Marathon Training Based on Hours vs. Miles

BY Hal Higdon

I have a few time-based programs, but I prefer to use miles regardless of how long it takes to get there.

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I am excited about doing my second marathon in Chicago! Definitely following The Hal Plan. I am curious whether there are any schools of thought about the question of hours vs. miles when it comes to capping your long runs. A few runners have suggested to me that they aim for a certain number of minutes, or hours, rather than a certain number of miles. It just doesn’t seem right to not run the miles. What do you think?


Capping long runs at a certain time probably was a more popular practice several decades ago when runners were “faster”–or at least when the marathon was less welcoming to those finishing in 4 hours or more. It used to be pretty lonely crossing the line at 5 or 6 or more hours back in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, when fields were smaller, and nobody would be standing beside the finish line to record your time with a stopwatch. Back then, three hours was considered a good cap by some coaches, and a few of the old-timers cling to this idea. But if your goal is 6 hours, a 3-hour long run does not fully prepare you to stay out on the course for twice the length of time as your longest run. I have a few time-based programs, but I prefer to cap at 20 miles regardless of how long it takes to get there.

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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.