Training Plans

Hal Higdon Training Programs

Marathon training programs are as abundant on the internet as grains of sand on the beach. Everyone seems to be an expert. One individual who really does deserve that label though, is Hal Higdon.

Higdon has contributed to Runner's World for longer than any other writer, an article by him having appeared in the publication's second issue in 1966. He’s the author of 36 books, including a novel, has run eight times in the Olympic Trials and won four world masters championships. As if that’s not enough, he’s also one of the founders of the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA), and has served as training consultant for the Chicago Marathon and Chicago Area Runners Association. In short, he knows his stuff.

I’ve read a number of his books and still believe that his training programs are the most fool proof. Here two of his Novice programs for conquering the 26 (and a bit) miler:

Marathon Training Guide - Novice 1

Long Runs: The key to the program is the long run on weekends, which builds from 6 miles in Week 1 to 20 miles in the climactic Week 15. (After that, you taper to get ready for the marathon.) You can skip an occasional workout, or juggle the schedule depending on other commitments, but do not cheat on the long runs. Notice that although the weekly long runs get progressively longer, every third week is a "stepback" week, where we reduce mileage to allow you to gather strength for the next push upward. Rest is an important component of any training program.

Run Slow: Normally I recommend that runners do their long runs anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds or more per mile slower than their marathon pace. The problem with offering this advice to first-time novice runners, however, is that you probably don't know what your marathon pace is, because you've never run a marathon before! Don't worry. Simply do your long runs at a comfortable pace, one that allows you to converse with your training partners, at least during the beginning of the run. Toward the end, you may need to abandon conversation and concentrate on the act of putting one foot in front of the other to finish. However, if you find yourself finishing at a pace significantly slower than your pace from the first few miles, you probably need to start much slower, or include regular walking breaks. It's better to run too slow during these long runs, than too fast. The important point is that you cover the prescribed distance; how fast you cover it doesn't matter.

Walking Breaks: Some grizzled veterans offended by the Jeff Galloway walkers grumble that the marathon was meant to be run, not walked. Don't listen to them! Walking is a perfectly acceptable strategy in trying to finish a marathon. It works during training runs too. While some coaches recommend walking 1 minute out of every 10, or walking 30 seconds then running 30 seconds before walking again, I suggest that runners walk when they come to an aid station. This serves a double function: 1) you can drink more easily while walking as opposed to running, and 2) since many other runners slow or walk through aid stations, you'll be less likely to block those behind. It's a good idea to follow this strategy in training as well. (If your long run course does not have water fountains, purchase a water belt to wear during your longest workouts and on the warmest days.) You will lose less time walking than you think. I once ran a 2:29 marathon, walking through every aid station. My son Kevin ran 2:18 and qualified for the Olympic Trials employing a similar strategy. And Bill Rodgers took four brief breaks (tying a shoe on one of them) while running 2:09 and winning the 1975 Boston Marathon. Walking gives your body a chance to rest, and you'll be able to continue running more comfortably. It's best to walk when you want to, not when your (fatigued) body forces you too.

Cross-Training: Sundays in the Novice 1 training program are devoted to cross-training. What is cross-training? It is any other form of aerobic exercise that allows you to use slightly different muscles while resting (usually) after your long run. In the Novice 1 program, we run long on Saturdays and cross-train on Sundays, although it certainly is possible to reverse that order. The best cross-training exercises are swimming, cycling or even walking. What about sports such as tennis or basketball? Activities requiring sideways movements are not always a good choice. Particularly as the mileage builds up toward the end of the program, you raise your risk of injury if you choose to play a sport that requires sudden stopping and starting. One tip: You don't have to cross-train the same each weekend. And you could even combine two or more exercises: walking and easy jogging or swimming and riding an exercise bike in a health club. Cross-training for an hour on Sunday will help you recover after your Saturday long runs.

Strength Training: A frequently asked question is: "Should I add strength training to my marathon program?" If you have to ask, you probably should not. I strongly endorse strength training for maximum fitness and long life, but if you never have pumped iron before, now is probably not the time to start. Wait until after you have that medal around your neck. For gym rats, continue to work out, but you might want to cut back on the weights as the long run mileage moves into the double digits. Tuesdays and Thursdays work well for strength training--after you finish your runs on those days.

Midweek Training: Training during the week should be done at a comparatively easy pace. As the weekend mileage builds, the weekday mileage also builds. Add up the numbers, and you'll see that you run roughly the same mileage during the week as you do during long runs on the weekends. Midweek workouts on Wednesdays build from 3 to 10 miles. (I call these my Sorta-Long Runs.) There are similar slight advances on Tuesdays and Thursdays although these are planned as "easy" days. Novice 1 is built on the concept that you do more toward the end than at the start. That sounds logical, doesn't it? Believe me--as hundreds of thousands of marathoners using this schedule have proved--it works.

