Tag Archives: Running

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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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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Finally, A Finished Race

User-uploaded Photo

Ran out the Hallowrock 5K in 27:52, the first race I managed to complete since March. Yes, it hasn’t exactly been a great year, and by no means was that anywhere close to a PR. But I got what I wanted out of this run.

My goal was simple and based on my Stryd power rather than a goal time: Run the entire course at 250 Watts or greater. A couple of prior steady runs in weeks prior showed me this was an entirely reasonable goal.

Since getting my Stryd my calculated Critical Power (CP) rating (roughly what your lactate threshold should be) hasn’t been as high as I know it actually is. Interval workouts and long runs don’t quite get it where I know it should be. I realize it was going to take a sustained tempo-like effort for the pod to accurately calculate my CP… something like the 5K I signed up to run today.

I filtered in at the start line with a group I figured would be running closer to the pace I could do, and calmly went with the flow as others went out too hard (as usual), finding the 250W groove and calmly sticking with it. I did surge past people as needed but otherwise settled into 250W effort. I had a couple of people pass me (and had one older guy aggressively run/walking past me then me past him, etc) but mostly I was passing people here and there.

I didn’t make any effort to reel in or catch anyone, and the one person I did end up latched behind for most of the race did ultimately pull away in the final mile. I just ran steady the whole way, didn’t worry at all about pace, and whenever I saw I drifted under 250W I stepped up the effort as needed.

The first mile I ran a bit fast, as with a bigger crowd I did have to surge a bit more here and there. After that the only surges were to avoid bottlenecks, including one case where one racer with a dog was approaching pedestrians on the trail who also had a dog. I skipped the 1.5mi water station but did take water at the last station a bit over 2mi in.

Obviously, I tired as the race progressed, and for the first time in a long while I finally felt a lactic burn in my lower legs. Towards the final mile I had to breathe hard and steady to keep things moving. So without looking at my heart rate I knew I was going somewhat hard… not as all-out hard as my better 5K efforts, but I was treating this like a race.

At a quarter mile from the finish I initially picked it up a bit, but my right hamstring began barking again, not close to enough to need to stop but enough that I dialed back to my regular effort. I was fine as long as I didn’t push hard with the right leg. Whatever kick I had at the end was driven by my left leg, my right leg calmly following along at a normal effort. It turned out I ran the last 110 meters substantially faster than the other miles, so I guess that worked out. Plus, remember that my left hamstring and groin were a problem for months. I felt no pain whatsoever in that left leg.

Stryd tells me my measured Critical Power has jumped about 25W, which is much more like it.

So, while I’ll still take a few days easy from running before resuming any running, I’ll certaintly take that and move along.

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The Bill Phillips Body For Life Inspired 10 Minute Warmup

A bit over 20 years ago, I bought the famous Bill Phillips book Body For Life. I won’t go too much into the premise of the book, its historical context at the time or its many flaws (including in-book product promotion). At the time, I found the template for fitness and diet interesting, so I bought it and followed the plan.

The book’s training method had you aggressively strength-train several days a week and follow some simple diet principles. For “cardio”, it had you do 20 minutes of effort-based high intensity intervals, which you can do in any aerobic-based way you desired, three days per week. I always used the treadmill. Back then I wasn’t the focused runner I am now, nor was I active beyond walking or cycling to commute, but I had enough fitness to run hard for some distance.

In short, the Cardio:

  • You start at a 5 out of 10 effort, whatever you feel that means
  • After two minutes you increase to 6 out of 10.
  • Each minute thereafter you again increase effort by 1, until you do a minute at 9 out of 10.
  • Then you scale back to 6 out of 10 for a minute, once again ramping each minute until at 9 out of 10, then falling back to 6 and repeating the process.
  • Once you get to 9 out of 10 for the 4th time, instead of dropping back to 6 you increase to 10 out of 10 and hold that for a full minute.
  • Then drop back to 5 and cool off for the final couple of minutes at 5 out of 10 to end the workout.

