Category Archives: Marathon

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.

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Discussing the 1-1-2 Marathon Training Template and Who It’s Good For

Many marathon coaches and writers have similar, converging ideas. It’s impossible for every training plan to be unique, and it’s not that anyone’s necessarily stealing from anyone else. With so many minds, coaches, runners… many are eventually going to find similar approaches and follow very similar schedules.

I just ran into one such case, where Hal Higdon recently created a new marathon training schedule (Marathon 3), and its three day weekly structure is very similar to the FIRST Marathon training approach.

Another example is that, even though fundamentally they employ different approaches, IronFit and Hal Higdon in their marathon plans each gravitate to what I call a 3 and 2 schedule, where the week starts with three consecutive workouts, and after a day off the week concludes with back to back workouts ending with the long run, followed by a day off.

Those are examples of plans I’ve covered. However, many many other plans I have read and analyzed but not discussed here follow a four day a week approach I will call a 1-1-2 template. In large part, I haven’t discussed them because each of them follow the template in very similar fashion.

The 1-1-2 Template:

Whether it begins Monday, or Tuesday (with Monday off), the first workout of the week is a shorter/medium distance run, or a speed interval workout (400 meter repeats, 800m repeats, or similar).

After the following day is taken off, the 2nd workout on Wednesday/Thursday is a medium distance run, often a tempo or marathon pace run.

After that workout’s following day is taken off, a Friday/Saturday easy run of short/medium distance is followed the day after by the long run. Some may do the whole long run easy, some may insert a marathon pace segment in the run or at the end of the run. But that ends the week’s training.

Tom Holland, Dr. Jim, Jeff Gaudette’s Runners Connect, are some quick examples of writers/coaches who follow this basic template. They can vary in what strength training or cross training they ask you to do between workouts, as well as exactly what kind of workouts you do on the running days.

As a quick hit to the Who’s It Good For concept, and recognizing these plans are different between one another, I still think some general groups may or may not want to consider a plan with this structure:

Who Does This Not Work For?

Run streakers. Obviously you would not be running every day in these plans, and typically these plans ask for so much volume or intensity in the midweek workouts that running short/easy on the rest days is counterproductive. You may as well pick a plan not following this template.

High volume runners. The reasonable ceiling for weekly mileage on plans like these is about 50 miles per week, and that’s presuming you log double digit mileage on the weekday workouts as well as consistently get near that 20 mile mark on the long run.

You could double workout on the training days, but the main workouts are typically somewhat tough, and that could inhibit recovery.

Like the run streakers, you probably want a plan with more frequent, consecutive midweek runs.

Runners who don’t like speed or tempo work. On all these plans I’ve always seen some volume of at least marathon-pace work or tempo running, if not full speed interval workouts. If you’d rather not do any speedwork, Hal Higdon’s Intermediate plans are typically devoid of any speed or tempo running outside of marathon pace runs. If you just want to run easy, you probably need more frequent run workouts than 4 days a week anyway.

Who Does This Work For?

Runners who need breaks. There is a built in day off after three of the four key workouts. If you’ve burned out or worn down from plans with back to back to back runs, a plan like this could help you immensely, possibly more than FIRST or Higdon’s Marathon 3 (since they tend to ask for a lot of extra cross training outside of the workouts).

Runners who have other interests outside of training. The extra days off also give you more space for the rest of your life than most plans do. Some people need the days off to recover between workouts more than others, and plans like this are more accommodating than the other plans I’ve discussed before, while still providing suffient training volume and intensity to get you ready for the marathon.

Runners who struggle with tempo work. The thing with tempo workouts in this format compared to other day-off-rich training plans is that the day off before AND after the midweek speed/tempo sessions better allows you to load up for and recover from these workouts. Some people have a real hard time with executing tempo workouts, and much of that is having to do a workout the day before and/or after, leaving little time for recovery.

This schedule typically assures you have rest time before and after the tempo workouts, maximizing your energy on the workout itself and facilitating your recovery afterward before you tackle the back to back workouts to end the week.


The large number of 1-1-2 plans would be a redundant exercise to cover. But hopefully the above can help you determine if these styles of plans are worth pursuing, or if you’re better off moving along whenever you see them.

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Hal Higdon’s Marathon 3 training plan: Who’s It Good For?

You’ll notice I’ve never written a What’s It Good For feature on the somewhat famous Hal Higdon marathon training plans.

Part of that is they’re by and large recognized as a reliable starter-plan for runners unfamiliar with serious training for a race, or just seeking a straight-forward training plan. It’s often one of the first plans most aspiring runners find and turn to when they want to train for a race. It’s a more old school, traditional approach to run training, fairly straight forward and reliable.

