Hal Higdon

Got a question about running? You're in the right place. Every Tuesday, world-renowned coach, author and athlete Hal Higdon posts and answers athlete questions here. You can submit your question by joining the discussions on Hal Higdon's Virtual Training Bulletin Boards.

Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor for Runner’s World and author of 34 books, including the best-selling Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide. He ran eight times in the Olympic Trials and won four world masters championships. Higdon estimates that more than a quarter million runners have finished marathons using his training programs, and he also offers additional interactive programs at all distances through TrainingPeaks.

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Cancelled Marathons

QUESTION: Any advice for those of us who signed up for the Dallas Marathon, cancelled because of ice and snow? I don't know what to do at this point: Just run it at home by myself? Try to find another one that is soon? Or wait awhile for a much later race? Most puzzling, I don't know how to resume training, since I followed one of your programs for 18 weeks. I wouldn’t know where to start if I had to pick another race.

HAL’S ANSWER: You are not alone. Memphis got cancelled, also because of the weather, and I am certain several smaller marathons met the same fate. Tens of thousands of runners were inconvenienced, although most reluctantly admitted the race directors made the right call. This is not the first time. Several marathons were cancelled for security reasons in the wake of September 11. The cancellation that got the most publicity was last year when a devastating hurricane hit the East Coast one week before the New York City Marathon. Entry fees rarely get refunded, which angers some runners, but often the money collected from runners and sponsors has been spent in advance of the start.

There are no good options. Best is probably to stretch your taper one more week if you can find another marathon that soon. Bart Yasso of Runner’s World, who was at Dallas, joked that everyone should have gotten on a plane and headed to Honolulu, its marathon being the same weekend. Picking a marathon in 2, 3, 4 or more weeks would be a second-best option. You won’t lose much if any fitness; you might arrive at the starting line even more prepared. I suspect the psychological damage done by hitting the “pause” button is more than the physical damage. Postponing your next marathon by 2 or 3 months is one more option. Simply count back from the End Date and start in the middle of the program you choose. For help with your training options, check the Cancelled Marathon schedules on my website.


Post Marathon Blues

QUESTION: Any tips or suggestions to get over the Post Marathon Blues? I just did my first marathon yesterday, and I feel kind of depressed that I achieved a goal and feel like there is no reason to get out there and run any more. I'm so used to following a rigid schedule for the past 6-7 months that I don’t know what to do next.

HAL’S ANSWER: The Post Marathon Blues, also referred to as PMS for Post Marathon Syndrome is fairly common. You focus intently on a lofty goal for day after day, week after week, month after month, and suddenly that goal is snatched away. You can look back with pleasure, but what’s next in life? Do you think you can stall until January 1, when making a New Year's resolution is an acceptable motivational tool? Or make a pre-resolution. In the meantime, use this period for some well-earned downtime. Consider also that there is a Post Marathon Training program that will cuddle around you for the next 5 weeks. After that, pick a new goal, which could be a distance or a destination. By the time you are that far past your marathon, you should be able to think rationally again.

Hal uses TrainingPeaks to power his interactive marathon and half marathon training plans. Check out more of Hal Higdon's training plans here or on his website


Firing the Coach?

QUESTION: My son is a sophomore and has just finished his second cross country season. I haven't been real happy with his coach and that coach’s philosophy. Runners on the team basically are just told to go run so many miles for the day. There is very little to no speedwork. Even though his season is over, he will still remain after school to run with his teammates. They basically decide what they will run each day. Which of your programs would you suggest he follow? He obviously wants to increase his speed.

HAL’S ANSWER: I don't want to trump the coach, because he may have a vision that we have not yet figured out. But you might check my Winter Training Program for at least some guidance on what to do between seasons. And mainly that is to run. Put in the miles. When inspiration hits and the weather is good, some of those miles can be run at a faster pace. I include a Tempo Run once a week in my winter program, but there is no reason the team can’t do some up-tempo running one or two other days—when the weather permits. Once the track season begins, whether or not the coach has them do speedwork, there will be plenty of opportunity to run fast in races.

