Marathon Training : Novice 1

About the Novice 1 Program

This is Hal's most popular program: the Novice 1 Marathon Training Program. If you are training for your first marathon, this is the training program for you! Even if you are an experienced marathoner, you may choose this as a gentle and low-mileage approach to your favorite sport. More than a million runners have used Hal's programs with success. Novice 1 will get you to the starting line--and finish line.

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Interactive program available on

At a glance


Author: Hal Higdon

Length: 18 Weeks

Typical Week: 2 Day Off, 7 Other, 4 Run, 1 X-Train

Longest Workout: 20 miles

What do I get?


  • Stay motivated for the marathon with daily tips from Hal in your inbox
  • Monitor your progress within TrainingPeaks’ online tools, apps, and wearable integrations
  • Access charts and graphs to understand training load
  • Tap into TrainingPeaks experience
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Hal on his Novice 1 Program

Here is my Novice 1 Marathon Program, the most popular of all my marathon training programs and, arguably, the most popular training program used by first marathoners anywhere. Is this your first marathon? Have you only begun to run? Novice 1 was designed with you in mind. If you have been running for a year or more and have run a number of races from 5-K to the half marathon, you might want to consider a slight nudge up to Novice 2, although many experienced runners also favor Novice 1, because of the (relatively) gentle way it prepares you to run 26 miles 385 yards.

Let me explain some of the workouts you will run during the 18 weeks of Novice 1.  More detailed training instructions sent to you in daily emails are available if you sign up for the interactive version of Novice 1, available from TrainingPeaks. I also have a Novice 1 app.

Long Runs: The key to the program is the long runs on weekends, which build from 6 miles in Week 1 to 20 miles in the climactic Week 15. (After that, you taper 3 weeks to get ready for the marathon.) You can skip an occasional workout, but do not cheat on the long runs. Notice that although the weekly long runs get progressively longer, every third week is a “stepback” week, where we reduce mileage to allow you to gather strength for the next push upward.

Rest: Novice 1 marathoners rest on Mondays and rest again on Fridays. This is both to recover after the weekend long runs and to gather energy before them. Scientists suggest that it is during the rest period (the 24 to 72 hours between hard bouts of exercise) that the muscles actually regenerate and get stronger. Coaches also will tell you that you can’t run hard unless you are well rested. And it is hard running (such as the long run) that allows you to improve. The secret to success in any training program is consistency, so as long as you are consistent with your training during the full 18 weeks of the program, you can afford–and may benefit from–extra rest.

Run Slow: Normally I recommend that runners do their long runs anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds or more per mile slower than their marathon pace. The problem with offering this advice to first-time novice runners, however, is that you probably don’t know what your marathon pace is, because you’ve never run a marathon before! Don’t worry. Simply do your long runs at a comfortable pace, one that allows you to converse with your training partners. As far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as “too slow.”  The important point is that you cover the prescribed distance; how fast you cover it doesn’t matter.

Walking: Don’t be embarrassed to take walking breaks. Walking is a perfectly acceptable strategy in trying to finish a marathon. It works during training runs too. While some coaches recommend walking 1 minute out of every 10, or walking 30 seconds then running 30 seconds before walking again, I suggest that marathon runners walk when they come to an aid station. Here’s why: you can drink more easily while walking as opposed to running, It’s a good idea to follow this strategy in training as well. Walking gives your body a chance to rest, and you’ll be able to continue running more comfortably. It’s best to walk when you want to, not when your (fatigued) body forces you too.

Cross-Training: Sundays in the Novice 1 training program are devoted to cross-training. What is cross-training? It is any form of aerobic exercise that allows you to use slightly different muscles while resting (usually) after your long run. In the Novice 1 program, we run long on Saturdays and cross-train on Sundays, although it certainly is possible to reverse that order. The best cross-training exercises are swimming, cycling or even walking. Activities requiring sudden or sideways movements are not always a good choice. You don’t need to cross-train the same each weekend. And you could even combine two or more exercises: walking and easy jogging or swimming and riding an exercise bike in a health club.

Strength Training: A frequently asked question is: “Should I add strength training to my marathon program?” If you have to ask, you probably should not. I strongly endorse strength training for maximum fitness and long life, but if you never have pumped iron before, now is probably not the time to start. Wait until after you have some bling around your neck. If you already hang out at the gym, Tuesdays and Thursdays work well for strength training–after you finish your short runs on those days.

