Marathon Training Questions

According to my calendar and Hal Higdon, I should officially start marathon training on Monday, June 4. That will give me 18 weeks to get through either his Novice 2 or Intermediate 1 plan in preparation for the Chicago Marathon. I will be doing my long runs with the local CARA group.

But I ask you, wise blog followers, which Hal Higdon plan should I follow? I’m debating between the Novice 2 plan and the Intermediate 1 plan.

According to Hal, it sounds like I am a strong enough runner for the Intermediate 1 plan. But thinking about my current running schedule, following the Novice 2 plan wouldn’t require any additional runs. Usually I do 4 runs per week – 3 shorter weekday runs and 1 long run on the weekends. Occasionally I throw in a 5th run – a shorter-distance weekend run, but that happens maybe once a month. Following the Intermediate 1 plan would require that additional shorter-distance run every week.

So, should I follow the plan that closely mirrors my current amount of training (obviously my long run would get longer, since I’ve never trained for a full marathon), or should I follow the plan that would add an extra run each week? With either plan, I would try to do at least one day of strength work, and my shorter-distance runs would include one speed session or tempo run each week.

I guess it boils down to:

  • Do I have time to add an extra run each week? Usually I go long on Saturday OR Sunday, and rest the other day. My weekends aren’t so busy that I can’t add in another run. Or maybe I could do the run on Fridays, since I work from home. Usually Fridays are either a rest day or I occasionally go to a core class at my gym that is over for the summer anyway.
  • Can my body handle losing a rest day? I think so. I don’t usually have any soreness or pain, as long as I stretch and foam-roll after almost every run, and sit in a cold water soak after my long runs. I plan to continue doing all of that. Really that extra rest day is more because I’m allowing myself to be lazy, not because I feel like my legs need the rest.

I’m think I’m going to follow the Intermediate 1 plan, which would give me room to skip a shorter-distance run every once in awhile if I need the extra rest day or my schedule is hectic one week (or weekend). It also gives me room to switch to the Novice 2 plan if I feel like it’s too much.

If you’ve trained for a marathon before, what do you think? 


This has nothing to do with marathon training, but here are some pictures from the parade I walked in yesterday to support my sister-in-law’s dance studio.

My brother and sis-in-law are holding the sign.
Of course I have to include a picture of my niece. Her mom (my other sis-in-law) teaches poms at the studio.



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21 Comments on “Marathon Training Questions”

  1. Love the post! I have been in the same place before. I usually make up my own after looking at all the different plans. For example I would shift days and run some on Friday’s and have Sundays off. Or one week take the rest day and the next week take the extra run, that way you are adding extra miles but not all at once. Listen to your body and see what comes out after all the hard training.

    1. I usually end up evaluating a few different plans and then kind of doing my own mash-up of them when I train for other races. I think I might end up doing something that is in-between these. It’s hard to follow any plan as written, life gets in the way with schedules and aches and pains or illness, or just beautiful weather that begs for a run even when one isn’t scheduled.

  2. Hm…. good question Maggie. First, which CARA site are you training with (just curious). I’ve only done Novice 1 plan both times. I know a lot of people are doing the Novice 2 plan. I want to better compare those two schedules and figure out what I should do. I’m also thinking of tweaking it a bit and actually skipping one run a week and doing cross-training instead (due to all those injuries of mine). But that’s why I’m thinking Novice 2 would be good for me. I can skip a short run each week but still get some of the miles in that I would be getting with Novice 1…just less days (not sure if that makes sense).

    For you, it’s hard to say. You are a good runner. What you don’t want to to do is injure yourself b/c you are pushing yourself too much by doing 5 days a week (instead of 4). Over 18 weeks, that’s a lot of exra runs that you really don’t need. I think Novice 2 could be a good idea for you. You just don’t want to injure yourself and not be able to run the marathon! Good luck!

    1. I’m planning to run with the group in Oak Forest. Isn’t that where you and Kelly trained last summer? I hear I should get there early.

      Thanks for the advice. I definitely don’t want to get injured. Sticking with my current 4-day schedule would leave time for strength training and also yoga, which I always hear is good for runners, and still leave a day for true rest or cross-training if I really wanted it. I am getting a pool pass this summer. Hmmm.

  3. Whatever you decide, remember, it’s a PLAN. Not set in stone. If you start with the intermediate plan and 5 days of running isn’t feeling right, you can always skip one. Or drop to 4 on a cutback week.

    I was afraid to go to 5 days. But it’s been good for me. I don’t always manage 5 days, but it’s something to shoot for.

    Good luck!

