Tag Archives: training plans

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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Progressive Machine Strength Training: Modifying the Rapid Fire Sets

So since introducing the Rapid Fire Sets I’ve modified the approach in a way that suits my training and has benefitted me quite a bit. I should probably talk about it, and note that what I do now is not really true to the name anymore. I still think Rapid Fire Sets are valuable, but what I do now while similar is rather different.

First of all, this approach is exclusively used with strength machines at the gym, where the weight is set using a metal pin. You could probably use this with a Tonal or similar machine, if you have one.

But I don’t use this approach with free weights of any kind, as switching between them at the gym is too complicated and at times prohibitive. For exercises requiring free weights, I still continue to follow a standard four set block, with the first and last set 12 reps at a light weight, and the 2nd and 3rd middle sets 8 reps at twice the weight.

Given that, here is the (as of now unnamed) approach I follow for any given machine exercise.

  • I start with a light weight. On most machines I’ll start at the lightest weight possible. In many cases I’ll start several pounds higher as the lightest weight is so effortless that it’s not an exercise. (As I get stronger I imagine I’ll do the latter with every machine)
  • I do 8 reps at that weight.
  • I pause/rest 30 seconds, during which I increase the weight by 10-20 pounds, depending on how the weight is divided on the machine. In my case, some stacks are in 10 pound blocks, some are in 20 pound blocks. Whatever the next step up in weight is, that’s what I increase the weight to.
  • Then I do 8 reps at the new weight. Then I stop for 30 seconds, and increase again by one step. Repeat.
  • Once I’m at a weight that’s too heavy to finish 8 reps, or I finish an 8 rep set and know I probably don’t have enough to do the next weight up… I stop increasing. I rest another 30 seconds.
  • I divide the highest weight I lifted in half. I set the pin to that weight. Most machines have some way to let you do half increments, so if the half-weight is not an even number I use that to set the correct weight.
  • I then do 12 reps at the half-weight. After that, I am done with this exercise, and move on.

I now do this on machines for all my 20 minute workouts. I still restrict my strength workouts to 20 minutes, and find this way I can do two machine exercises, plus at least one regular 4-set block of a free weight exercise. I don’t always do 2-and-1… I might do all free weight exercises, or just one machine exercise. It depends on what I plan to work on that day.

Sometimes there’s enough time left over to do 2-4 sets of something else, and often I’ll do seated cable rows at a single light weight, hanging raises, or Russian twists, as these exercises work on muscle groups I incidentally want to improve. Which ones I do depends on feel. I’ve also mixed in odd exercises like farmer’s walks or goblet squats.

Since starting this approach I’ve found that if I leave a machine exercise for last, I often run out of time before I reach a weight too heavy to continue. I don’t go over-time: I just end the workout after the last set I’m able to complete before the clock reaches 20:00. So now, if I find maxing out an exercise important, I make sure to not do that one last. And I typically default to the old wisdom of “do the most important thing first”. Likewise, if I want to take it easy on a machine exercise, I’ll often schedule that one last, knowing the clock may run out before I can max it out.

Because I can only do about three exercises per workout, this allows me to spread my full routine across multiple workouts, without burning me out or leaving me too sore to continue in subsequent days. I’ve done a couple of 5-day splits and been able to strength train 4-6 times a week without problems. In the last month or so I’ve done this, I’ve made a ton of progress.

So while I have yet to codify this process (it is a bit complicated to clearly describe for others), I’ve found this progressive approach to strength training effective and repeatable.

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Base Training (For Van 2022) Begins Today

Training for Vancouver 2022 actually has to begin this week, not because I need to do tempo runs and long runs (the serious marathon-specific work will begin at the start of the new year), but because I need to build the fitness to handle THAT program.

And right now, I’m not anywhere close. While training for the aborted Indy trip got me in a good degree of endurance shape, I obviously wasn’t close to marathon fit at the end (which is why I called it off), and because I obviously took it easy for a couple weeks to allow my body to heal up, I’ve now lost some of the run-specific fitness I had and need to rebuild.

