I just started the Hal Higdon Marathon Training Plan this week. This will (hopefully) be the first time I train for a marathon by following a plan from beginning to end. Usually I get distracted, or busy and change the plan to fit my life and therefore I’ve never been fully prepared for a marathon.
Who is Hal Higdon?
If you’ve been a running fan for a while, chances are you’ve heard of Hal Higdon, or at least read some of his articles, or books. Hal has been writing for Runner’s World since 1966 and has published a number of books on the topic. His most popular book is Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide, which I highly recommend to anyone who learns well by reading. In addition to his writing, Hal is an accomplished runner, who ran in the US Olympic Trials eight times.
The Importance Of A Good Training Plan
While I’m a fan of just going out and running, I strongly recommend following a plan if you want to run a marathon. For various reasons, I’ve never made it through an entire training plan and my marathon performance has suffered as a result. Usually, when I have to cut back on running, the long runs are the first to go, or they get changed into sort of long runs. Many times I would just go out and run, thinking that it would help me prepare for the marathon, but in reality I was just building up miles in a way that wasn’t helpful for marathon running.
What Happens When You Run A Marathon Unprepared
You may have heard stories about people who ran marathons without training and did an amazing job. While some of those stories are true, they’re not the norm, by any stretch of the imagination. The first marathon I ran was the closest I came to being fully trained. The only thing I missed was the three longest runs. For the most part, I felt great during the race. My heart rate and breathing were steady and on target, but at about mile 16 (which equaled my longest training run) my legs started to revolt. I did manage to finish the race, but it was an epic battle between mind and body and my time was nothing to write home about. There were other marathons where I was less prepared and performed even worse and even one time when I did not finish.
Why Use Hal Higdon’s Training Plans
Given the importance of following a training plan, I would look for a plan that’s well suited for you. There are a number of Marathon training plans out there, so why am I going with Hal’s plan? Aside from being one of, if not the most popular, training plan out there, his plans appeal to me because they’re made for normal people. Many of the marathon plans seem to be made for super humans, I’m just a normal (well, normal might not be the best word for me) person who loves running and wants to train smartly.
The Training Plan
The particular plan that I’m using is the Intermediate 1 Marathon plan. You can find the exact details and all of his other plans on Hal’s website halhigdon.com. The Intermediate 1 is an 18-week plan, which is 2-4 weeks longer than any plan I’ve attempted before. The extra time allows you to get in two 20 mile runs, without overworking your body. Most of the runs are completed at a pace significantly slower than your intended marathon pace, perhaps even 90 seconds or slower per mile on a long run. The reason for this is that you get the same physiological benefits from long runs, regardless of the pace. In fact, running too fast can be counterproductive on many runs.
For many people the best way to run a marathon is a combination of walking and running. As runners, we usually prefer to actually be running. One of the recommended methods is to walk through the aid stations. That gives you the added benefit of being able to drink without spilling all over yourself. It is possible to run a marathon in an excellent time, even with walking through aid stations. I would caution that you should pay attention to how long your breaks are. A 30-second break every 2 miles adds up to a 6.5 minute difference over the course of 26 miles. On the other hand, a full minute break every 2 miles adds up to 13 minutes, which be nearly impossible to make up for.
While speed work is an important part of becoming a faster runner, it’s not necessarily beneficial during marathon training. The Intermediate 1 plan does not incorporate any real speed work and only has one run per week at marathon pace. If you feel the need to add in speed work, the advanced training plans would be better for you. My current plan is to finish my next marathon in 4 hours or fewer, which is a comfortable pace for me to run, but not one that I can currently sustain for 26.2 miles. If I come close to my goal, I will work on speed before my next marathon, with the eventual goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon (it seems quite impossible for me right now, but I’m going to try).
I have a very hard time focusing on things for a long period. Part of being bipolar and ADHD is frequently going to extremes and changing interest on a whim. If I try to frame that as a positive, I can say that I’m spontaneous, but reality is it’s not usually a positive. After my most recent marathon performance, which I hope to write about soon, I realized the importance of committing to a long term training strategy. I’m going to hold myself responsible for completing the training and not making any excuses to change the plan.
Feel free to follow along and join me on this journey.
Do you have a favorite training plan?