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Is Speedwork Necessary for Your First Marathon?

BY Hal Higdon

When training for your first marathon, it can be difficult to know how much speed work to incorporate. Use the advice from Hal Higdon to make your training as effective as possible.

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’ll be training for my first marathon this year, and my podiatrist recommended your 18-week Novice 1 training program. In analyzing the program, I see there is no speed/tempo work involved. Do you recommend incorporating speedwork with the novice program? Is it not necessary for a first time marathon?


Your podiatrist gave good advice. For your first marathon, you are better off training as conservatively as possible, minimizing the risk that you will show up again in the podiatrist’s waiting room. Even for many experienced runners, speedwork is best left outside the marathon training window. Once you have some marathon hardware hanging from hooks on the wall then, and only then, it may be time to incorporate speedwork into your training.

My advice is to get to the finish line of this first marathon, then maybe test your ability to do speedwork later. One way to do so would be to try one of my intermediate or advanced programs for a shorter-distance races, such as 5K or 10K.

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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.