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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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

3.8
3.8 rating
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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

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5.0 rating
April 6, 2021

This really looks like a great way to get started and very in depth and clear.

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Emanuel Carmona

Training that built endurance and stamina

5.0 rating
January 23, 2021

I used this training program for my first marathon. I had previously run two half marathons. About 4 weeks before the marathon, I injured my foot (peroneal tendonitis) and over the following 2 weeks ran once or twice on short runs. I then attempted the 20 mile run 2 weeks before the marathon, and was able to complete it, but unfortunately I pulled my hip flexor during that run. I took the last two weeks almost completely off, and decided to attempt the marathon. My injuries behaved and I was able to complete the marathon! This training program clearly gave me the training I needed that allowed me to take almost 4 weeks off leading up to the race and still be able to complete it with a good time. I am very thankful for this training program!

Joanna Boone

A recipe for success

5.0 rating
November 9, 2020

I have used the Hal Higdon program for 9 marathons and give a lot of credit to his training schedule/recommendations for my success. I was able to qualify for Boston and NYC by sticking to the regimen. It is simply a great aid to safely train up to a marathon. From there, you can pick an advanced training program to achieve the pace you need to get to your dream race! Thanks Coach!!!

Dr. Daniel Johnson

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