Irvette van Blerk

10 Weeks to 21km Glory


The first few months of the South African racing calendar are jam-packed with great half marathons, including the country’s biggest 21.1km race, the Old Mutual Two Oceans Half Marathon, which last year had some 13 000 entrants. So, with half marathon mania in town, Modern Athlete brings you three training programmes – whether you’re aiming to mix it up with the speed merchants or thinking of stepping up for your first half, there’s a programme here for you.

The half marathon is a fun and rewarding distance to race. Whether you are at the back of the pack or flying along with the fast runners, 21.1km is long enough to get you into serious distance running, but short enough to avoid the muscle damage associated with marathons and beyond. And here in South Africa, we’re blessed with an abundance of great half marathons, from the Dis-Chem, George Claassen and Vodacom 21s of Gauteng, to the Peninsula, Two Oceans and Safari 21s of the Cape, and the Maritzburg and Midlands Meander 21s of KwaZulu-Natal. So many great races to go for a good time in – or step up to the half marathon for the first time – surrounded by big fields of runners or walkers to help carry you to the finish.

Here we bring you three ten-week training programmes to choose from, broken down by their respective target times. For the fast runners, there is the sub-90 minutes programme, and for the middle of the pack runners we have a sub-2:00 hour programme. Last but not least is the sub-2:30 programme, aimed at runners attempting their fi rst half marathon. These programmes take for granted that you can comfortably run 10km already.

So why ten weeks? Well, a training programme covering ten weeks allows for a block of base training, then a block of strength training followed by a block of speed training. In the sub-90 and the sub-2:00 programmes, weeks one to three are base training, weeks four and fi ve are strength training and weeks six to nine are speed training. In the sub-2:30 programme, the base training, which contains some strength work, covers weeks one to fi ve, with some speed work in weeks six to eight and a longer cutback over weeks nine and ten.


  1. Choose the half marathon that you are going to run and then work back ten weeks to get your training starting point. Choose your race carefully to get the most benefi t from your training programme. You need to be racing over the fl attest possible route.
  2. Hopefully you are running for a club and will get help and advice from your Club Captain. See if
    your club can incorporate these programmes into its training schedules.
  3. Try to ensure that you have training partners. Doing hill repeats and fartlek by yourself is quite soul destroying. Sharing the pain helps a lot.
  4. Follow your chosen programme but don’t be a slave to it. If you are really tired or have had a late night, then skip the next morning’s run. It’s likely that in any training programme you will miss approximately 10% of the training sessions.
  5. Be honest with yourself in quality sessions – you are only fooling yourself if you are not.
  6. In the strength and speed blocks, the programme works deliberately on the hard/easy/hard  principle. A hard day is always followed by an easy day so that you can recover. Don’t make the mistake of running hard on the easy days. You need the recovery to realise the greatest benefit from the quality sessions that follow the next day.


  1. ROLLING HILLS: Depending on which programme you are using, choose a course which has between four and six hills of varying lengths. Between the hills, run easily but on each hill run as hard as you can. Ensure that the fi rst hill only comes after at least a kilometre into your run, so that you have time to warm up. At the end of the last hill, run back easily for recovery.
  2. HILL REPEATS: Choose a hill of +/- 350 metres and ensure that it is not too steep. Run +/- 3km to the base of the hill to warm up. Run the hill hard and try to be constant in your pace. Your first and last repeat should be almost the same. Bear in mind that to do this, your effort output will be increasing with each repeat. You can pause at the top, but only for a few seconds. Your recovery is a slow jog back down the hill.
    .: Fartlek 22 Minutes
    – Pick a flat easy part of your 10km training run. Run very hard for two minutes and then cut back about 20% for the next two minutes, then run hard again. In total you run for 22 minutes, which means that you will start with a hard two-minute split and end with a hard two-minute split. This will give you six hard splits and five recovery splits. The session is continuous so there is no stopping between splits. Ensure that the fartlek part of your training run is in the middle of your run so that you have adequate warm-up and cool-down kilometres.
    .: 1.5km Circuits – Measure out a fl at, circular 2.5km route and measure off 1.5km of this circuit. Run the 1.5km very hard and then jog 1km back to your start point. Do three circuits. Ensure you do +/- 2km warm-up before you start and about the same as a cool-down.
    .: Tempo Running – Some of the sessions call for a tempo run within a longer, easier pace run. Pick a fl at stretch of your longer run and run the section hard but not fl at-out. Your breathing should not be laboured and you should still be able to talk (a little) to your training partners. Try to find a nice tempo, i.e. a good rhythm, and hold a constant fast pace.

Barry Holland’s 21km Training Programmes

Click here to download.

Click here to download.

Click here to download.



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