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Marathon Training Guide - Marathon 3

Click here to see all Hal Higdon training programs on TrainingPeaks


All my marathon training programs follow a logical progression from Novice to Intermediate to Advanced, with two stages at each level. Recently, based on comments by runners visiting my online pages, I have become aware of a need for a new and different marathon training program, one to fit conveniently between my two novice programs and the the intermediate programs following.

I have decided to call this program Marathon 3.

It features three running days a week. It climaxes with three 20-mile runs. Stepback weeks come every third week in a program lasting 24 weeks.

Marathon 3 is designed for experienced runners, those who have been running for several years, who enjoy running road races between 5-K and the marathon, but who find it difficult to run more often than three times a week. Perhaps it is because of a lack of time or perhaps it is because too frequent running raises their risk of injury. If you are one of those runners, Marathon 3 is designed for you.

It features three days of running a week, but somewhat more mileage on each of those days. I also have lengthened the program from 18 to 24 weeks, providing a longer ramp for the build-up. And to make room for three long runs of 20 miles. Yes, there remains ample mileage in Marathon 3 to get you ready to run 26 miles 385 yards. It is not an easy program. Far from it.

Another innovative feature of Marathon 3: The stepback weeks are true stepback weeks. In most of my other marathon training programs, I cut back only on the long-run mileage. In Marathon 3, I cut back at least slightly on that week’s other workouts too.

The stepback weeks on the schedule below are easy to identify. At least at the beginning of the schedule, they come every third week. Toward the end of the program, once you begin doing 20-milers, you step back every other week. After the final 20-miler comes the taper to ready you for the marathon.

If you have trained for a marathon using one of my previous programs, the terms in the schedule should be self-explanatory. And if you sign up for the interactive version of Marathon 3, you’ll received daily directions by email, but let me offer explanations anyway of the workouts you’ll be asked to do each day.

Monday--Rest: If you expect to train properly, rest is essential. Mondays (and Fridays) are rest days. This is to allow you to recover from the tough training you do on the weekends.

Tuesday--Run: A day of easy running, similar to the Sorta-Long runs in my other marathon programs. You begin in Week 1 with 3 miles and peak in Weeks 17, 19 and 21 with 10 miles. Run at a comfortable pace, slow enough so that can hold a conversation with a training partner without getting too out of breath. Don’t force the pace on these Tuesday workouts under the mistaken belief that this will make you a better runner. It may not. You dramatically increase your risk of injury when you overtrain. Make Tuesday the fun running day of the week.

Wednesday--Bike: I prescribe bicycle riding for Wednesday, because most runners enjoy getting out on their bikes. But you could just as easily pick another aerobic discipline: walking, swimming, cross-country skiing. If you enjoy strength training, this might be a good day to pump some iron. If you want a fourth day of running, do it today. Because of the variability of various exercises, I prescribe this workout in minutes, not miles. Note that there is a gradual increase in time as the program continues: 30 minutes increasing to 60 minutes.

Thursday--Run: The “hard” workout of the week, because you run somewhat faster. On Thursdays, you alternate pace runs, tempo runs and regular runs. A pace run is one where you run at your marathon pace. A tempo run is one that starts easy and builds to a peak midway through the run before finishing easy. And every third week, you do an easy run.

Friday--Rest: Friday is a day of rest in all my programs. This is because runners train hardest on the weekends when they have more time. Don’t compromise your weekend workouts by thinking you have to do something extra on Friday.

Saturday--Long Run: If you’re training for a marathon, long runs are obviously the most important workout of the week. The progression begins with a 6-mile workout and increases one mile a week to peak at 20 miles on Weeks 17, 19 and 21. Long runs should be conducted at a pace slower than you plan to run in a marathon. Running too long and too fast and too often will simply wear you out and prevent you from achieving your goals.

Sunday-Cross-Training: If you enjoy biking on Wednesdays, you may want to climb back on your bike on Sundays too. Nothing wrong with that. But consider other aerobic exercises: walking, swimming, cross-country skiing (in season). Given the variety of different exercises, the prescription is in time, not distance. You cross-train an hour in Week 1 and progress to 90 minutes for Weeks 19 and 21. If you want to flipflop workouts (cross-training on Saturdays and running on Sundays), that is okay too.