During the interim between calling off Indy and now, I have done the following:

One: I aggressively strength trained, quite a bit more often than I usually had.

Typically I’d strength train 2-3 times per week, if that during serious run training. But since mid-October I’ve trained almost every day, only 4 days off from strength training since 10/17.

I’ve experimented with a couple of different 5 day splits of all the exercises I need to do, including some new ones. I’ve actually made substantial strength and appearance progress since stepping up with this strength training.

Obviously, once I start running again this will probably scale way back. But I’ve used the time to build some strength, especially with lower body exercises.

Two: I got back on the spin bike and rode it regularly.

I quit using the spin bike for a while on the premise it was hindering my training.

Once I was no longer training for a race, it was no longer hindering my training. Plus I wanted to use it as it was less demanding than the elliptical, I didn’t need to go aerobically hard at this stage, and honestly I like riding the spin bike.

In fact, after deciding not to continue with Indy, that same day I got on the spin bike and logged over a couple of easy hours. That was despite pain in my right leg after a 10K run (part of the reason I called it off).

Since then I’ve ridden the spin bike several times each week for about 45-60 minutes each. I had used the elliptical a few more times following mid-October, but I’ve mostly phased out the elliptical for now.

Three: I’ve done more plyo drills and training.

I took a few pages from other track sports and adopted some of their training methods to help better round my fitness.

While throwing the discus is a hairy proposition, many of its technique and training principles are useful for not just posture but building full body strength. I’ve been working on the throwing technique (with and without a discus or other weighted object) because of the postural strength and coordinated body control it demands.

Also, Strength coach Dan John (a former thrower) swears by the results from the overhead squat in his Contrarian Guide To The Discus, and says it’s a lift that does not allow you to have weak links. So I decided to start practicing the overhead squat on the Smith rack at the gym.

Though it’s been (as advertised) a struggle, I’m now getting the hang of the overhead squat, am up to four sets of 3 reps each at 25 and 50 pounds, and can finish them all with proper form without immediately feeling sore in my legs. Those first couple of workouts with the overhead squat felt pretty brutal on my quads.

Once I begin Vancouver training I need to be careful about not doing the overheads the day before key run workouts, but I will want to keep doing the overhead squat regularly.

The actual discus technique? We’ll see. I’ve found it interesting enough that I don’t want to discard it. But throwing the discus isn’t easy, and I have to be careful when throwing it about putting anyone in danger. The discus throw technique itself without the disc is a workout on its own. But it’s also a tangential workout that takes some degree of energy to complete. I could just focus on running and regular strength training (… with the overhead squats, of course).

Four: I ran a race for the first time in a long while.

I previously went over this, but running a 5K on Halloween weekend allowed me to focus on running through a sustained strong effort, and it went well. I have another 5K on Thanksgiving and a 10K in mid-December. These will also be glorified tempo runs rather than all-to-the-wall race efforts.

Five: I otherwise took it easy on running to allow my hamstrings to heal.

I did some work break running in preparation for the 5K, but in the two weeks between my last Indy workout and the 5K I maybe ran 7 miles. After the 5K, I was very careful about any running for the following week while letting my hamstrings heal.

The left one feels fine and the right one still very slightly aches, though they do feel markedly better. I probably can begin running regularly again this week. The spin bike workouts and all my usual walking have helped keep them engaged in the interim.


Starting this week, I’m going to practice the Easy Interval Method I haven’t really been able to implement since discovering it this summer.

Basically, you run nothing but 200/400/1000 meter intervals with equidistant rest intervals, though none of the repeats are any harder than maybe 5K/10K pace. The 400’s are run more like half marathon pace and the 1000’s are run around marathon pace.

Plus, after each repeat, you come to a full walking stop before jogging out your rest interval. Easy intervals are much lower key and sustainable than your typical interval workouts, and according to Klaas Lok the approach works. Runners are much more easily able to stick with it.

