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Shaving Minutes Off Your Marathon Time

BY Hal Higdon

Long term goals allow you to take advantage of periodization training. The most important point of periodization is that you do something different during different parts of the year.

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 recently completed the New York City Marathon using your Intermediate 2 training schedule. The program worked very well, and I was happy with my race having achieved a PR of 3:28:14. Looking ahead, I am about a year away from my next marathon in the fall of 2015. I was wondering if you had any advice on what I should focus on to improve my marathon time. My admittedly lofty goal is to shave 15 minutes off my time to qualify for an entry in the Boston Marathon.


Long term goals often are more attainable than short term goals, so you are wise in thinking a full year ahead. This allows you to take advantage of periodization, a concept popularized in the 1960s by the late New Zealand coach, Arthur Lydiard. After a summer of competition in Europe, Arthur’s boys (including Olympic 800 and 1500 champ Peter Snell) would return home for a period of relative rest. They would continue to run for a month or two, but not very far and not very fast. The next period featured long distance training, runs of up to 23 miles on a hilly course outside Auckland. Even a half-miler like Peter Snell would do these long runs. For the third period, Arthur’s boys would move to the track for speedwork, interval training, 400 and 800 repeats at race pace. A final tune-up featuring fast sprints, and the Kiwis were ready to take on the rest of the world.

As a marathoner, you might approach your key race somewhat differently moving from speed to endurance rather than from endurance to speed. First, make sure you are well recovered after your marathon before starting to train hard again. (Check out my Marathon Recovery Programs for help in this area.) What you do next depends partly on where you live, whether you can do some short and fast running outdoors. My Winter Training Program may or may not be of use to you, but the important goal for this period is to do something entirely different. Running some short races at 5-K and 10-K distances may take you far enough out of Marathon Mode so that you can work on your base speed. A spring half marathon also offers a good balance to a fall marathon. Eighteen weeks out from your goal marathon, you should be able to shift seamlessly into an endurance program, the final period, for maximum results.

The most important point of periodization is that you do something different during different parts of the year. Good luck in shaving those last few minutes off your marathon time.

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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.