Choosing a Marathon Training Program

BY Hal Higdon

Choosing the appropriate marathon training program isn't always easy. Here's Hal's suggestion for this experienced runner.

Have a question about running? You’re in the right place. Every Tuesday, world-renowned coach, author and athlete Hal Higdon posts and answers athlete questions here. You can submit your question by joining the discussions on Hal Higdon’s Virtual Training Bulletin Boards.


I am a freshman in college, and I’m signed up to run my first marathon in October: the Mohawk-Hudson River Marathon in Albany, New York. The issue is I’m not entirely sure which training program to use for this first foray. Since middle school, I’ve been a competitive runner and was on both varsity track and cross country at my high school. I know it’s recommended that I choose one of the novice programs since it’s my first marathon, but I’m pretty intense when it comes to running, and I’m used to doing regular, hard speed work. In short, I tend to “play to win” and would like to not just finish, but also get a good time. What do you think I should do? Many of the workouts in the advanced programs seem up my alley, although I know it’s not recommended that I start with that schedule. Perhaps a sprinkling of speed work in the intermediate program would do it?


Sprinkling speedwork into one of my intermediate programs, almost by definition, converts it to an advanced program. Could you handle that tough a program? Maybe, given your background. The question is: Do you want to gamble?

In other words, do you want to finish that first marathon regardless of time? Or do you want to finish it fast? If you choose option 1, you almost assure yourself success. If time isn’t important, you can have more fun both in training and in the race itself. Just because you choose a novice program, that doesn’t mean you can’t do a few of the runs at an up-tempo, or use the 3/1 strategy in the longer runs. That is, take the first three-quarters of your run easy, the last quarter fast.

If you choose option 2, you face the double-edged sword of overtraining in the lead-up to your first marathon or crash-and-burning in the marathon itself, resulting in a less pleasant experience. That’s the gamble.

I’m inclined to recommend that you pick the easier program, then rely on your background and talent to get you a (reasonably) fast time in your first marathon allowing for plenty of improvement if you run a second.

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About Hal Higdon

Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor for ‘Runner’s World‘ and author of 34 books, including the best-selling ‘Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide’. He ran eight times in the Olympic Trials and won four world masters championships. Higdon estimates that over a quarter of a million runners have finished marathons using his training programs, and he also offers additional interactive programs at all distances through TrainingPeaks. Hal uses TrainingPeaks to power his interactive marathon and half marathon training plans — check out more of Hal Higdon’s training plans on his website.