Midweek Training: Training during the week should be done at a comparatively easy pace. As the weekend mileage builds, the weekday mileage also builds. Add up the numbers, and you’ll see that you run roughly the same mileage during the week as you do during long runs on the weekends. Midweek workouts on Wednesdays build from 3 to 10 miles. (I call these my Sorta-Long Runs.) There are similar slight advances on Tuesdays and Thursdays although they are planned as “easy” days.

Races: Normally, I don’t prescribe races–or at least too many races–for first-time marathoners. Races can get in the way, particularly if you taper before a race and need extra recovery afterwards. But some racing is convenient, because it introduces newcomers to the racing experience. I suggest you consider doing a half marathon in Week 8, a week when in the normal progression you might do 13 miles as your long run. No half marathon in your neighborhood that week? You can juggle the training schedule to match the local racing calendar. One advantage of doing a half is that afterwards, you can use one of the pace calculators available on the Internet (best is by Greg McMillan) to predict your marathon pace and finish.

Week Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
1 Rest 3 mi run 3 mi run 3 mi run Rest 6 Cross
2 Rest 3 mi run 3 mi run 3 mi run Rest 7 Cross
3 Rest 3 mi run 4 mi run 3 mi run Rest 5 Cross
4 Rest 3 mi run 4 mi run 3 mi run Rest 9 Cross
5 Rest 3 mi run 5 mi run 3 mi run Rest 10 Cross
6 Rest 3 mi run 5 mi run 3 mi run Rest 7 Cross
7 Rest 3 mi run 6 mi run 3 mi run Rest 12 Cross
8 Rest 3 mi run 6 mi run 3 mi run Rest Rest Half Marathon
9 Rest 3 mi run 7 mi run 4 mi run Rest 10 Cross
10 Rest 3 mi run 7 mi run 4 mi run Rest 15 Cross
11 Rest 4 mi run 8 mi run 4 mi run Rest 16 Cross
12 Rest 4 mi run 8 mi run 5 mi run Rest 12 Cross
13 Rest 4 mi run 9 mi run 5 mi run Rest 18 Cross
14 Rest 5 mi run 9 mi run 5 mi run Rest 14 Cross
15 Rest 5 mi run 10 mi run 5 mi run Rest 20 Cross
16 Rest 5 mi run 8 mi run 4 mi run Rest 12 Cross
17 Rest 4 mi run 6 mi run 3 mi run Rest 8 Cross
18 Rest 3 mi run 4 mi run 2 mi run Rest Rest Marathon
Week Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
1 Rest 4.8 km run 4.8 km run 4.8 km run Rest 9.7 Cross
2 Rest 4.8 km run 4.8 km run 4.8 km run Rest 11.3 Cross
3 Rest 4.8 km run 6.4 km run 4.8 km run Rest 8.1 Cross
4 Rest 4.8 km run 6.4 km run 4.8 km run Rest 14.5 Cross
5 Rest 4.8 km run 8.1 km run 4.8 km run Rest 16.1 Cross
6 Rest 4.8 km run 8.1 km run 4.8 km run Rest 11.3 Cross
7 Rest 4.8 km run 9.7 km run 4.8 km run Rest 19.3 Cross
8 Rest 4.8 km run 9.7 km run 4.8 km run Rest Rest Half Marathon
9 Rest 4.8 km run 11.3 km run 6.4 km run Rest 16.1 Cross
10 Rest 4.8 km run 11.3 km run 6.4 km run Rest 24.1 Cross
11 Rest 6.4 km run 12.9 km run 6.4 km run Rest 25.7 Cross
12 Rest 6.4 km run 12.9 km run 8.1 km run Rest 19.3 Cross
13 Rest 6.4 km run 14.5 km run 8.1 km run Rest 29.0 Cross
14 Rest 8.1 km run 14.5 km run 8.1 km run Rest 22.5 Cross
15 Rest 8.1 km run 16.1 km run 8.1 km run Rest 32.2 Cross
1 Rest 8.1 km run 12.9 km run 6.4 km run Rest 19.3 Cross
17 Rest 6.4 km run 9.7 km run 4.8 km run Rest 12.9 Cross
18 Rest 4.8 km run 6.4 km run 3.2 km run Rest Rest Marathon

Reviews

Perfect for your first marathon

November 8, 2018

I started running earlier in 2018, and really enjoyed it. Decided to take the leap and signed up for the Atlantic City Marathon, October 21st. My the time I started training, I was working on a base, and I was going pretty slow, trying to keep my heart rate in specific zones. As I progressed and the summer heated up, I maintained a consistent pace and effort, and managed not to injure myself which was my only real goal. After a few long runs, I decided to make a 4:00 time my reach goal. Race day arrived, it was nice and cool, and I ended up running a 3:48! I’m ecstatic with my time, and now I’m looking at a more advanced program to build on my progress for next year. Thanks for the great program!

