Nonfiction Nagging- Marathon Running

Like always, if running isn't your thing you may want to skip this post. Or maybe you should read it and start!

So, I publicly proclaimed that I was going to run the charming Modesto Marathon on March 18 a few weeks ago and since then I've started my training, using Hal Higdon's Marathing: The Ultimate Training Guide for help in devising my plan. While I can't yet attest to it working or not, he has had a lot of success with it, and the fact that he has run over 100 marathons says something itself. A lot of what he discussed I already knew, since it applies to the many halves I have run (10 as of a few weeks ago), but I did get a lot of important insight as to how to develop my training plan.

The lowdown:

Two steps forward, one step back, two steps way forward

When it comes to weekly mileage and the long run you have to be strategic so that you're pushing yourself, but not to the point of injury. So, for example, maybe one week would be 33 total miles with 12 mile long run, then next 34 miles with a 13 mile long run. Then you'd take it back down a week to let your body recover; say 25 total miles with only an 8 mile long run. Then you'd crank it back up with 36 miles total and a 16 mile long run the following week.

Finishing Is Always Good

According to Higdon, the goal of a first time marathoner is usually just to finish. 26.2 miles is a long way and just being able to cross the final line is an accomplishment. I am not a fast runner, but there are some numbers floating around in my head; I need to remember this.

In regards to his plan for beginners, I didn't like the fact that he suggested not focusing on speed work. Maybe if you're a new runner that would be good advice since it could lead to injury; I may be a new marathoner, but I've been a runner for awhile and like to do intervals or fartleks about once a week.

Stop Eating Like Shit

That's not exactly what Hidgon said, but it's what he meant. Training for a marathon is different from recreational exercise- your body needs fuel and it needs the right kind. He of course pushes healthy carbs and an increase in protein. I love the fact that runners are now being encouraged to drink low-fat chocolate milk after long runs. Don't have to tell me twice!

Mileage Goals

From what I can gather, the "magic" number for training is going to be to work up to 30-40 miles a week with at least one 20 miler in. After that injuries pop up, unless you're an elite athlete, have many years of a training base, or are genetically blessed. His "novice marathoner plan" starts runners off at around 18; the last few weeks I've bumped mine up to 22-28, so I'm planning on starting the training towards his week 6 (I only have 12 weeks left until the marathon and his plan is based on 18). I think I'm in a decent place but have had some extreme foot pain/swelling since the the Rock and Roll Vegas Half I did a few weeks ago. It's the normal conundrum runners have- rest it and lose training time, or power through the pain and risk injury. Right now I'm powering through.

The Long Run

The long run is something some people love, while some hate it. I'm on the fence; it really just depends on the day and what's going on in my life. Generally my long runs right now even out at about 10 or so miles; I'm going to have to hit 20 at least once (3 weeks before the marathon before the taper). I really appreciated that he said the long run should be slow- anywhere from 30-90 seconds slower than your estimated race time.


I have a definite love/hate issue with the taper and have basically quit doing them. Interestingly, my PR was after a serious one week taper- I should be connecting the dots. For non-runners, tapering is when you bring your mileage way, way down before a race. When training for a half marathon you taper for about a week; Higdon recommends three (right after the longest run of training). You still are running, but you move from a 40 mile week three weeks before the race to an 8 mile week in the seven days preceding the big day. It's a tough pill to swallow.

I feel like this is a really great book for those starting out; he is an old guy, so his writing voice is a little antiquated, but that's okay (I love when he admits to being a "postmenopausal male" when discussing whether or not women should run on their periods). Even if you're not running a marathon, he has great info for halves and the sport in general. Now everyone go run!


  1. I didn't realize we were both running a marathon on the same day! Although mine will be in Atlanta rather than Modesto. I've been injured for about a month so I'm starting my 12 week plan on December 16th. Merry Christmas to me!

  2. I love the long runs, but I have difficulty finding motivation for the shorter runs, especially when I'm busy or traveling or just plain lazy. Thanks for sharing the tips and tricks. My first marathon is in February, but I'm training with a group that is running a marathon in January. It gives me a little more confidence that I have time to complete the rest of my training without burning out too much.

  3. I simply must get back into the running groove: injured my achilles months back and have been sidelined due to weather & dark too (I know: excuses, excuses!)... 2012 is the year to establish a real running practice: you've inspired me. I admire your resolve and wish you all the best in your training for March!

  4. This is so funny, I just bought Hal's book this weekend! I figured after thinking about buying it for awhile it was time, plus after three marathons of winging it I needed a real plan. I'm doing his Intermediate II for my next one!

  5. I read through his stuff before my marathon and should have taken the whole two steps forward, one step back, two forward more seriously. I think it's why I'm still injured, 6 months later...that and I have been running for so many years! But your schedule sounds great and I'm sure it'll work out! just listen well to your body!

  6. I love me some Hal! He knows his shizz. I've only run one marathon (so far!) but I agree that you shouldn't worry about time. You don't want to finish the marathon (a huge accomplishment) only to feel disappointed that you didn't meet a time goal. Good luck with your training!*