, Salem, MA

January 15, 2009

Marathon training programs come in many shapes, sizes

By Jay Kumar

On The Run

Jay Kumar

We are in the midst of a seriously cold stretch. Not just chilly, but teeth-rattling, mind-numbing, stay-inside-your-nice-warm-home-unless-absolutely-necessary cold.

This weekend, when most folks will be getting their exercise at the gym or just blowing it off to stay warm, a dedicated bunch will brave the arctic temperatures to get their long run in.

If you're training for a spring marathon, you've got to do those long runs. And 15 miles on a treadmill is just torture.

Marathon training programs are as varied as marathon runners. There isn't one correct way to train for a marathon. Depending on your goal and ability, you can find a program that works for you.

The Furman FIRST program ( recommends that you do three quality runs per week: a tempo run, speed work, and a long run. On the other days, runners are advised to cross-train (swim, bike, etc.) on two or three other days, with one day of rest. The idea is that you minimize wear and tear on your body while maximizing the quality of your training.

In studies conducted at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training found that runners improved their race times when they followed the program. I tried it for the first time in 2006, and it really has worked well for me. I've had fewer injuries (knock on wood) and my marathon times have improved considerably. That said, it's not for everybody.

Author and running expert Hal Higdon ( has developed an extensive series of training programs for novice, intermediate and advanced runners. His programs recommend running anywhere from four to six days per week, incorporating speed work, tempo runs, hill work, and long runs. Higdon doesn't advocate running more than 20 miles for a long run.

Jeff Galloway ( marathon training involves a run-walk method he designed to help runners avoid injury while completing a marathon. The method has runners looking to do eight-minute miles to run four minutes, walk 35 seconds and repeat. For slower-paced runners, the running time is decreased while the walking is increased, all the way to 16-minute-milers, who run for 30 seconds and walk for 60 seconds. The training program recommends three days of running, one day of walking and three days off per week.

The Galloway method has been proven to work for folks, although there are some runners who feel it's not really running because of all the walk breaks. Galloway argues that the method has improved race times for many who use it.

At the other end of the training spectrum is Pete Pfitzinger (, whose marathon training programs are for stronger runners who want to improve their aerobic ability and can handle bigger mileage totals. Pfitzinger's plans include an emphasis on interval training and come in variations that can total up to 55, 70 or more than 70 miles per week. His book isn't called "Advanced Marathoning" for nothing.

The Hanson brothers ( are not related to the pugilistic brothers from the classic hockey movie "Slap Shot," but instead run several Michigan running stores and train elite marathoners as part of the Hanson-Brooks Distance Project. Kevin and Keith Hanson espouse a moderate and consistent approach to training, with no long run exceeding 16 miles. But their program includes up to five days of running per week, and their athletes are among the top elite runners in America.

There are plenty of other training programs and theories available for marathoners. The key is finding the right one.


Starts and stops:

There's no doubt the economy is a mess right now, but don't tell that to marathon organizers. Big marathons are doing big business these days. The P.F. Chang's Rock n' Roll Marathon Arizona takes place on Sunday and will feature 33,000 runners, according to an Arizona Republic article. The Rock n' Roll Marathon series has now expanded to nine cities across the country. Big marathons, such as Boston, New York, Chicago and others are selling out early. Many runners are finding they can no longer wait until the last minute to sign up for a marathon.


Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is under the gun these days, what with his impeachment by the Illinois House of Representatives last Friday. So what was he doing when the actual impeachment occurred? Running in Chicago, according to the CBS News Political Hotsheet blog.

Apparently, he, like so many of us, runs to relieve stress. He may find himself with a lot more time to run in the near future.


On the Run is a biweekly column about the North Shore running scene. Send any questions, comments or news to