  4. My advice (which you totally shouldn’t take because i obviously failed at marathoning) Is to take into consideration your personality type. How do you feel if you skip/miss a run? Water under the bridge, or “i’ve failed!” If you can miss a run and not be too hard on yourself then go intermediate. If you will feel bad skipping a day, then go novice, and be proud of yourself if you find the time to squeeze in an extra run.

    1. As long as I go into the plan knowing I have a “cushion” to skip the occasional run, or switch down the Novice plan, I won’t beat myself up if I miss a run. But I’m starting to think I might welcome the opportunity to fit in strength, yoga and cross-training each week, and the Novice plan would certainly leave more room for that.

      But why am I even thinking so hard about this? I never follow a training plan exactly anyway. I need flexibility.

      1. Based on my personal experiences, I think it might be better to leave some room for cross-training, and go with the Novice 2 of your two plans. It is your first (!) and at least for me, I start to beat myself up when I have “multiple” priorities – like an additional run + additional cross-training/yoga/cycling.

        Ultimately the long run is the most important, so whatever will keep you happy and sane should be fine. Not that you’re planning past 10/7, but you will have more marathon opportunities to finesse your training strategy!

  5. I used Higdon for my first three (?) marathons and simply started with the Novice plan for my very first and moved up as my experience and confidence picked up. So I’d say it largely depends on which plan you used last and if you’re “ready to move up.”

  6. That sounds like a great plan. When I started training for my first marathon, I went with Int. 1. I didn’t quite have enough base for that and when it got towards the peak, I had to drop back a little but I still liked going for the more intense one and then being able to drop back a little.

  7. You can definitely handle either plan, especially if you are going to skip shorter runs when you need the extra rest. That is the hard part – knowing when you need it 😉

    My regret from training for my first full is that I did most long runs at race pace – I did not realize it at the time that long runs are supposed to be slower. I think if you don’t get too crazy with the speedwork, the fifth day of running will be a nice treat!

    1. For the past few months, I’ve been focusing on doing my easy and long runs at a truly “easy” pace (based on my heart rate, or when the weather is nice, based on what the McMillan pace calculator suggests). I save “race pace” for tempo runs, and anything faster for speedwork. Hopefully this will pay off on Saturday at my goal half marathon … this is the first training cycle that I’ve ever consciously focused on different paces during my training.

  8. Glad to read your post because I’m struggling with similar questions, especially after realizing the Novice plan doesn’t really pick up to where I’m at until July. I think I finally decided to stick with Novice and add more if I feel up to it, rather than feeling “forced” to run. My personal goal is to still keep it enjoyable to run, and I want to have time to swim and bike as well. I know that I would be mad at myself if I didn’t follow the Intermediate plan exactly, and then self doubt would creep in! That being said, I’m not doing this for a PR or time goal. I want to be “respectable,” but I don’t worry about those other things too much. I also want to make it a more personal goal to eat a bit healthier when the training plan starts (less icecream. Boo!) and to just make sure that I don’t get injured along the journey. By the way, isn’t your half this weekend? You are going to have crazy good weather, Girl! I’m a bit jealous of those temps that I see for the weekend. As you are a self proclaimed heat lover, I think that it should be 90 for you this weekend 🙂 If you could put in a good word for us, maybe God could do a switch-er-oo and give you the heat this weekend and save the 50’s for the marathon!!!!

    1. Haha, I wouldn’t say I’m a heat LOVER, but maybe a heat deal-wither? Yes my goal half is this Saturday, and I’m praying the weather forecast holds out. But the weather has been so crazy I won’t believe it until I’m at the start line.

  9. I have tried Hal Higdon but it just didn’t work out for me. I wasn’t getting enough recovery time. I am now using the book Marathoning for Mortals by Jenny Hadfield and John Bingham. I did the beginner marathon last year and am working on the intermediate. Really love this plan! Great book to read for any runner.

  10. I would do that exact thing, pick the higher difficulty plan and take breaks when needed. No matter what my plan, I always end up taking some extra days to rest anyway. Good luck at your race this weekend!

  11. I’m doing the novice 2 plan, but I don’t race that much. I’m a little nervous that this plan includes two rest days and only one cross training day. Because I’m also prepping for a 60-mile bike ride, I’m using one of the rest days and the cross day for cycling.

  12. I’d say go with the Novice 2. That way you have additional flexibility for yoga, strength and all the other things you seem to be looking forward to (based on other comments). It is your first marathon. There is always the option of the Intermediate schedule the 2nd time around. [I assume there will be a 2nd time around… :)]

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