Jim A.

First Marathon

November 7, 2018

My husband and I have only been running for about 3 years now and decided after numerous races of various lengths to train for a marathon. Someone suggested this training program so we tried it. Needless to say, we finished it. As a “newbie”, some of these distances were intimidating but I trusted the training and had success. I would use this one again though I may explore Novice 2 as I’m still learning myself as a distance runner. I like how simple and consistent the program which made it easy to keep up with on top of a busy schedule.

Erica

This Is The One

November 5, 2018

Hal’s Novice plan, where tens of thousands have started their marathon training. Where thousands more experienced marathoners have returned when they needed a gentle plan for whatever reason. It’s where I started, entering the 18-week program thinking 26.2 miles was a ridiculous goal. Also, where I’ve returned since life made more difficult plans impossible. Hal’s experience and calm voice takes away the fear and adds confidence. I’ve directed many people to this plan, telling them if you can run a few days a week and can run 6 miles once a week, you can start this program 18 weeks before a marathon and finish it comfortably. I also always recommend his book Marathon, which is a perfect accompaniment and something you will enjoy reading, and referring to again and again when your obsession kicks in.

Brian

2018 Columbus Marathon Finisher

October 28, 2018

I’ve used Hal’s stuff for a long time now. This is the third time I’ve trained for a full marathon, but the first time I’ve managed to stay healthy through training. Novice 1 is a great program and while it doesn’t include any speedwork, it’s great plan to use if you have a history of injuries through training. I “ran” my first marathon in 2014 and in an effort to get healthy again, I trained with Novice 1 since the end of May. I went 6:07 in 2014 (hurt during training and the race) and went 4:09 last weekend in the same marathon. Great plan, great layout, great resource for those wanting to train and stay healthy and injury free!!! Thanks Hal!!!

Mathew

Amazing Run

October 13, 2018

I ran two half-marathons last year and signed up for Chicago Marathon 2018. I kept running in the summer in the range of 15-20 mile/ week. I also participated the weekend long runs organized by Big River Running company here in St. Louis since summer. I knew I need some training regime during the week to combine with the weekend long runs. I found Mr. Higdon’s book Marathon-The Ultimate Training Guide in a bookstore. The book is a masterpiece, I just learn so much about distance running and the preparation for my first Marathon. In the last ten weeks leading up to Chicago Marathon, I followed exactly the training plan for Novice 1. I did finished my first Marathon in Chicago, going at fixed pace, without injury! The plan worked beautifully as it promised. Now I will follow Novice 2 for my next Marathon. Thank you so much, Hal. By the way, We met Hal at the Expo Chicago Marathon and he is such a nice gentleman and signed our card for 2019 IL Marathon!

Terry

First marathon finish

October 8, 2018

Finished my first marathon with the help of this program. Before, I felt 4 miles was a long run. Looking back, I’m astounded by the change in my endurance over five months.

David

Marathon Training: Novice 1

August 7, 2018

I am on Week 6 of my training program for the 2018 New York City Marathon on November 4, 2018. I have run 4 previous marathons, (3 finished and 1 DNF). I am 67 years old and my main objective in each race was to “Just Finish” regardless of the time. I finished with times in the 6 1/2-7 hour range but I enjoyed it as well. I do triathlons, 5 k charity runs and bike rides and really did not train as well as I should have. My daughter who has run 3 Chicago marathons suggested I try Hal’s training program. How can you argue with a daughter!! I started my training around July 1 and now on week 6. I really like the structured run program as it gives me a goal to reach each day regardless of my time. I strive to run in the 14:00-16:00 pace and complete the mileage. I ran a short 2 mile race the other day and can tell a difference since my training in the fact my legs and endurance are stronger, and my time was in the 12:00 pace so the training is paying off. I feel by the time the NYC Marathon comes, I will have the endurance to run the complete 26.2 miles with very few stops and finish running strong instead of walking those last several miles. This is a great program and I feel Hal is with me each day during my runs. I could not be happier that I listened to my daughter and signed up for the program. the important thing for each run I have found and from what Hal says is to finish the mileage regardless of the time. I feel my time will get faster but just need to get the endurance in the legs. Thanks Hal for this program.

Mark Dixon

Response from Hal Higdon

Thank you for the review, Mark — and good luck in November!

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