At most I’d do about 5-6 days a week of these, and for now I’ll touch and go the workouts. I’ll pencil one in for each non-rest-day (I’m still scheduling regular rest days), and if I’m just too tired on a given day I’ll probably skip or reduce that workout.

The goal through mid-December, aside from building fitness for the next 5K and 10K, is to determine how many days of training I can comfortably handle, before settling into a training pattern for December and subsequent Vancouver training.

This pre-marathon training plan also includes a 10K test every two weeks. This can be a race, but given where I’m at right now I’d rather just run these on my own as time trials.

Along with all this, I’ll still be strength training, still walking during work breaks, and still riding the spin bike while reading for circulation on scheduled rest days. I’ll still be doing plyo (and perhaps discus) training around training days, and how aggressive these are will depend on how many easy interval workouts I have per week. Strength training will typically happen before rest days.

I built in a sizable tyraining gap around the December 10K, where I can not only re-double strength training efforts for a bit but also assess how much I can do once I begin training for Vancouver around New Year’s.


So today and beyond I’ll begin running easy intervals, and look forward to seeing what develops from there.

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Checking In 10/22/2021

This week I’ve strength trained almost every day, spreading the exercises I’d have split over two workouts across five, along with leg and ab exercises I’d have previously done occasionally or weekly.

Some of these exercises are modified Rapid Fire Sets. I start at the lightest weight possible, do 8 reps and then after a 15-30 second rest move the weight up one step until it’s too tough to finish a set (aka to failure). Then I do 12 reps at half the failure weight, and move on.

Some of these exercises are standard 4 set blocks, the first and last set 12 reps at a light weight, and the 2nd and 3rd sets at twice that weight.

If the exercise is done on a machine where the weight can be quickly adjusted, I do Rapid Fire Sets. If I have to do the exercise any other way, I do a standard 4 set block.

I plan on three exercises. If I finish them all before 20 minutes are up, I pivot to light weight sets of 12 reps of seated cable rows, an exercise I do need to focus on. I do up to 4 sets, until I reach 20 minutes. (If for some reason every single cable row machine in the gym is being used, I have other needed exercises for which I can do easy sets instead. But I have yet to encounter this since starting this plan.)

I threw together a 5 day plan before I started, but (while I’m still finishing that 5 day plan) I have since adjusted the 5 day plan to better spread out the exercises, and will follow that plan once I cycle back to day 1.

It’s not such a big deal that the current v1 plan is not as organized, as the primary goal was to start this almost-daily training and see how my body responded. In fact, it’s better to have multiple muscle-group exercises clumped together in one workout or on back to back days and see what my body tolerates. Then, once I start v2 and those exercises are more spread out, I know my body can bounce back from that, or can push harder on key days since there’s more recovery time and less to do per day.

The smart strength trainers can agree that the details of the plan you follow is not as important as you actually following a plan that allows you to consistently train. That said, I have certain development goals in mind, and these exercises all fit what I can do and things I need to work on.

As I iron out the plan, I’ll eventually show the layout and why I do what when I do it. But so far, so good.

In addition to this, I’ve been riding the elliptical for 30-45 minutes after workouts, maintaining aerobic fitness while my leg issues heal up. While my right hamstring has a bit of lingering soreness, overall I feel strong in my lower body. I’m giving myself all week to not worry about running, though I may take a work break run today and ride the spin bike tonight to see how it feels today and tomorrow.

I have a couple of casual 5K races coming up this next month, which will help me see where I’m at. At least after all the issues this year I am sure I’ll finish these, and can maybe even race one or two of them.

More to come.

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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 7/21/2021

Every day I play my work break plans by ear depending on my energy levels, and decide whether I’m going to walk or run on work breaks. At my Master’s/fortysomething stage of life, that’s how you need to be.

