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How Japan’s Hitomi Niiya trained for the national half-marathon record in Houston

Here's how Hitomi Niiya ran a 1:06:38 at the Houston Half-Marathon for a new Japanese national record

In January, Hitomi Niiya won the Houston Half-Marathon with a Japanese record of 1:06:38. At the time, this was the fastest time ever run by a woman born outside of Kenya or Ethiopia (Niiya’s time was beaten by Magdalena Shauri, a Tanzanian runner, at the RAK Half-Marathon in February). Niiya is coached by former Japanese 800m record-holder Masato Yokota, who recently published his athlete’s training diary of the 100 days before her race in Houston. Niiya obviously worked incredibly hard to set this record, averaging around 30K of running every day. All 100 days of training are online for anyone to check out, but we don’t recommend trying to copy her workouts—these are fast times combined with long distances that only the elite few can handle.

Training breakdown

On September 28 in Doha, Qatar, Niiya ran a 31:12.99 for 11th place in the women’s 10,000m at the World Athletics Championships. Her 100-day build to the Houston Half began shortly after that, on October 1. In addition to her average daily mileage of 30K, Niiya did strength training six days a week.

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Niiya had a lot of variety in her training during the lead-up to Houston. Most weeks, she ran 400m repeats (anywhere between 10 and 20), which ranged from around 75 seconds per lap down to 69 or 68 seconds by the end of some workouts. Another apparent favourite of Yokota’s was a 12K “pace run” for Niiya, and on Saturdays, he had Niiya going long, running 20K to 24K on “flat grass,” sometimes noted as “XC.”

Photo: Twitter/WorldAthletics

In most of her workouts, Niiya would build her pace throughout. This didn’t always mean she would finish at a blistering pace, but her runs often saw a steady increase in speed as they progressed. 

RELATED: The shocking depth of Japanese women’s road running

Impressive runs

Many of Niiya’s workouts were impressive, and looking at her training plan, it immediately becomes clear how she ran a national half-marathon record. Not only did she run a lot, but she ran focused and fast workouts multiple times per week. She had her speed work, her long runs and a mix of the two, like with her 12K workouts, which were often around a 1K loop.

In December, Niiya ran two similar workouts just over a week apart: three times 4,800m and three times 5,000m. In the first session, she went 15:35, 15:25 and 15:14 for the 4,800m repeats. For the 5,000m workout, she ran 15:49 for the first two repeats and closed with a 15:56 (she averaged 15:48 5K splits in Houston just over a month later).

RELATED: 138 runners go sub-29 in Japanese 10,000m races

Niiya worked two races—both were relays in which she ran 10Kinto her training ahead of Houston. The first was in November, at the East Japan Women’s Ekiden in Fukushima, where Niiya ran a course record of 30:52. The second was the National Women’s Ekiden in Kyoto, just a week before Houston, where she ran 30:57. A week later, Niiya crossed the finish line at the Houston Half in 1:06:38, over a minute and a half ahead of second place.