This workout always kicked me around, but I was always able to get it done. It was the only running I did, and you did it every 2-3 days so I had plenty of time to recover before the next one. I followed the Body For Life plan for a little while and then left it behind, probably in part because I lost gym access around that time.

In any case, this interval sequence resided in the back of my mind pretty much all this time. I still have the book but haven’t cracked it in a long while. The strength workouts I’ve forgotten as they’ve long since been replaced by far superior approaches.

But during recovery from my injury problems, as I started using the treadmill again, this approach came to mind as a warmup. It’s very similar to the 10 minute progressive treadmill warmup Lifetime Fitness taught me during my VO2max testing a while back. In that warmup, you jog for 2 minutes, and speed up by 0.4mph each 2 minutes before ending at a speed that is somewhat fast for you.

I realized that’s quite similar to how I did the Body For Life intervals. For 5/10 I would start at a 3.0mph walk. Then my 6 would be a fast 4.0mph walk. My 7 would be a 5.0mph slow jog. My 8 would be a 6.0mph steady run. My 9 would be a 7.0mph hard run. And the 10 out of 10 would be a nearly all-out (… well, at the time) 8.0mph run.

While the top intervals were harder than anything in the Lifetime warmup, the bottom intervals were of course much easier on me and allowed me to recover. The Lifetime warmup was harder to do because it required 10 straight minutes of progressively harder running (though, at least it was done after the fastest interval).

I realized doing an adjusted 10 minute version of the old Phillips workout as a warmup would be an easier and possibly more effective warmup, since I’d hit a faster top speed with a shorter duration, then have a walking period to cool off before re-trying.

I tried it recently and it not only felt better as expected, but I found it did a much better job getting my body ready to run at a higher intensity. So now that’s what I do as a warmup before any key indoor workouts (and you’ll notice I adjusted from the above paces a bit).

  1. I start at a 3.0mph walk for 1 minute.
  2. Increase to a 4.0mph power walk for 1 minute.
  3. Increase to a 5.0mph very easy jog for 1 minute. If too easy (e.g. I’m running into the front of the treadmill), I increase to 5.3mph, a more typical jog/recovery pace for me.
  4. Increase to 6.0mph steady run for 1 minute. If feeling comfortable after a few seconds I’ll often increase to 6.2mph.
  5. Increase to a brisk, somewhat demanding 7.0mph for 1 minute. If feeling comfortable after a few seconds I’ll often increase to 7.3mph.
  6. Drop back down to 3.0mph for 1 minute, and repeat the sequence.
  7. After the 10th minute, shut it down and go dynamic-stretch before the workout.

Since many of my treadmill sessions cruised around 5.5-6.5 mph, this whole sequence made that range feel very sustainable over a long period of time, suitably warming me up for a workout like that.

I not only do this warmup before treadmill runs but also do it before other cross training sessions, to ensure I’m at and can reach a suitable heart rate training range for a maximum training stimulus and benefit.

If I run near my gym, I could also do this warmup in the gym, then go outside and run. Sure, it can be awkward walking out of the gym 15 minutes after arriving, then back in the gym 45-75 minutes later.

I could also, with some discipline and adjustment, do the warmup outdoors by feel. That makes some sense after all, since the workout was originally intended to be done by effort rather than set parameters. I had an outdoor run yesterday that didn’t go great and had to be cut short. While not certain, perhaps it could have gone better had I thought to do an outdoor warmup like this.

You could follow the above sequence, with your own pace and parameters. Whatever a 5 out of 10 feels like or a 9 out of 10 feels like is up to you to determine (notice I don’t ever go to 10 out of 10, by the way; I stop at 9).

You could walk for 4 minutes and run just for 1. You could start at an easy run and just have it be all running. You could do it all on a spin bike or a rowing machine or elliptical. It’s up to you.

But I found this to be a great 10 minute aerobic warmup sequence, and it might work for you as well.

