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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Racing into the Evening

QUESTION: I have been running for a few years, but officially got into the sport after reading your book: Marathon. It was such an inspiration! I have been following your Novice 2 plan (religiously) for my first half in November, having fun along the way! This weekend is my 5-K race. And I plan to run the Marine Corps 10-K at the end of the month. I have become borderline obsessed about the science behind the run sport, mostly fueling. I always try to give my body what it needs before and after a long run, which brings me to my question: Have you ever started a race in the evening? If so, what did you eat and do during the day? I, for some reason, am a little worried about tackling 13.1 miles at 4:30 pm Pacific Time. (I am an East Coaster.) My weekly runs are at night, but my long run Saturdays are an early morning thing. I agonize over having too much time waiting around for the race to begin. What do I eat? Drink? Do? Maybe it's just nervous jitters?

HAL’S ANSWER: Shouldn't be a problem. In high school and college, I ran track meets in the afternoon. As an athlete in open competition, I sometimes ran in major track races in the evening. One track meet in a small Swedish town didn't even have overhead lights when I ran my 3000 race. They had ground flashlights inside the curb, failing to illuminate much of the inside lane, which made me nervous enough so that I ran most of the race in the second lane. I won anyway, so as an athlete, you adjust. Some years ago I was involved in a study at the University of Georgia, where they measured the circadian rhythms of runners by forcing us to stay awake in a box-like room for more than 24 hours with no hints as to how much time was passing. Among what the scientists learned from that and related time-based studies was that at least elite-level athletes were so focused that we adjusted no matter what the time zone or time we ran. As for fueling, eat on your normal schedule, but with an eye toward high-carb. You probably also need to run a few workouts at the same time you will be running your race to test your reactions, both physical (nutrition) and psychological (yikes, it’s dark!).

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


How Should I Feel?

QUESTION: This is going to be my first marathon. I’m following your Intermediate 2 training program. What am I supposed to feel like after the long runs? I just did the 32-K run yesterday (20 miles). At about the 22-K mark, my legs started to get sore, but I pushed myself in. Perhaps a little background: I am looking to finish the marathon at about 3 hours and 45 minutes, which is about 5:18 (minutes and seconds) per kilometer. So I run the pace runs at about 5.10 to 5.18. When I do the long runs, I can run at about 5:18 to 5:22 pace. Is this good or bad? I know I am supposed to run slower, but I just find myself running at that speed. Yes, at the end of the long runs, my legs are sore. Is it good to run that close to marathon pace?

HAL’S ANSWER: Not really. Given the pace run on Saturday followed by the long run on Sunday, you’re probably pushing yourself too hard on the weekends. That means you compromise your training the rest of the week. That also means you force yourself to spend the five weekday workouts recovering from the two weekend workouts. You can get away with doing this when the mileage (or kilometerage in your case) is low, but toward of the end of the program, you risk encountering the twin specters of overtraining and injury. You discovered that fact at the 22-K point in your recent workout. In long runs, it is okay to fatigue your muscles, but you do not want to destroy them. If you find it difficult to run what you consider a “slow” pace, plug in some walking breaks. A minute or so walk every second or third kilometer might bring down your pace average and eliminate some of the soreness/fatigue as well.

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


Mileage Accuracy

QUESTION: What is a good plus/minus for the long runs? Obviously, even with a good GPS watch (which not everyone can afford), there are variations especially in the valleys of Vermont where I run. I was able to measure part of my 20-miler yesterday on my watch, and the GPS for my iPhone measured the run at 20.2 miles, but the part of the course that I could drive indicated the workout was only 19.8 miles. I know that this is not a large variance, but what is acceptable? And, although it is late in my program to be asking, how do other runners measure their mileage?

HAL’S ANSWER: Badly, some of them, I suspect. But I'm not sure it makes much difference as long as you or they are consistent in your and their inaccuracy. Scientists I know would label your numbers as “statistically insignificant.” (Yes, I know, scientists sometimes are rude in their use of language.) If you lived in Chicago along the lakefront or the Prairie Path, there are accurately measured mile markers. Otherwise, GPS watches do a reasonable job of being close, unless you are surrounded by skyscrapers or in the woods when they can be wildly incorrect during portions of the run while blocked from those magic satellites overhead. And didn’t I just see a Sandra Bullock and George Cooney movie, where a bunch of satellites got knocked out of the sky? So don’t worry. As long as you are reasonably close to the mileages in my training programs, I suggest, you'll do fine.

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


Tuning Out Body Signals

QUESTION: I am in Week 12 of the Novice 1 plan, training for my first marathon in New York on November 3. I have been running on a fairly regular basis since 2010 and have run three half marathons. My question is whether one of the long runs can be stretched into a 22-miler. I think I mentally need to hit 22, so I have only four more miles to go in the marathon, rather than six. How can the schedule be modified?

Until Week 11, I followed your plan exactly, but at the end of that week ran 18 instead of 16, while participating in the official New York Road Runner training run. So my long-run modification right now looks like:

  • Week 11: 18 miles
  • Week 12: 16 miles
  • Week 13: 22 miles
  • Week 14: 12 miles
  • Week 15: 16 or 20 miles (depending on how my legs feel)
  • Week 16: 12 miles
  • Week 17: 8 miles
  • Week 18: Marathon

What do you think? Is this too much for a first-timer? I don't want to set myself up for injury, and just this week was the first time my calves and Achilles tendons started hurting.

HAL’S ANSWER: Wait: How’s that? Calves and Achilles tendons hurting? Maybe your body is sending you a message that you seem to be tuning out.

Do you need a 22-miler? If I thought so, I would have designed all of my training programs with that number in the peak week rather than 20. If you feel that psychologically you need to get closer to 26.2 in your longest training run, I'm not going to stop you. But physically, it sounds like you need less mileage at this point in your training rather than more. Do you want to be standing on the Verrazano Bridge in November with aching Achilles tendons?

So follow the revised schedule (above) if you want, but I would recommend sticking with the mileage as outlined in my Novice 1 program.

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


Warm-up for Big Races

QUESTION: I am running a 10-K next week. After doing my pre-race warm up, how do I stay warm at the starting line, considering that I need to be lined up at least a half hour before the start? A big race, and it is going to be crowded. I just want to start in a halfway decent position, which means getting to the line too early for comfort.

HAL’S ANSWER: It's not easy. Standing stationary on the starting line is one way to lose some of the advantages of a good warm-up, particularly on a chilly day when you may or may not be standing there in shorts-and-singlet. Warm weather is no bargain either. One option is to arrive at the starting corral as late as possible, but then you risk being behind a lot of people slower than you. Jogging in place is one option, though not the best substitute for strides out in front of the line as taken by the elites. The other option, I suppose, is to pick smaller races for your PR efforts and enter mass races mostly for the fun of a shared experience.

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