Travel
Saturday: 45 Minute Shakeout Run
Sunday: Carlsbad Half Marathon (1:22.57)

We flew out to Carlsbad two days before. I felt strong the entire race (race recap here). The weather, the atmosphere, and everything went smoothly.

Favorite Workouts

I have an unconventional method to training. I prefer to race 5-10k most weekends and use racing as workouts. I sign up for races knowing the majority of races won’t be a PR.

However, it allows me to run fast more often. Like most runners, I run faster during a race. I can push myself harder and I like to see other local athletes.

I prefer racing to traditional speed workouts because I can see friends, run hard, and have fun. It’s an expensive (but enjoyable) hobby.

I do have a few personal favorite workouts that have made me stronger throughout my training:

6×1 mile repeats with 90 seconds rest. I started with 4×1 mile repeats with two mins rest, but as I became stronger, I was able to add more.

Currently, I have a one-mile loop in my neighborhood that I like to do splits. Since I’m racing on the road, I like to do my speed work on the road.

My last 1 mile repeat log was: 6:30, 6:25, 6:27, 6:28, 6:27, 6:30. I rested for 90 seconds between each mile.

6.5-mile tempo run:

For me, 6 miles is the perfect speed distance. I have a hillier route I’ve mapped out and I only run it for tempo runs.

A sample tempo run day looks like this:

4 Mile Warm up Easy (8:30-9:30 pace)
6.5 Mile Tempo Run (Target: 6:30 pace)
4 mile Cool Down Run (8:30-9:30 pace)

Progression Run

I start at an easy pace (8:30) and work down to goal half marathon pace (6:20). The run ends up being between 10-12 miles. The first half always seems “too” easy, and I usually have to hold myself back.

My final progression run before the half marathon went like this:

Mile 1: 8:30
Mile 2: 8:25
Mile 3: 8:15
Mile 4: 7:45
Mile 5: 7:30
Mile 6: 7:15
Mile 7 7:05
Mile 8: 6:55
Mile 9: 6:40
Mile 10: 6:30
Mile 11: 6:20

Plus one more mile to cool down.

Favorite Gear

The shoes I prefer:

Saucony Triumph ISO 2: A high cushioned shoe for longer runs

Asics FuzeX / Saucony Ride: Both of these shoes I prefer for shorter runs and distances. They have less cushion than the Saucony Triumph.

Saucony TypeA: For workouts and races

I’m not sponsored by Saucony, but I like the fit and feel of Saucony shoes. They’ve kept me healthy and injury.

I also rely on other products during training:

CEP Compression Sleeves: Due to the nature of how I run, my calves get extremely tight. I wear compression sleeves during all of my hard workouts as well as my races.

CEP Compression Leggings: My quads don’t get as tight as my calves, but I’ve found compression capris.

Roll Recovery R8: Like any runner, the “extra” stuff makes me cringe. However, the R8 keeps me honest on foam rollong. It gets deeper into my muscles than traditional foam rollars.

The Garmin 220The Garmin 220 has been updated to the 230. I like the 220 because it does mile splits, and wirelessly syncs up with my phone.



That is just a brief look into the last year of my training. Like any athlete, I’ve made both good and bad choices and there are certain things I would change.

Right now, I don’t have any big races coming up this summer. I plan to evaluate how I feel in late June or July and decide on a fall goal race.

During the last year, there are two important factors that have allowed me to drop 2 minutes in the 5k and about 8 minutes in the half marathon. I believe any runner can benefit from practicing the same two concepts.

  • Consistency: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was my training. It took me nearly a year to build my fitness. There were days I didn’t want to log an easy run and had no motivation. I still got out there and felt better afterwards.
  • Gradually Adding Intensity: I didn’t begin running 60+ mile weeks. Even though I was able to run that mileage previously, I built my fitness over the course of 6 months; then added speed. I do believe the majority of runners can benefit from adding more mileage.

Since PRing in January, I’ve run a few more races including the Broad Street 10 miler in 1:01.59. I’ve also raced the April Fools Half Marathon in extreme conditions. I’ve continued to build my base as well as speed and I hope to PR again in the fall.


Woot! A big thanks to Hollie for sharing all of this training detail. If you’re like me, you love seeing how other runners prepare for races (especialy fast runners!).

You can stay in touch with Hollie on Twitter, where she shares more about her training and makes lots of jokes.

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