Marathon Training for Masters Runners

Marathon Training for Masters Runners

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 had a very disappointing run at the Sugarloaf Marathon in Maine, because of calf cramps. It was warm and hot. I had trained to run 3:55, but I finished in 4:08. My training had gone well. I ran my final 20-miler three weeks out in 3:00, but I am not sure what happened race day. Also, I am in my 50’s, have run more than 20 marathons, but although I qualified for Boston several time in my 40’s, I now find myself struggling to match my earlier times. I was working with a coach, but I had to quit, because he was very expensive, and his programs were too intense. What would be a good program? Should I add speedwork or aquarunning? In the past I have used your Novice, Intermediate and Advanced programs, but now find I need extra rest days, so I am uncertain how to organize my training.


I too am somewhat uncertain, because there might have been a number of reasons why Sugarloaf went sour for you. The most obvious reason (and possible cause of those cramps) is the warm weather. Dehydration may have done you in. But, playing Sherlock Holmes, I checked the Sugarloaf Web site and discovered that the course drops 980 feet in the final 16 miles, twice the drop of the Boston Marathon over its full distance. That sounds great on paper and would seem to guarantee fast times, but if you have not trained for a downhill course by doing downhill repeats, well, leg cramps may result. Also, 20 miles in 3 hours? If my math is correct, that’s 9:00 per mile, or the same pace you hoped to do in the race. You might have arrived at Sugarloaf somewhat overtrained. So there may have been a number of reasons why you failed to reach your goal on that one particular day. But it was only one particular day. If you have only one horrible race out of 20, you’re doing much better than most people who have run that many marathons.

Finally, at the risk of stating the obvious, as we age we naturally begin to get slower. For most people, the slowdown begins around age 40, continues at age 50, and gets steeper at age 60 and beyond. We can compensate by training harder (or training more intelligently), but sooner or later the fast times we had in our youth become merely notations in our training diaries. A sour race, thus, should be quickly forgotten.

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.