Today it’s somewhat humid for Vegas (already 90°F, 45% humidity). Today, despite decent sleep, I’m feeling somewhat worn out. A work break run today would feel like a tired chore, and that’s my body telling me to just walk today, especially with plans for a workout tonight after work.

I already have a scheduled day off tomorrow, but that just means I can get some extra rest ahead of Friday’s and Saturday’s planned workouts. Plus, after a lot of activity the last couple weeks, including back to back weekend trips (I do plan to stay in town this weekend), this is a good time for a stepback week.

My schedule morphs like an amoeba, maintain a generally consistent form but often shapeshifting depending on how my needs evolve during training. I recognize the need to prioritize the long workouts, to make sure I strength train and get in one or two sessions of challenging running outside of the long runs.

I recognize the importance of general consistency, not necessarily following a training plan close to the letter, but making sure that every week I execute several workouts, that I run most days, stay meaningfully active every day and maintain a productive diet that facilitates my training and health.

I don’t need to get it exactly right all the time, so long as my body of work over time is a consistent collection of regular runs, workouts, training, and a consistent mix of volume plus recovery periods.


At this point, it’s clear to me that slow running in workouts isn’t helping me unless I’m warming up or cooling down, unless the workout is long and aerobic endurance is the objective, or the slow jogging is done in brief spurts during a walk or similar to help flush the bloodstream and kickstart recovery.

I want to adhere to the general 80/20 Endurance rule, but I always forget that my easy walks in a way are part of that easy 80%, even if they are rather easy, too easy to be an actual workout. This is in part because of the Vegas heat outside. I also like to keep in mind that my strength training is part of that hard 20%, even if these brief, hard bursts of effort aren’t an aerobic activity.

I charted a base template of a typical week’s workout plan, factoring in my weekday walking as easy minutes and my two weekly strength workouts as hard minutes. I wrote in two hard workouts, one speed rep workout and an hour long tempo/M-pace run, plus a 2.5 hour long run. The speed and tempo workouts include an easy 20 minute aerobic warmup (whether running or cross training).

It all added up to about 81% easy training and 19% hard training. If the long run is shortened to 2 hours flat the split is 79.8% easy, 20.2% hard.

So at least for the following week I’ll experiment with this approach, a sort of hybrid FIRST scheduule with three quality workouts (long run, tempo run, speed repeats) and just walking during the workweek, with strength training twice a week.

Monday: Work break walking, PM speed repeats
Tuesday: Work break walking, PM swolework
Wednesday: Work break walking, PM hour long tempo run
Thursday: Work break walking, PM swolework
Friday: Work break walking, no PM workout
Saturday: 2.0-2.5 hour long run
Sunday: Recovery day

If it feels good and I feel like I’m getting good workouts from it, I’ll risk my overall training to continue. I’ll likely add quality tempo segments to the long run as I progress, which will either require I add other aerobic work to stay at 80/20, or to downshift the tempo and speed sessions. I’ll probably also add cross training or other 45+ minute aerobic runs to the schedule if I feel it’s way too easy. I will also move scheduled workouts around to accomodate scheduled midweek rest days.

Let’s see how this goes.

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Developing the Trickling Marathon Training Plan

Without getting too deep into my methodology… every few days I schedule one or more days off from training, whether I’m just base training or actively training for a goal race (as I’m doing right now). On these days the only exercise I do is walk and use the spin bike. Otherwise, I avoid exercise and definitely avoid training.

In the past I trained with few to no days off, and in fact leading up to Chicago in 2018 I ran 70 straight days… with no ill effects in either case. My only knockout injuries have occurred randomly during down periods in training.

But, never minding the first digit in my age is now a 4, I recognize the balance between training enough (and hard enough) to generate fitness adaptions… and taking enough time away from training to allow those adaptions to manifest through recovery and supercompensation.

What I’m doing with the Indy training plan is something that for now I’ll call a Trickling 18 Week Plan. At some point I’ll diagram this all out in detail but in general I’ll describe it:

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