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Checking In 9/30/2021

Other than a spur of the moment afternoon work break run, yesterday was a full day off from training. I had to do my laundry last night, and that gave me a convenient excuse to come straight home and not go to the gym. I had a good dinner and slept reasonably well, even if I did wake up early today.

Today I’m gunning for running a good 7-8 miles, which would be the most midweek running miles I’ve logged since the end of June. I’ll run on at least one work break, and the main plan is to do what I did Tuesday, with a full Phillips-style walk/run warmup, then 60 minutes of 1000 meter easy intervals on the treadmill with a run-out to finish a full hour (an interval run until the clock hits 1:00:00).

If this works as intended (which given how Tuesday went I’m thinking it will), I’ll finish the day with roughly 7.5 miles. Tomorrow is another scheduled day off before a long workout Saturday, so even if today is really tough to get through I’ll have all of tomorrow to recover.

If I get through the weekend feeling reasonably good (I expect to feel somewhat weary and work-sore), I’ll likely do at least three of these next week and cross train in-between as well as through any rough patches.

The plan is to stay in town for the next couple weekends (I could be swayed to travel next weekend but the plan is to stay for now). I’ll bring fuel for the long Saturday workout, so if I can log the intended mileage and recover in reasonable time I think I’ll be in a good place training-wise. I’ll be able to log at least two more long weekend workouts (obviously the Vancouver trip will be one), if not another long workout next weekend (which is a swing weekend: I’ll see how I’m feeling and if I need that to be more of a break, I’ll take it).

Vegas mornings have cooled off considerably, and while it’s still a bit warm to go long (high 60’s Fahrenheit in the mornings) the conditions are decent enough to go for it. If the wildfire smoke comes back, the current treadmill format might be suitable for a long workout, or at least part of it on the treadmill with long cross training behind it.

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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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Checking In 9/18/2021 from Big Bear Lake

May be an image of nature and tree
Boulder Bay Park in Big Bear Lake

Hello from Big Bear Lake.

This morning I headed out and after over nearly four hours of start-stop running, broken up with a mile 2 pit stop for pastries and espresso, a break in Boulder Bay at 7.5 miles, and a partially bonk-induced steak and egg brunch at Country Kitchen at 10 miles, I staggered back into base at 13.3 miles.

No left anything hurt the entire time! I did have a fatigue-like pain in the right hamstring in the tail end of the run, but I took it slow and stopped for a lot of breaks… so it never got dangerous or hung around long. As I write this, I feel generally sore/tired by mostly good overall. Nothing is bothering me. My left hamstring and groin were never at any point an issue the entire time.

I stayed under shade for most of the workout, and that’s one advantage Big Bear has over Flagstaff: The trees here are taller and take up more of the real estate, so the roads are generally more shaded across the board. Flagstaff is prone to longer stretches of open sun. It also was rather cool in the morning, actually near 40’F, only getting up towards the 70’s once I finished up.

I’ll see how I feel about some extra running tomorrow before I head out of Big Bear, and/or some more cross training after I get back into Vegas. I also have errands I need to run at some point once I’m back in Vegas, so time may be limited. But Monday is a scheduled rest day, and I’ll see how I feel Tuesday in deciding what to do that day and the rest of the week. I know I’ll be running some and cross training some, but what combination and volume remains to be seen. I have a lot penciled in, knowing some of it may likely come off.

This is a good time of year to come into Big Bear, because the summer season ends with the Labor Day holiday, yet it hasn’t gotten cold enough yet for icy temperatures or snow to make coming here unworkable. I may be able to squeeze in another trip here before Indy, but we’ll see. It’s not yet cooled off enough in Vegas that these weekend trips for long runs aren’t necessary anymore.

I don’t plan to run long next weekend, but might do a moderately long workout Sunday. These long workouts will be spaced out a bit, to give the adaptions a chance to show up workout over workout without overdoing it and risking further trouble.

That’s it for the moment. Going to relax before a busy Sunday.

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