Races: Normally, I don't prescribe races--or at least too many races--for first-time marathoners. Races can get in the way, particularly if you taper before a race and need extra recovery afterwards. But some racing is convenient, because it introduces newcomers to the racing experience: where to pin your number (on the front), how often to drink (neither too little nor too much), and what it feels like to run in a crowd of several thousand runners. I suggest you consider doing a half marathon in Week 8, a week when in the normal progression you might do 13 miles as your long run. No half marathon in your neighborhood that week? You can juggle the training schedule to match the local racing calendar. One advantage of doing a half is that afterwards, you can use one of the pace calculators available on the Internet (best is by Greg McMillan) to predict your marathon time.

Rest: Despite my listing it at the end, rest is an important component of this or any training program. Scientists will tell you that it is during the rest period (the 24 to 72 hours between hard bouts of exercise) that the muscles actually regenerate and get stronger. Coaches also will tell you that you can't run hard unless you are well rested. And it is hard running (such as the long runs) that allows you to improve. If you're constantly fatigued, you will fail to reach your potential. This is why I include two days of rest each week for novice runners. If you need to take more rest days--because of a cold or a late night at the office or a sick child--do so. The secret to success in any training program is consistency, so as long as you are consistent with your training during the full 18 weeks of the program, you can afford--and may benefit from--extra rest.

Marathon Training Schedule: Novice 1

Week
Mon
Tue
Wed
Thu
Fri
Sat
Sun
1
Rest
3 m run
3 m run
3 m run
Rest
6
Cross
2
Rest
3 m run
3 m run
3 m run
Rest
7
Cross
3
Rest
3 m run
4 m run
3 m run
Rest
5
Cross
4
Rest
3 m run
4 m run
3 m run
Rest
9
Cross
5
Rest
3 m run
5 m run
3 m run
Rest
10
Cross
6
Rest
3 m run
5 m run
3 m run
Rest
7
Cross
7
Rest
3 m run
6 m run
3 m run
Rest
12
Cross
8
Rest
3 m run
6 m run
3 m run
Rest
Rest
Half Marathon
9
Rest
3 m run
7 m run
4 m run
Rest
10
Cross
10
Rest
3 m run
7 m run
4 m run
Rest
15
Cross
11
Rest
4 m run
8 m run
4 m run
Rest
16
Cross
12
Rest
4 m run
8 m run
5 m run
Rest
12
Cross
13
Rest
4 m run
9 m run
5 m run
Rest
18
Cross
14
Rest
5 m run
9 m run
5 m run
Rest
14
Cross
15
Rest
5 m run
10 m run
5 m run
Rest
20
Cross
16
Rest
5 m run
8 m run
4 m run
Rest
12
Cross
17
Rest
4 m run
6 m run
3 m run
Rest
8
Cross
18
Rest
3 m run
4 m run
2 m run
Rest
Rest
Marathon 


Marathon Training Guide - Novice 2



Long runs: The key to the program is the long run on weekends, which builds from 8 miles in Week 1 to 20 miles in the climactic Week 15. (After that, you taper to get ready for the marathon.) Starting at 8 miles, you get up over 15 miles sooner than in Novice 1 and have an additional run above that distance. You can skip an occasional workout, or juggle the schedule depending on other commitments, but do not cheat on the long runs. Notice that although the weekly long runs get progressively longer, every third week is a "stepback" week, where we reduce mileage to allow you to gather strength for the next push upward. Rest is an important component of any training program.

Run slow: For experienced marathoners, I recommend that runners do their long runs anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds or more per mile slower than their marathon pace. The problem with offering this advice to many novice runners, however, is that they probably don't know what their marathon pace is, because they never have run a marathon before! As an experienced runner, you may or may not have run a prior marathon, but hopefully you have done enough races, including a half marathon, so that you can predict your marathon pace. If not, don't worry. Simply do your long runs at a comfortable pace, one that allows you to converse with your training partners, at least during the beginning of the run. Toward the end, you may need to abandon conversation and concentrate on the act of putting one foot in front of the other to finish. However, if you find yourself finishing at a pace significantly slower than your pace in the first few miles, you probably need to start much slower, or include regular walking breaks. It's better to run too slow during these long runs, than too fast. The important point is that you cover the prescribed distance; how fast you cover it doesn't matter.

Walking breaks: Walking is a perfectly acceptable strategy in trying to finish a marathon. It works during training runs too. While some coaches recommend walking 1 minute out of every 10, or even alternating running and walking as frequently as every 30 seconds, I teach runners to walk when they come to an aid station. This serves a double function: 1) you can drink more easily while walking as opposed to running, and 2) since many other runners slow or walk through aid stations, you'll be less likely to block those behind. It's a good idea to follow this strategy in training as well. You will lose less time walking than you think. I once ran a 2:29 marathon, walking through every aid station. My son Kevin ran 2:18 and qualified for the Olympic Trials employing a similar strategy. And Bill Rodgers took four brief breaks (tying a shoe on one of them) while running 2:09 and winning the 1975 Boston Marathon. Walking gives your body a chance to rest, and you'll be able to continue running more comfortably. It's best to walk when you want to, not when your (fatigued) body forces you too.