Some further explanations:

Strength Training: I strongly endorse strength training for runners: for general fitness as much as for making you a faster runner. If you strength train regularly, you don’t need to stop while preparing for a marathon, but if new to this activity you may not want to begin. I recommend light weights and high repetitions. Mondays and Wednesdays might be good days on which to strength train, depending on your schedule.

Races: For experienced runners, twenty-four weeks is a long time to go without seeing a starting line, so I suggest you consider entering some races, but don’t feel obligated to do so or to follow the schedule exactly as it is written. Distance is unimportant, although if you need feedback on marathon pace, the half marathon is your best predictor.

Tempo Runs: I’ve used this term for years to describe a workout featuring a build-up in the middle. Other coaches, however, define Tempo Runs as workouts run at a fast and continuous pace. Regardless, when I ask you to do a Tempo Run, it means that you start easy, then gradually accelerate to near 10-K pace halfway through the workout. Hold that pace for five minutes or more, then gradually slow down. I prescribe time rather than distance and suggest that you get off the roads and into the woods where you can listen to your body rather than run to the rhythm of a GPS watch. Tempo Runs should be intuitive.

Those signing up for one of my interactive programs available from TrainingPeaks will receive further instructions plus tips on training in the emails I will be sending you daily. This is Marathon 3. Good luck using it to train for your next marathon..

Marathon Training Schedule: Marathon 3
Week Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
1 Rest 3 m run Bike: 30 min 3 m pace Rest 6 m run Cross 60 min
2 Rest 4 m run Bike: 30 min 30 min tempo Rest 7 m run Cross 60 min
3 Rest 3 m run Bike: 30 min 3 m run Rest 5 m run Cross 60 min
4 Rest 5 m run Bike: 35 min 3 m pace Rest 9 m run Cross 65 min
5 Rest 5 m run Bike: 35 min 35 min tempo Rest 10 m run Cross 65 min
6 Rest 4 m run Bike: 35 min 4 m run Rest 8 m run Cross 65 min
7 Rest 6 m run Bike: 40 min 4 m pace Rest 12 m run Cross 70 min
8 Rest 7 m run Bike: 40 min 40 min tempo Rest 13 m run Cross 70 min
9 Rest 5 m run Bike: 40 min 5 m run Rest Rest 5-K Race
10 Rest 7 m run Bike: 45 min 4 m pace Rest 15 m run Cross 75 min
11 Rest 8 m run Bike: 45 min 45 min tempo Rest 16 m run Cross 75 min
12 Rest 6 m run Bike: 45 min 6 m run Rest Rest 10-K Race
13 Rest 8 m run Bike: 50 min 5 m pace Rest 17 m run Cross 80 min
14 Rest 9 m run Bike: 50 min 50 min tempo Rest 18 m run Cross 80 min
15 Rest 6 m run Bike: 50 min 6 m run Rest 13 m run Cross 80 min
16 Rest 9 m run Bike: 55 min 6 m pace Rest Rest Half Marathon
17 Rest 10 m run Bike: 55 min 55 min tempo Rest 20 m run Cross 85 min
18 Rest 7 m run Bike: 55 min 7 m run Rest 14 m run Cross 85 min
19 Rest 10 m run Bike: 60 min 7 m pace Rest 20 m run Cross 85 min
20 Rest 8 m run Bike: 60 min 8 m run Rest Rest 10-K Race
21 Rest 10 m run Bike: 60 min 60 min tempo Rest 20 m run Cross 90 min
22 Rest 6 m run Bike: 50 min 6 m run Rest 12 m run Cross 75 min
23 Rest 4 m run Bike: 40 min 4 m run Rest 8 m run Cross 60 min
24 Rest 5 m run Bike: 30 min Rest Rest 1-2 m run Marathon


Click here for the TrainingPeaks interactive version of Marathon 3