Young runners will improve often despite what their coaches offer in the way of training advice. And it's not always a good idea for parents to get involved, except at times of the year when the coach is not working with his runners on a regular basis. One cannot have two masters, and certainly not three. Hopefully with your encouragement, your son and teammates will continue to improve.

Hal uses TrainingPeaks to power his interactive marathon and half marathon training plans. Check out more of Hal Higdon's training plans here or on his website


Working Different Shifts

QUESTION: I am a nurse who works 36 hours a week: all different shifts, all different times, all different days. I am currently reading your book, Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide, and my question is in regard to consistency and training. There are often weeks when my work schedule does not permit me to run many days in a row (i.e., 3- 4 days). I often work 12-hour shifts and multiple types of shifts in a single week (i.e., 7:00am-3:00pm; 3:00pm-11:00pm; 11:00pm-7:00am). I find it difficult to get consistent, quality training in when my schedule is so chaotic. Do you have any suggestions? I have run two marathons thus far, so I am not a complete newbie, but my training regimen could use some serious work.

HAL’S ANSWER: If you work 36 hours a week and do 12-hour shifts, that suggests to me that you have 3-4 days when you are off work. In some respect, this makes it easier (at times) for you to train, since you have more days free, when you have ample time to get in a longer- than-usual run. One of the toughest workouts in my marathon programs is the sorta- long run on Wednesday, which peaks at 10 miles in Week 15. It's not the difficulty of running that far, but more finding the time to run that far while working the usual 9-to-5 schedule. That would not seem to be as much of a problem for you.

But the shifting sands in your life create other problems, since you can't stick to a program that basically prescribes what to do on each day week after week after week. So you simply need to learn to be creative in juggling workouts, allowing them to land on different days in different weeks.

Since you are reading Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide, go to the index and look for “Russell Pate, PhD.” Find the point where I use Russ as my source for planning training. Dr. Pate says to first determine the most important workout of the week (usually the long run in marathon training). Place it on the day where you are most likely to have the most time. Then pick the second most important workout, which in my Novice programs would be the sorta-long run. Pick a day for that--but remember: it does not need to be the same day each week. As your work schedule changes, fit the workouts around work.

If I had a couple of hours, I could sit down and customize a program for you, but I suspect now you are smart enough to do it yourself. In many respects, your shifting schedule offers you some advantages that the 9-to-5 people do not have. And thanks for taking care of us when we get sick.

Hal uses TrainingPeaks to power his interactive marathon and half marathon training plans. Check out more of Hal Higdon's training plans here or on his website


Fatigue Following Marathon

QUESTION: About a month ago, I ran my first full marathon, a trail one. Of course, I was exhausted afterwards, so I waited five days before running again. Now, it seems no matter how slowly I run, I can hardly make it to the 1-mile mark before having to walk. I don’t feel tired, but my legs start aching. It's discouraging, because I have no idea what to do. I just want to be able to run for hours again, but I can't even make it past 10 minutes.

HAL’S ANSWER: How is your nutrition? Marathons drain the body of glycogen stores. Most people with high-carb diets (55% carbohydrates) bounce back in a week, but some take longer— even a month according to some studies. My Marathon Recovery Programs suggest a 5-week ramp to guarantee a gradual return to form. It takes time to recover after a marathon: physically and psychologically. On top of that, you chose a trail marathon for your first marathon. I applaud you for your choice, because I love running trails, but this surface can be difficult both to run and to recover after the run, because uneven surfaces stress the muscles more than do smoothly paved roads. Cut back on your miles in the post-marathon period. Cut back on your pace. Program in more rest days. Substitute cross-training for some of the running miles. Hopefully, you will begin to bounce back soon. A Registered Dietitian might help. Check also iron stores. If fatigue continues, it might be for reasons other than the marathon. Seek medical advice.

Hal uses TrainingPeaks to power his interactive marathon and half marathon training plans. Check out more of Hal Higdon's training plans here or on his website