Hal Higdon’s Marathon Training Plans And Methodology, Reviewed

When I trained for my first marathon back in 2009, I actually downloaded and used one of the free Hal Higdon marathon training plans even though I was already a USATF-certified running coach at the time.

The Hal Higdon marathon training plans have long earned a reputation as being approachable, and sound, and many are free, all of which I needed at the time!

In the 14 years since that first marathon experience, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about many different approaches to marathon training and develop some of my own training plans, some of which have been inspired by Hal Higdon’s methodology and structuring.

In this guide, we will discuss the basics of the Hal Higdon marathon training plans, the pros and cons of the Hal Higdon marathon plans, and the types of marathon training plans you can find with the “Run with Hal” app.

We will cover: 

  • Are the Hal Higdon Marathon Plans Good?
  • What Are the Hal Higdon Marathon Plans Like?
  • What Are the Benefits of the Hal Higdon Marathon Plans?

Let’s jump in!

A person run training.

Are the Hal Higdon Marathon Plans Good?

It’s important to establish right off the bat that there isn’t one “best“ marathon training plan for every runner.

Even within the microcosm of the Run with Hal training plans—or the Hal Higdon marathon plans—there are over a dozen marathon plans to choose from.

This is demonstrative of the fact that all runners training for a marathon will need to have a certain level of fitness and as such, almost every good marathon training plan will entail similar types of workouts and structuring.

Still, there is no single best marathon training plan approach or a definitive marathon training plan that will work best for everybody.

Ultimately, picking the best marathon training plan is a matter of looking at its length, how it’s structured, your fitness level relative to the level of the marathon training plan, your preferences, and your injury history, among other factors.

People training for a marathon.

What Are the Hal Higdon Marathon Plans Like?

In general, the Hal Higdon marathon training plans can be considered a sensible, 80/20 approach to marathon training meaning.

This means that about 80% of the volume is all about base building at a low intensity and 20% of the training volume is “high-quality“ workouts such as intervals, tempo runs, etc. 

If you are trying to compare the Hal Higdon marathon training vs FIRST marathon training method, Hal Higdon’s plans are much more of a standard progression or gradual build-up with reasonable mileage and the 80/20 split in intensity, as previously discussed.

In contrast, something like the FIRST run less run faster marathon plan is known to be super intense, but it is only a three-day-a-week marathon training plan.

These are the types of differences that can help you choose the best marathon training plan for your needs.

Within the Hal Higdon marathon training plans lineup, there are just over a dozen plans to choose from, which has certainly grown since I first took on the Hal Higdon Novice 2 marathon training plan for my own marathon debut!

Like our marathon training plans here at Marathon Handbook, Hal Higdon provides a bunch of free marathon training plans.

There are plans suitable for runners of different levels, depending on the specific marathon training plan you choose.

A person run training.

I’ve always really respected Hal Higdon’s method of marathon training.

His background in running also speaks for itself and lends credibility to any aspirations to try any plans in the Run With Hal app.

Hal Higdon was a very successful runner in his own right.

He competed in eight Olympic trials, before becoming a running coach and author, and was a writer for Runner’s World.

Although there are some advanced Hal Higdon marathon plans (Advanced 1 and Advanced 2), most of these marathon plans are mainly geared towards beginners and intermediate runners looking for a classic approach to marathon training.

The Hal Higdon marathon plans generally aren’t the best training plans for runners looking to hit certain times, qualify for Boston, or set a big marathon PB.

Of course, there is a Boston Bound plan, but I think the Hal Higdon marathon plans really shine for “everyday runners” and slower runners—namely with the Hal Higdon Novice and Intermediate plans.

These training plans are geared towards helping runners get to their first marathon finish line healthy or mid-pack runners have a safe, smart, tried-and-true structured marathon training plan to follow, even if it’s their tenth, twentieth, or fiftieth marathon!

That said, there are even a few newer Higdon plans like a specific Dopey Challenge training plan for those training for the epic Disney marathon weekend event.

People running a marathon.

What Are the Hal Higdon Marathon Plans Like? 

Although there are differences in all of the Hal Higdon training plans, most of the Higdon marathon programs share common themes or structures.

Here are the main methodologies or characteristics seen in most of the Hal Higdon marathon training plans:

  • Low to moderate mileage, particularly in the novice and intermediate plans
  • Four days of running per week in the novice plans and up to five in the intermediate plans
  • Less emphasis on speedwork for marathon training in the Higdon Novice or Intermediate plans
  • Some workouts practice running at goal race pace to get your body used to the pace you want to run in your marathon
  • The long run maxes out at 20 miles in most plans

There is also a Run With Hal app where you can get more detailed versions of the free Hal Higdon training plans online and a little bit of an easier user-friendly version to navigate.

People run training.

What Are the Benefits of the Hal Higdon Marathon Plans?

As with any marathon training plan, there are several pros and cons of this method approach to marathon training.

Here are some of the Hal Higdon method marathon plan benefits:

  • Many free plans to choose from
  • A sensible approach to building endurance and strength
  • Plenty of rest and cross-training built-in, particularly for the novice Higdon Marathon training plans
  • Not a lot of speed work in the novice and intermediate plans, which can be appealing to runners who haven’t had a lot of experience with structured training or don’t want to do speed work for marathon training
  • Most of the weekday training runs on the Higdon marathon plans are relatively short, which can be easier to fit into a busy life than some of the marathon plans with long weekly runs and workouts.
  • The Hal Higdon method recommends that runners strength train a couple of times per week, which can reduce injuries.
  • The Hal Higdon marathon training plans have been used by many runners and designed by a coach with a tremendous background and experience in the sport
  • Descriptions of the different types of workouts you will find on your plan
  • 3 to 5 days of running for most of the Hal Higdon marathon training plans are doable for most people and can potentially decrease the risk of injury relative to running six days a week with something like this Hansons Marathon Method.
A person run training on the grass.

Here are some of this method’s drawbacks:

  • The advanced Hal Higdon marathon training plans are much more aggressive and have back-to-back high-volume/long run days somewhat like the Hansons Marathon Method.
  • Fewer days of training relative to some other programs. This can be more workable for people with busy weekday schedules but does end up making the long run close to 50% of the weekly mileage. This can put a lot of pressure on having to have a good long run, and can potentially increase the risk of injuries for some runners.
  • Not a lot of specific paces are given for the different workouts on the free Hal Higdon training plans.
  • Not much guidance as to the types of strength training workouts you should be doing.
  • Generally not used by elite runners or runners looking to set a big PR, so may not be best for faster runners or competitive runners.
  • Intermediate plans have some back-to-back higher mileage days with the long run, which can be aggressive if you have not built up your base well.

Although I’m naturally somewhat biased towards recommending the Marathon Handbook free marathon training plans (even the ones I didn’t create!), the Hal Higdon training plans earn my stamp of approval, particularly for beginners.

If you want to compare plans to find the best free marathon training plans, out the free Marathon Handbook marathon training plans for runners of different levels here.

A person run training.
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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