Cross-training: Sundays in this training program are devoted to cross-training. What is cross-training? It is any other form of aerobic exercise that allows you to use slightly different muscles while resting (usually) after your long run. In this program, we run long on Saturdays and cross-train on Sundays, although it certainly is possible to reverse that order. The best cross-training exercises are swimming, cycling or even walking. What about sports such as tennis or basketball? Activities requiring sideways movements are not always a good choice. Particularly as the mileage builds up toward the end of the program, you raise your risk of injury if you choose to play a sport that requires sudden stopping and starting. One tip: You don't have to cross-train the same each weekend. And you could even combine two or more exercises: walking and easy jogging or swimming and riding an exercise bike in a health club. Cross-training for an hour on Sunday will help you recover after your Saturday long runs.

Strength Training: A frequently asked question is: "Should I add strength training to my marathon program?" If you have to ask, you probably should not. I strongly endorse strength training for maximum fitness and long life, but if you never have pumped iron before, now is probably not the time to start. Wait until after you have that medal around your neck. For gym rats, continue to work out, but you might want to cut back on the weights as the long run mileage moves into the double digits. Tuesdays and Thursdays work well for strength training--after you finish your runs on those days.

Midweek training: Training on Tuesdays and Thursdays should be done at a comparatively easy pace. As the weekend mileage builds, the weekday mileage also builds. Add up the numbers, and you'll see that you run roughly the same mileage during the week as you do during long runs on the weekends. Midweek workouts on Wednesdays build from 3 to 8 miles, many of them done at race pace. (I call these my Sorta-Long Runs.) There are similar slight advances on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The program is built on the concept that you do more toward the end than at the start. That sounds logical, doesn't it? Believe me--as tens of thousands of marathoners using this schedule have proved--it works. How fast is "comfortably easy?" That might vary from day to day. On Tuesday after a day's rest, you might find yourself running faster than race pace. On Thursday after two days of running, your pace might be significantly slower.

Race Pace: What do I mean by "race pace?" It's a frequently asked question, so let me explain. Race pace is the pace you plan to run in the race you're training for. If you're training for a 4:00 marathon, your average pace per mile is 9:09. So you would run that same pace when asked to run race pace (sometimes stated simply as "pace" on the training charts). If you were training for a 5-K or 10-K, "race pace" would be the pace you planned to run in those races. Sometimes in prescribing speedwork, I define paces for different workouts as 5-K pace or 10-K pace, but you won't be asked to run this fast in the Novice 2 program.

Rest: Despite my listing it at the end, rest is an important component of this or any training program. Scientists will tell you that it is during the rest period (the 24 to 72 hours between hard bouts of exercise) that the muscles actually regenerate and get stronger. Coaches also will tell you that you can't run hard unless you are well rested. And it is hard running (such as the long runs) that allows you to improve. If you're constantly fatigued, you will fail to reach your potential. This is why I include two days of rest each week for novice runners. If you need to take more rest days--because of a cold or a late night at the office or a sick child--do so. The secret to success in any training program is consistency, so as long as you are consistent with your training during the full 18 weeks of the program, you can afford--and may benefit from--extra rest.

Marathon Training Schedule: Novice 2

Week
Mon
Tue
Wed
Thu
Fri
Sat
Sun
1
Rest
3 m run
5 m pace
3 m run
Rest
8
Cross
2
Rest
3 m run
5 m run
3 m run
Rest
9
Cross
3
Rest
3 m run
5 m pace
3 m run
Rest
6
Cross
4
Rest
3 m run
6 m pace
3 m run
Rest
11
Cross
5
Rest
3 m run
6 m run
3 m run
Rest
12
Cross
6
Rest
3 m run
6 m pace
3 m run
Rest
9
Cross
7
Rest
4 m run
7 m pace
4 m run
Rest
14
Cross
8
Rest
4 m run
7 m run
4 m run
Rest
15
Cross
9
Rest
4 m run
7 m pace
4 m run
Rest
Rest
Half Marathon
10
Rest
4 m run
8 m pace
4 m run
Rest
17
Cross
11
Rest
5 m run
8 m run
5 m run
Rest
18
Cross
12
Rest
5 m run
8 m pace
5 m run
Rest
13
Cross
13
Rest
5 m run
5 m pace
5 m run
Rest
19
Cross
14
Rest
5 m run
8 m run
5 m run
Rest
12
Cross
15
Rest
5 m run
5 m pace
5 m run
Rest
20
Cross
16
Rest
5 m run
4 m pace
5 m run
Rest
12
Cross
17
Rest
4 m run
3 m run
4 m run
Rest
8
Cross
18
Rest
3 m run
2 m run
Rest
Rest
2 m run
Marathon

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