Setting Goal Times

BY Hal Higdon

Hal's training plans are classified based on how much experience you have as a runner. This is his take on choosing the right plan.

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


Hal: One thing I like about your training plans is that they are based on experience, rather than race time: how fast runners might have run before. Nevertheless, if you had to set a goal time for each of your marathon training programs–Novice 1 through Advanced 2–what would you set as the goal time for each program?


I don’t discriminate between programs. They are based less on how fast you may have run your marathon or half marathon, but rather how much experience (at any pace) you have as a runner. First marathon? I’m going to point you to Novice 1 or 2. Looking to run more miles? Intermediate 1 and 2 are focused entirely on adding miles to your log. Comfortable running speedwork? If not, please stay away from Advanced 1 and 2. Your best previous marathon does not automatically put you into a slot. I like to feel that 3-hour marathoners can benefit from a Novice program; that 5-hour marathoners can do the same from Advanced. Realistically, of course, beginners choose the novice programs and most of those following advanced programs probably have more than a few marathons under their belts. Choice of program must be made by each runner, although I sometimes nudge people in what I consider the right direction.

That disclaimer out of the way, your most recent time becomes (by default) your goal time for your next marathon. However, if you can safely increase your training, and a test race or two reveals a higher level of fitness, then you may want to reset your goal time to a higher point.

Or lower point, as sometimes happens.

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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.