QUESTION: In 2010, I completed my first marathon (Chicago) following your Novice 1 program. I was in pain starting around Week 11, because of a stress fracture in a metatarsal. Took it easy in 2011, then started speedwork for a half marathon this spring. Ended up with a PR, but a stress fracture in the talus on the same foot. I've been to a podiatrist both times. My foot structure is extremely rigid and doesn't heal quickly. Still, his opinion is that I could probably complete a marathon safely, but only if I can stay pretty rigorously inside of the "10% increase rule" during training. So, I looked back at your Novice 1 program. Weeks 4, 7, 10, 13, and 15 seem to be the ones significantly outside of 10% due to the stepback the weeks prior. I'm thinking about modifying the program out of fear that this might increase overtraining or a cumulative injury risk. Any ideas on how to limit the percentage increase in a given week?
HAL’S ANSWER: Actually, stepback weeks are good, not bad. They are added to reduce the risk of overtraining or injuries. But in examining my programs, why focus on any given week? Your focus should be on the total program. I normally don't count miles when designing programs, but I doubt whether any of them violate your so-called "10% increase rule." I don't believe in that rule anyway. It's artificial and fails to take into account the fact that a 10% increase in miles in low-mileage Week 1 is a lot different from the same increase in high-mileage Week 15. Toward the end of my programs, I add more stepback week to mitigate damage from the mileage increase, which is necessary if you want to comfortably finish a marathon. Your problem in trying to stay under 10% is that you are measuring a stepback week against the higher-mileage weeks before and after. You need to examine the entire program—Weeks 1 through 15—leading up to the final 3-week taper. It is a very gentle ramp and one that has worked for a lot of runners. Nevertheless, if you want a still gentler ramp, simply add more stepback weeks. Lower the ramp angle, however, and you’ll need more than 18 weeks to reach your goal. While you consider what modifications to make, take a look at my Marathon 3 program, which lasts 24 weeks with three running days a week. Finally, did you and your podiatrist discuss what might be the root cause of your problems? Do you have a muscle imbalance that might be cured with orthotics? Have you done strength training to increase the overall density of your bones? Do you have your nutritional act together, since poor eating habits also can cause weakened bone structure? I'm not accusing you, just throwing some ideas out for consideration.
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.