Pete Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning, and the nuts and bolts of Hal Higdon’s Marathon plans

I luckily picked up and am now reading a copy of Pete Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning this week at a substantial now-or-never discount (the book usually costs a relatively steep $27.95+tax). Even though I’m nowhere near the fitness to do one of his high volume maniacal marathon training plans, the book itself is more about the finer points of marathon training in general, and is still quite useful.

He goes into detail about the effect of hard workouts and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) on quality workouts during marathon training. Obviously, you want to avoid going into speed/tempo workouts (especially long workouts) still sore or tired from the last hard workout.

He made an interesting point in agreement with Jack T. Daniels about how back to back hard workouts can take advantage of DOMS typically not setting in until 2 days after a hard workout. The idea is that (presuming you have the legs to do back to back hard workouts) you do the 2nd hard session the day after, and the soreness will not yet have set in.

One common example he cites is how college athletes will run a race on Saturday, and then do their long run on Sunday. Or how during a race week they will do their speed and tempo workouts back to back early in the week, like Tuesday and Wednesday, to allow for 2+ easy days before a Saturday race. In fact, if you own Daniels Running Formula, you’ll see that some of his sub-marathon plans book back to back quality workouts during some phases of training.

This immediately reminded me of Hal Higdon‘s Intermediate Marathon plans, where he has you run back to back pace and long runs on the weekends, plus back-to-back-to-back short/medium easy runs during the week. I suddenly realized, however unintentionally, that Pfitzinger was explaining in detail why Higdon’s Intermediate schedule was such an effective plan.

Higdon’s marathon-pace and long runs bunched together avoid the onset of DOMS compromising either workout. Even if your pace run was hard on your body, the easy long run gets that needed stimulus in before DOMS can compromise the quality or safety of the long run.

Also, the day after the long run (when DOMS would theoretically set in) is an easy cross training day, with the 2nd day after a short, easy running day never exceeding 5 easy miles. By the time Wednesday’s medium-long run comes along, your DOMS should in theory have had time to subside, and your glycogen should be fairly replenished from the busy weekend.

Even if that Wednesday run is challenging, the Thursday short/easy run followed by the rest day on Friday gives you enough time and space to recover before repeating the weekend combo starting on Saturday.

The one spot in Higdon’s plan where he breaks this is the midpoint ending week 9, where he recommends running a tune-up half marathon that Sunday after a day off Saturday. The following week resumes the normal schedule with no recovery period, and it’s possible you could go into the Tuesday-Thursday running somewhat tired and sore from the tune-up race.

Pfitzinger (though he advises a full day off after any race longer than 15K) does indicate he believes you can recover from a longer race in short order, a la those other back to backs. Daniels himself, meanwhile, typically recommends one easy day for every 3K covered in your race, and by that standard you theoretically need a full easy week (7 days, for the 21K half) to recover. This would indicate that going back to regular training the next week is far too soon, and you’ll be tired for those workouts (plus note that Higdon does schedule an 8 mile marathon-pace workout plus an 18 miler that following weekend).

Higdon does generally recommend that the tune-up race is optional and you could skip it in lieu of a regular long run, plus that as needed you can skip workouts here and there. But they’re still on the schedule, and most runners following the schedule will still do them.

Perhaps on Higdon’s part this is an intentional stimulus as part of the training cycle. He knows this resumption of substantial volume after a tune-up race presents a challenge, and is part of readying you for the marathon in 8-9 weeks from then.

Barring that (and it’s not like you as a runner can’t adjust your effort or the written plan as needed to get through that tough week 9-10), the rest of the Intermediate plan does a pretty good (unintentional) job of adhering to the principles Pfitzinger writes about in Advanced Marathoning.

Pfitzinger’s book is actually one I’d not immediately recommend reading. Even my reading it is more curiosity than anything else. As mentioned, his actual training plans are overlong and brutal, and I’m not sure I’d want to follow them. But that doesn’t mean the other principles he goes into aren’t of use.

And it’s interesting to see these principles show some of the nuts and bolts as to how other popular training plans work so well.

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