So the audience for these plans is pretty clear. Why write a whole What’s It Good For piece on Higdon’s plans when many reading have already (most likely) gone to and possibly followed his plans before reading? There’s little confusion about whether or not these plans work for someone, and someone reading is typically looking for a different approach.


Now, that said, I’ve come back to Higdon’s work time and again. His writing helped me get back into running years ago and helped me build my ability to run for distance. In fact, for all the What’s It Good Fors I’ve written, if someone on the street asked me for advice on running regularly or doing races for the first time, I’d most likely send them to Hal’s website as a starting point. His basic advice and plans consistently work.

So while figuring out my intended training for the 2022 Vancouver Marathon, I also looked up Hal’s old marathon plans. Incidentally, I wanted more intel on how he’d schedule strength training (because obviously I want to continue strength training through Van training), and his incumbent marathon plans didn’t specifically discuss strength training.

I ran a search to see if I could find reference thereto on his website, and it led me to a plan of his I hadn’t found before: Marathon 3. This is a newer hybrid plan for recreational “gap” runners: Not quite a traditional intermediate marathoner, not really a novice.

The Marathon 3 program fits conveniently between Novice 2 and Intermediate 1, but its main feature (and appeal) is that it offers only three days of running and an extra dose of cross training for those of us who need a bit more rest between our running workouts.

Hal Higdon.

That said, I think more advanced runners may find value in the plan as well, especially if they’ve been burned out or injured on higher volume plans.

Marathon 3 (which I’ll also call M-3) looks decidedly different in schedule-pattern from Higdon’s other plans, which traditionally follow a 3 and 2 weekly cycle: Three early week workouts, rest, then a two workout block of a moderate effort run followed immediately by the long run and a rest/cross day. This one has no scheduled back to back runs.

So you know what? I think Higdon’s Marathon 3 is not only different enough from his other training plans to warrant a write-up, but the fact that it was a bit out of digital sight and I had to find it by accident tells me it’s worth linking and showing to readers.

Plus, you’ll get some insight into my thoughts on Higdon’s principles, and when/how they work well.

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Vancouver Strikes Back, 2022.

Run Van made the decision to open up 2022 Vancouver Marathon registration, offered me an early invite, and it did not take me much thought or deliberation to jump back in. I will be running the Vancouver Marathon on May 1, 2022.

I had actually in fact deferred my airfare and hotel, from my planned October Vancouver trip that couldn’t happen, to late April and early May as if I was already going to the marathon. So this isn’t exactly a sudden change of heart of any sort. This was penciled in, and now I’m tracing it over in pen. Plus, now I don’t have to find money to book the travel, because it’s already booked!

I do have plans to run other events and will still do those. I had plans to train for other stuff in 2022 and will still train for those.

If the Failed Indy Experiment of 2021 showed me anything it’s how I can cross train in lieu of running out a full schedule of marathon training. I gradually build a long run to the needed distance, work on tempo and speed training once a week or so, run when it’s most useful, but otherwise cross train for the bulk of my base aerobic work. Why take a pounding on treadmills or pavement when I can get the job done on an elliptical or spin bike?

The other training (and yes, at some point I’ll go into what all this is) can sit in for any speedwork I’d have otherwise done in dedicated marathon training, when applicable. Since some of it isn’t running, it can at times provide a break from run training.

I’m not terribly worried about injuries. At this point, I think I can trace this summer’s problems back to using the treadmill, and I’ll just stop using it for extended running from here on out. If I restrict my use to under 30 minutes and carefully manage pace, and if I don’t use it too often, it works when it works.

As I did before, I will “trickle in” training starting this month with built in rest days, slowly ramping up to a marathon training schedule that should be in swing by the start of next year. Let’s see how this goes.

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Checking In 10/2/2021

There won’t be an outdoor run today. The weather was fine, but I clearly needed to sleep in quite a bit, which for me is until about 6:30am, and at that point it’s far too late in the morning to get to starting a long run and not end up in too hot conditions for the run to go fine.

So the plan today and tomorrow is to work on the treadmill at easy pace to marathon pace, by swinging two workouts. Plan A was to do a long run of about 16-18 miles today and an hour of running tomorrow, and in each I’d stop and walk after 2 miles for fluid and fuel, as I will when I run Indy.

Workout 1 is an easy interval style long run, running most of it at an easy, slow pace where every 10 minutes I’d briefly surge to marathon pace, then dial back to easy pace. I’d pause every 20 minutes for fluid and fuel, then resume. Obviously the gym treadmills stop at one hour, so that break would be a bit longer, but I’d restart and get right back at it until I’ve done three hours.

