Marathon Training : Novice 2

About the Novice 2 Program

Novice 2 is designed to fit comfortably between the Novice 1 and Intermediate 1 marathon plans. It is designed for runners who may already have run and finished their first marathon and want to add just a bit more mileage while training for their second or third marathons, hoping to improve their times, perhaps even qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Get Novice 2 in our app

For runners who want personalized year-round training, using the Higdon method.

  • Start training for free — or upgrade to Hal+ to fully customize your plan
  • Track your progress with personal stats and charts
  • Record your runs with GPS (Hal+ only)
  • Hal adapts to your goals, performance, and schedule (Hal+ only)
  • Train for multiple races at once (Hal+ only)
...or get the single-use version.

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

5.0 rating
Based on 9 reviews.
Leave a review    See all reviews

Hal on his Novice 2 Program

My Novice 2 Marathon Program is a slight step upwards in difficulty from Novice 1. It is designed for people with some background as runners, whether or not they have run a marathon before. Before embracing Novice 2, you should have been running about a year. You should be able to comfortably run distances between 3 and 6 miles. You should be training 3-5 days a week, averaging 15-25 miles a week. You should have run an occasional 5-K or half marathon race. The higher your fitness level, the easier this 18-week program will be. But don’t feel embarrassed about dropping back to Novice 1. Interactive versions of both programs are available through TrainingPeaks, with apps also available.

Novice 2 is nearly identical to Novice 1, but there are some differences: 1) You do pace runs on Wednesdays, and 2) the mileage is somewhat higher. Novice 2 consists of several different increments:

Long runs: The key to the program is the long run on weekends, which builds from 8 miles in Week 1 to 20 miles in the climactic Week 15. (After that, you taper to get ready for the marathon.) Starting at 8 miles, you get up over 15 miles sooner than in Novice 1 and have an additional run above that distance. You can skip an occasional workout, or juggle the schedule depending on other commitments, 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 is an important component of any training program.

Run slow: For experienced marathoners, 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 many novice runners, however, is that they probably don’t know what their marathon pace is, because they never have run a marathon before! As an experienced runner, you may or may not have run a prior marathon, but hopefully you have done enough races, including a half marathon or two, so that you can predict your marathon pace. If not, don’t worry. Simply do your long runs at a comfortable pace, one that allows you to converse with your training partners, at least during the beginning of the run. Toward the end, you may need to abandon conversation and concentrate on the act of putting one foot in front of the other to finish. However, if you find yourself finishing at a pace significantly slower than your pace in the first few miles, you probably need to start much slower, or include regular walking breaks. It’s better to run too slow during these long runs, than too fast. The important point is that you cover the prescribed distance; how fast you cover it doesn’t matter.

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 even alternating running and walking as frequently as every 30 seconds, I teach runners to walk when they come to an aid station. This serves a double function: 1) you can drink more easily while walking as opposed to running, and 2) since many other runners slow or walk through aid stations, you’ll be less likely to block those behind. It’s a good idea to follow this strategy in training as well. You will lose less time walking than you think. I once ran a 2:29 marathon, walking through every aid station. My son Kevin ran 2:18 and qualified for the Olympic Trials employing a similar strategy. And Bill Rodgers took four brief breaks (tying a shoe on one of them) while running 2:09 and winning the 1975 Boston Marathon. 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 this training program are devoted to cross-training. What is cross-training? It is any other form of aerobic exercise that allows you to use slightly different muscles while resting (usually) after your long run. In this 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. What about sports such as tennis or basketball? Activities requiring sideways movements are not always a good choice. Particularly as the mileage builds up toward the end of the program, you raise your risk of injury if you choose to play a sport that requires sudden stopping and starting. One tip: You don’t have 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. Cross-training for an hour on Sunday will help you recover after your Saturday long runs.

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 the bling hung around your neck. For gym rats, continue to work out, but you might want to cut back on the weights as the long run mileage moves into the double digits. Tuesdays and Thursdays work well for strength training–after you finish your runs on those days.

Midweek training: Training on Tuesdays and Thursdays 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 8 miles, many of them done at race pace. (I call these my Sorta-Long Runs.) There are similar slight advances on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The program is built on the concept that you do more toward the end than at the start. That sounds logical, doesn’t it? Believe me–as tens of thousands of marathoners using this schedule have proved–it works. How fast is “comfortably easy?” That might vary from day to day. On Tuesday after a day’s rest, you might find yourself running faster than race pace. On Thursday after two days of running, your pace might be significantly slower.

Race Pace: What do I mean by “race pace?” It’s a frequently asked question, so let me explain. Race pace is the pace you plan to run in the race you’re training for. If you’re training for a 4:00 marathon, your average pace per mile is 9:09. So you would run that same pace when asked to run race pace (sometimes stated simply as “pace” on the training charts). If you were training for a 5-K or 10-K, “race pace” would be the pace you planned to run in those races. Sometimes in prescribing speedwork, I define paces for different workouts as 5-K pace or 10-K pace, but you won’t be asked to run this fast in the Novice 2 program.

Rest: Despite my listing it at the end, rest is an important component of this or any training program. Scientists will tell you 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 runs) that allows you to improve. If you’re constantly fatigued, you will fail to reach your potential. This is why I include two days of rest each week for novice runners. If you need to take more rest days–because of a cold or a late night at the office or a sick child–do so. 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.

Interactive Training: If you would like more help with your marathon training, sign up for one of my interactive training programs, and I will send you emails daily telling you how to train along with tips on how to train, plus you can log your training and use other features. All my training programs are available in an interactive format through TrainingPeaks. This link will take you to Marathon Novice 2.

