Several of my running friends have asked me what system I use for marathon training. I always respond with praise for Hal Higdon’s marathon training system, which has something to offer for runners of all levels. Having started with Novice for my first marathon (and essentially meeting my goal of a near-3:30 time), I have progressed through his Intermediate I and Intermediate II stages (and was able to qualify for Boston using just the Intermediate I program with some speed enhancements) and am now going to make a stab at Advanced I.
One reality of being a father and an executive with a busy spouse living in snow-prone Northeast Ohio is that any running schedule requires some flexibility. Thus it is important to understand the principals of your training to know where you can make adjustments. The key elements of any marathon training program targeting a specific finishing time are as follows:
- A build-up of distance, both weekly total and the longest run each week
- Sufficient focus on pace, including workouts focused on outright speed.
As you make adjustments to your schedule to fit your realities, you need to protect your ability to include these elements, with appropriate rest before and after to make sure you are able to get the most out of the workouts.
What I’ve always liked about Hal Higdon’s 18 week training programs is the consistency of the weekly schedule. The ramp rate is logical and easy to adjust. For example, I will be heading into training for the 2010 Cleveland Marathon in better shape than usual, having been putting in around 30 miles a week of late. However, there is no need to add mileage at the later weeks in the schedule, so I’ll add a few miles per week at the beginning and just have a slower ramp rate. Additionally, since I’m an early morning runner but do appreciate the occasional ability to sleep in (meaning to 5:30 on weekdays), I’m going to replace one of the easy runs with a rest day, or perhaps cross-training at lunch. Should the urge strike, it’s easy enough to add another run occasionally.
The modified schedule is attached. Note that I also need to work around a minor surgery in January, which should lay me up for a week. Also, since I don’t live near any hills and don’t want to drive somewhere to run, I’ve replaced hill training with more tempo and interval runs. After two weeks of ramping up the weekend length, there is an easier step-back weekend (which is always a relief).
Here are a few definitions:
Intervals (4 x 1 mile and similar): these are the core speed workouts, consisting of a hard run for the interval with repeats, allowing a 3 minute jog in between. The original program calls for 800m intervals but full miles seem more appropriate for marathon-level speed work. The goal is to improve the pace each mile by about 5 seconds over the previous one. The average pace should be just a bit slower than 2x your target marathon time; for me (3:15 target time) that comes to around a 6:40 interval time.
Tempo: these runs start at an easy pace, build to 10K race pace near the middle (for about 30-50% of the run time), then finish easy. To calculate a 10K race pace, use this calculator and your targeted marathon time, assuming such a target is realistic.
Pace: These are medium-long runs at your targeted race pace, and such runs are a great opportunity to practice running progressive splits to really get a feel for pacing. They constitute about two of every three medium-length weekend runs. When combining such a run with the long run the next day (peaking at a 10-mile pace run followed by a 20-mile long run) you build your core endurance for the marathon. Note that it is important to keep the medium and long weekend runs on back-to-back days when possible to get the most out of the long run workout.
Long runs: Hal advocates doing these at 45 – 90 seconds slower than race pace, and making 1 of every 3 a “3/1 training run”, where you push the pace to something just a bit slower than race pace. It can be hard to slow yourself down to such a pace, so again trying to achieve progressive splits can help.
I like to note actual distances and pace as I train, so I can go back and see what might need improved for the next race. This is the most aggressive training schedule I have put together so far, but not by much, so I’m hoping it is achievable without burnout. Hopefully I’ll see some of you at the Cleveland Marathon in May.
I’m happy to report that I did, in fact, qualify for Boston at the Cleveland Marathon with a personal best of 3:08:48. Thus, this training program proved a success. I have published the next step with further improvements to an advanced marathon training program targeting a 3:00 marathon on the Predawn Runner blog.
Stock training plans can only take you so far, as they are not tailored to your specific needs. Therefore, I’m happy to offer coaching services, either for a one-time consultation, single season, or on an ongoing basis, to help provide you with plans that fit to your schedule and development needs. All plans include workouts, strength training, mobility work, and, as applicable, race strategies to help you achieve your running goals.