Archived: Diminishing Returns


Got 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.


Back in June, I started training for my third half marathon with hopes of finishing in less than two hours. My previous half marathons were 2:17 and 2:03. I looked at your half marathon training plans, but I didn’t like the 3-mile midweek (easy) runs. Too short for my enjoyment. And although I might consider myself an intermediate half marathoner, I don’t really like speed work. So, I decided to follow your Intermediate 2 full marathon training plan, with a few adjustments: 1) I didn’t do the pace runs at race pace, just at an easy pace. 2) My other adjustment was to do the long runs at no more than 15 miles. I ran my race last weekend and finished in 1:56. What do you think are the advantages and/or disadvantages in what I did? If I do this looking ahead to a half marathon in April 2013, will I get diminishing returns from preferring mileage over speed work and pace runs?


Diminishing returns? That’s difficult for me to say. If you continue training consistently, focusing mainly on miles, maybe nudging your mileage up very gradually, you should improve—or at least maintain your place. (We all fight the aging curve, remember?) Speedwork works in that it provides a variation that can get you out of the rut of running every workout at the same pace, comfortable though this might be. At some point you will cease to improve—or improvement will be less spectacular than you have experienced so far. Considering your distaste for speedwork, have you tried my Tempo Runs, the gentlest form of speedwork available, allowing your body to dictate how you accelerate (and decelerate) in the middle of a medium-long run?

Also, I’m not sure what you have against pace runs. For someone capable of the mileages offered in my intermediate programs, it should not be that hard to run at least a few miles at race pace. Say, 2 or 3 fast miles in the middle of a 6-mile run. Then play around with that pace: a mile slightly faster, a mile slightly slower, a mile spot on. Of course, this is a distraction from your focus on just getting out there and running a comfortable pace, but you did ask me how to avoid “diminishing returns,” didn’t you?

About the Author

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 more than a quarter 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 here'or on'his website.

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