Week Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
1 Rest 3 mi run 5 m pace 3 mi run Rest 8 Cross
2 Rest 3 mi run 5 mi run 3 mi run Rest 9 Cross
3 Rest 3 mi run 5 m pace 3 mi run Rest 6 Cross
4 Rest 3 mi run 6 m pace 3 mi run Rest 11 Cross
5 Rest 3 mi run 6 mi run 3 mi run Rest 12 Cross
6 Rest 3 mi run 6 m pace 3 mi run Rest 9 Cross
7 Rest 4 mi run 7 m pace 4 mi run Rest 14 Cross
8 Rest 4 mi run 7 mi run 4 mi run Rest 15 Cross
9 Rest 4 mi run 7 m pace 4 mi run Rest Rest Half Marathon
10 Rest 4 mi run 8 m pace 4 mi run Rest 17 Cross
11 Rest 5 mi run 8 mi run 5 mi run Rest 18 Cross
12 Rest 5 mi run 8 m pace 5 mi run Rest 13 Cross
13 Rest 5 mi run 5 m pace 5 mi run Rest 19 Cross
14 Rest 5 mi run 8 mi run 5 mi run Rest 12 Cross
15 Rest 5 mi run 5 m pace 5 mi run Rest 20 Cross
16 Rest 5 mi run 4 m pace 5 mi run Rest 12 Cross
17 Rest 4 mi run 3 mi run 4 mi run Rest 8 Cross
18 Rest 3 mi run 2 mi run Rest Rest 2 mi run Marathon
Week Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
1 Rest 4.8 km run 8.1 km pace 4.8 km run Rest 12.9 Cross
2 Rest 4.8 km run 8.1 km run 4.8 km run Rest 14.5 Cross
3 Rest 4.8 km run 8.1 km pace 4.8 km run Rest 9.7 Cross
4 Rest 4.8 km run 9.7 km pace 4.8 km run Rest 17.7 Cross
5 Rest 4.8 km run 9.7 km run 4.8 km run Rest 19.3 Cross
6 Rest 4.8 km run 9.7 km pace 4.8 km run Rest 14.5 Cross
7 Rest 6.4 km run 11.3 km pace 6.4 km run Rest 22.5 Cross
8 Rest 6.4 km run 11.3 km run 6.4 km run Rest 24.1 Cross
9 Rest 6.4 km run 11.3 km pace 6.4 km run Rest Rest Half Marathon
10 Rest 6.4 km run 12.9 km pace 6.4 km run Rest 27.4 Cross
11 Rest 8.1 km run 12.9 km run 8.1 km run Rest 29.0 Cross
12 Rest 8.1 km run 12.9 km pace 8.1 km run Rest 21.0 Cross
13 Rest 8.1 km run 8.1 km pace 8.1 km run Rest 30.6 Cross
14 Rest 8.1 km run 12.9 km run 8.1 km run Rest 19.3 Cross
15 Rest 8.1 km run 8.1 km pace 8.1 km run Rest 32.2 Cross
1 Rest 8.1 km run 6.4 km pace 8.1 km run Rest 19.3 Cross
17 Rest 6.4 km run 4.8 km run 6.4 km run Rest 12.9 Cross
18 Rest 4.8 km run 3.2 km run Rest Rest 3.2 km run Marathon


Novice 2 Guide

5.0 rating
March 2, 2020

Using the tips and Novice 2 guide, dropped 25 minutes on my second marathon! Was able to hang with the 4:35 pacers for the last 13 miles. No injuries, will continue training for another one in August.

Gary H

1st Marathon (Savannah Rock n Roll 2019)

5.0 rating
December 22, 2019

I was on a mission to lose weight in 2019. I started blindly running and built my mileage up to 13 miles. About June of 2019 I decided I wanted to run the distance of a Marathon but I kept getting hurt as I added more mileage on, because I was’t following any plan I just kept running farther and farther. So I leaned on my sister who has used Mr. Higdon’s program several times (she’s ran 11 marathons and used one of these programs in one way or the other). I picked the Novice 1 program we up’ed the mileage by a few miles in week 3 and 4 since I already had a solid base. From week 5 on I followed the Novice 1 program to a T and I didn’t not get hurt again! My goal was to finish the race in under 4 hours. I finished in 3 hours and 51 mins, a 8:51 mile. It was awesome. Now I’m using the Novice 2 program, I have followed this program to a T from day 1 and getting ready to start on week 5 tomorrow and have improved my long run time to 8:18/mile (11 miles), my 5k time to 21:02, my 10k time to 49:38. I totally appreciate the simplicity and this stuff truly works!!! Thank you Hal!!!
P.S. I have lost a total of 81LBS since 12/26/2018 and I’m totally addicted to running!!!

Gregory Walck

Helped me beat a 10 minute mile for the first time

5.0 rating
October 8, 2019

Just ran the Medtronics Twin Cities, shaved 21 minutes off my previous time, for a PR of 4:19. I am a beginner and I know I am not setting any speed records, but beating a 10 minute mile was sweeeeeet.

Andre Konstantinov

1st Half Marathon

5.0 rating
September 4, 2019

Used Novice 1 Half Marhon Training Program & completed half marathon and placed 2nd overall. PB 2:21:52. Normal wear & tear foot blisters. I’m not exactly a runner but Hal’s program allowed me to complete the half without walking 1 step.

Lawrence Lamberti

Simplicity at it's best!

5.0 rating
July 26, 2019

I used the novice 2 training schedule as a base to my training for the London marathon 2019.
I liked the simplicity of the schedule and detailed information about how each session/run should be done.
This on top of my added mileage helped massively to achieve my time, and will be great for the future.
Many thanks Hal.

Craig simpson

Response from Hal Higdon

Thanks, Craig!
(For the record, Craig ran 2:38 at London following Novice 2.)

Leave a Review