Training for a half or full marathon is never an easy undertaking; especially if you are starting training in the heat of Summer. But there’s a whole lot of truth to the saying that Fall races are won in Summer. So if you have your sights set on a race that is (hopefully) happening anytime between September and November, now is the time to start considering your training plan. There’s a ton of half and full marathon training options to choose from, and I know it can be overwhelming to figure out if any standardized plan is going to be a good fit for you.
There are a lot of variables to consider, like you personal goals and current fitness level. Some plans are written for athletes who have a lot of time flexibility in their daily lives, and other plans are geared more for those who want to maximize training results in as little time as possible. I always advocate that runners consider hiring a coach, because only a human being can write out and adjust a plan that perfectly suites your individual lifestyle and needs.
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But if coaching isn’t something that is feasible for you right now, there are plenty of plans that can be tweaked or followed as written. To help you figure out which plan might be the best fit for you, I’m providing you with a brief overview of some of the more well-known half and full marathon training plans. I’m always happy to answer any questions about individual coaching, or selecting a training plan. Please feel free to reach out to me via my Contact Me page.
Marathon Training Plan Review
We’re going to kick things off with one of the most well-known marathon training plans on the market. Now honestly, if you were to do a Google search on “half-marathon training plan” the majority of the free plans that would populate your screen are probably based on either the Hal Higdon or McMillan training plans, which are very similar to one another.
These training plans are a great option for new runners who want a plan that won’t leave them overwhelmed or confused. The plans offer a gradual build in weekly mileage, with a cutback every 3rd or 4th week to allow for recovery. Long runs will build up to about 11 miles for the half-marathon distance and 20-21 miles for the marathon.
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These plans are easy to fit into almost any lifestyle, because the runs are not overly complicated or time consuming. Most plans recommend 3-4 week day runs that are a reasonable distance with one longer run on the weekend. While these plans are easy to navigate and work into a busy schedule, they may not be the best choice for runners who are looking to improve their current running times.
There’s little to no emphasis on speedwork, drills, or hard efforts. Just basic, structured mileage. So if you are looking to hit some sort of time goal, these plans are probably not the best fit.
The 80/20 plan is not as well known as a lot of other training plans. The plan was created by runner Matt Fitzgerald; a sports psychologist who also happens to be a pretty fast runner. This training plan recommends that runners follow the rule of running 80% of their programmed runs at an easy pace, and 20% at hard pace.
There are designated plans for pretty much every distance (5k, 10k, half-marathon, full marathon) that follow a standard slow build pattern. The differentiator with this plan is the structure of programming 20% of those runs at a difficult pace to improve speed. The 80/20 is a bit more complicated, since it does recommend that runners figure out their ventilary threshold, which is a little lower than a persons lactate threshold.
The ventilary threshold identifies the pace at which a persons breathing becomes more rapid. There’s some ways to calculate this pace and threshold outlined in the book, 80/20 Running. The plan is a good option for runners who want to improve their current speed or pace, without too much difficulty. Since the majority of runs are done below ventilary threshold, some athletes might find the focus on easy running more appealing.
The plan does recommend a higher volume of running than some others, so it may not be a viable option for runners who have smaller windows of training time available.
The Galloway plan was revolutionary in the marathon world. It was one of the first plans that encouraged athletes to utilize walking breaks strategically. The rationale is that most people will be better able to engage and push harder during their running intervals if short periods of walking are utilized regularly. It has been known to help runners achieve PR’s with less pain and injury than attempting to run without walking breaks.
There are different intervals recommended for different athletic abilities and baselines. What I love about this plan is how Galloway uses the program as a platform to encourage “everyday athletes” to go for those big goals that might seem impossible.
This is the training program that changed so much of how I structure training cycles, and has helped me to earn multiple PR’s. The Hansons Marathon Method is a program that is fairly different from other training plans in that the weekly mileage is high, but the distance of the weekly long run is somewhat shorter. The longest long run in the advanced marathon program caps out at 16 miles.
The program is founded on the notion of cumulative fatigue, which basically just means running a whole lot on tired legs. It also features two workouts every week; a mid-stance run at marathon goal pace and a shorter track-style workout. The plan is tough, and it will certainly leave you exhausted. But also strong.
It is a great option for runners who are interested in seeing what they are capable of, and aren’t intimidated by hard work. It might be a harder plan to stick to for athletes who have unpredictable schedules or during times where work/family life is demanding due to the volume.
If you’d like more in depth information about this training plan, please take a look at my Hansons Marathon Method Review.
The Maffetone Method is another program that focuses on going slower to eventually go faster. Often known as the MAF method, it was created by Dr. Phil Maffetone, and was based on years of research. Maffetone built the method on the principle that the physical health of the body should not be compromised by the intensity of training.
The full MAF method recommends a diet that reduces inflammation by eliminating refined carbohydrates, and encourages several other lifestyle improvements. But the core of the MAF method centers around training solely within the aerobic capacity of the individual, by monitoring and keeping the heart rate at or below a calculated value with the use of a GPS watch or HR monitor According to Maffetone, over time the body will improve endurance to the point that athletes are able run further and faster while keeping their rate low.
The plan also focuses on longer endurance runs that help the body learn to burn fat for fuel, and keep the heart rate steady. The method has been used by athletes who have struggled with over-training syndrome, and can be appealing for someone who wants to focus on a lifelong relationship with running. It is not intended for quick results, and it can be frustrating for an athlete who wants big improvements for their next race.
If you’d like a complete review of the MAF method, take a look at the results Amanda from Run to The Finish was able to achieve.
Unbreakable Runner is technically a book focused on a lifestyle that incorporates running, rather than just a training plan. The recommended training within this plan has a much heavier focus on incorporating strength exercises than most other running plans. For many endurance athletes, this can be confusing.
Why so much emphasis on squats and crunches if what I really want to do is improve my marathon time? Well, according to author T.J. Murphy, you get more bang for your buck this way. This training plan is all about efficiency; in all things. What Murphy proports is that the ideal training plan will focus on intense, short workouts that will tax the system for maximal growth.
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The runs are shorter, with more specific and intense workouts than other plans. It is a great option for athletes who want to improve strength as well as endurance, and don’t want to spend more time training than what is absolutely necessary. Because of the focus on efficiency, it may not be the right plan for athletes who enjoy running and want to dedicate a good amount of time to the roads or trails for enjoyment.
As disappointing as it might be, this is not a training plan focused on running and drinking whiskey. Bummer, I know. This is, however, a method created by Runner’s World’s pick for “The world’s best running coach.” Pretty impressive.
The plan can be a little complicated to follow, but it is incredibly precise. Utilizing past performances, or timed efforts, the plan allows athletes to identify their VDOT estimate. Based on this value, the athlete can utilize a training plan and workouts that are formulated to achieve maximal endurance and pacing benefits.
This is an incredibly structured plan, and might be appealing to runners who want to know all the ins and outs of their training method. It also takes quite a bit of mental gymnastics to figure out all of the workouts. It might be a difficult plan to follow if you don’t have some previous running experience, or if you prefer plans that offer a little more flexibility.
Each of these training plans has been proven useful for athletes across the globe. And honestly, the best training plan is the one you can stick to. For a lot of athletes, the additional accountability and guidance gained in individual coaching is the most reliable path to success. For runners who prefer to self-coach, selecting one of these plans, and then slightly modifying to fit work, family, and lifestyle can be a great option. If you’ve had success with one of these training plans, I’d love to hear about it! And if you have any questions about individual coaching, how it works, and if it might be right for you, please reach out via my Contact Me page.