However, if not feeling like death, the 3rd hour would increase 15 minutes in from easy pace running to marathon pace running, with 30 second surges to Easy Interval pace every 10 minutes. Again, I’d stop every 20 minutes for fluid and fuel as before.

Workout 2 is a marathon pace workout that should take about 80-90 minutes, and basically practices the mechanics of race day. I start with marathon pace, then slow to a walk at 2 miles to take fluid and fuel. Once situated I get back to marathon pace until I get to 4 miles, then stop the treadmill outright for fluid and fuel in a more extended break. Once ready, I restart the treadmill and repeat the process, ultimately doing four long marathon intervals of about 2 miles each. The reason I don’t do a full hour ending with a runout is I want to simulate the true mechanics of running between the Indy aid stations, and ending each hour with a shorter run-out screws that up.

I could start on the treadmill today and find it won’t work for my body to go 3 hours today, so then I could pivot to Workout 2 and only do an hour, maybe only do three 2-mile intervals since I’ll have been running a bit by that point, then take it easy the rest of the day and go for the long Workout 1 tomorrow.

However, Workout 1 today and Workout 2 tomorrow is the plan for now, and I believe that can work just fine. If I get through this weekend with both completed as planned, I’m in very good shape for Indy given where I was a month ago.

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Time To Taper: When It’s Too Late To Train For Your Marathon.

A good portion of you are running one of the many major marathons taking place over this next couple months: Berlin is this weekend, London next weekend, Chicago and Boston the week after that, and NYC on November 7.

As people do for these races, many of you are probably in an overthinking sense of semi-panic about getting trained and ready for these races. I’ve seen multiple accounts of people now injured ahead of these races, so I know the following advice is relevant.

Most of you are now about 2-3 weeks out from your race. This is now the time you should be tapering, not training hard or long.

Don’t forget: Your body can only gain fitness adaptions from any individual workout after about 8-14 days. Anything you do within 8-10 days of the marathon will not manifest in any training benefits until after your marathon. Any hard workouts within 8-10 days won’t do anything other than tire you out and possibly get you injured.

Many argue for tapering within 3 weeks of a marathon, but I’m with Jonathan Savage on the ideal taper being 2 weeks, with a gradually reduced volume of running at mostly your goal marathon-pace, e.g. instead of a workout of track repeats you’re generally better off doing a few miles at marathon pace and calling it a day. So anyone 3 weeks out at least has through this weekend to train long or hard before they need to wind it down.

At the same time, a lot of injuries happen within the month before a race because runners, generally knowing this truth, do the equivalent of cramming for a final exam, trying to jam in as much training as possible feeling they didn’t do enough the previous couple months. They overtrain within the last 4-6 weeks ahead of their taper, and then get hurt.

It’s a risk I clearly recognize with my own training for Indy in November, and one I have to balance against restoring training volume and best getting ready for that race. Granted, like NYC runners, my race is farther down the road, and I should be reaching peak volume anyway with my taper ideally happening in late October.

But those of you running Boston, London, and Chicago should be in your taper phase, and at this point any hard workouts are unlikely to significantly benefit you. The time to get the work done has passed. You’re either going to be ready or you’re not, no hard training you do from now to then will do much of anything at all to change that, and any long runs or hard work you do in the interim is more likely to burn you out, injure you, or otherwise leave you at less than your best condition for the race.

Side note: In fact, the only real benefit or purpose of any long run the week before a marathon is to tap into your glycogen stores so that any subsequent carb loading will best re-load them before the race. The goal isn’t to get in a hard workout to get you ready. Most would almost be better off cross training this workout for 2-3 hours than running at all.

So unless you want to join those people who now have a sudden injury to their calf, knee, hip, ankle, etc. with 2-3 weeks until their goal race… recognize that you won’t benefit from hard/long marathon training within about 2 weeks before your race, and start wrapping things up now. You had 2-5 months to get ready, and at this point you can’t undo the past.

Any hard work from 2 weeks out until race day is much more likely to get you injured than it is to get you ready for your marathon.

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Why It’s A Good Idea For Ian Butler To Get Up At 4am To Marathon Train Instead of Running After Work

The Let’s Run Message Board is not a particularly healthy place for content, I’ll admit. But I’m on there last night reading, and someone started a thread about elite marathoner Ian Butler, who has a full time job as a school teacher but can run a 2:09 marathon, is training for the upcoming Chicago Marathon, and posted video of himself getting up at 4am to train in the dark.

Someone responded that they found little sense in Butler waking up so early to train when he could just train after work in the evening instead.

“I will never understand why some runners insist on running before the crack of dawn instead of in the afternoon or evening. School probably gets out around 3. There is plenty of time to do the workout later. It’s not Florida or Arizona so it won’t be that hot. Is getting to bed at 7 and waking up at 4 really a better option?”

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