A comparison of the best marathon training plans
This comparison covers many of the most popular marathon training plans, and has a short description of the plan, a list of the key attributes and a high level summary of each level of the plan. For the Long Runs, I start listing the lengths with the first run of 16 miles or longer and do not include the taper period. You can find more details on each plan in these sub-pages:
- FIRST's Run Less, Run Faster
- Jeff Galloway's Marathon - You Can Do It!
- Hanson's Marathon Method
- Hal Higdon's Ultimate Training Guide
- Jack Daniels' Running Formula
- Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning
- Waitz's Run your first marathon
If you've used a Marathon training plan in the past then please fill in the Marathon Survey.
1 The purpose of this comparison
This comparison should not be used to choose a plan by itself. The goal is to provide you with some guidance around which plans are candidates so you can do further research. The comparison is also based on the plans themselves, not any supporting information such as the training methodology or other advice. This comparison does not attempt to be comprehensive review of all plans, but to cover a few of the most popular plans.
2 Unique Aspects of the Plans
This summary attempts to distill each of the plans into their unique points.
- Jack Daniels. These plans specify two runs per week, a long run and a speedwork, with the rest let up to the individual.
- FIRST. Three runs per week; Tempo Runs, Interval Training and Long Runs, plus 2 days of cross training.
- Galloway. All plans use Walking Breaks and some include training runs longer than the marathon distance.
- Hanson. The Long Runs are limited to 16 miles but they include shorter mid-week marathon paced running.
- Higdon. The easier plans are 'vanilla', while the harder ones include back to back long runs.
- Pfitzinger. Plans for experienced runners, including some high mileage plans with multiple runs per day.
- Waitz. Only a single, simple plan for first time marathon runners.
- Lydiard. Created for elite runners, these plans have a lot of hard running.
3 The Will to Win
As Juma Ikangaa said, "The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare." The plans below can work, but they are not guaranteed to produce success, as long distance running requires a big commitment of time and effort. It is vital to count the cost that this training requires; none of these plans will help you if you don't follow them.
4 Mid Plan Adjustments and the Golden Rule of Training
The Golden Rule of Training is "to stay injury free so you can continue training". While this sounds obvious, it can be hard to follow. If you are struggling with a particular training plan, either unable to complete the workouts, or the workouts leave you feeling wiped out, then it's probably better to change your plan than to continue on. It's far better to arrive at the start line slightly undertrained than burned out or injured. You may have to find a different plan, or modify the workouts in your existing plan, though the latter can be tricky. Depending on how far through your training cycle you are, and how badly your suffering, the adjustment varies. Here are some possible modifications.
- Drop cross training activities.
- Reduce the length or skip entirely some of the shorter easy runs if your plan has those.
- Reduce the length or decrease the pace of some of the speed work. If your plan has more than one speed work session per week, consider dropping one session.
- Reduce the length of the Long Runs or add in Walking Breaks.
- Change to a completely different plan. Consider
- The Galloway plan could reduce your training stress significantly, but if you're not used to Walking Breaks you will have to ease into this gently. While walking may seem trivial compared with running, the transition between the two states can cause some unexpected stress.
- The Jack Daniels Plan A could be viable if you use it on three days a week, though the long runs are quite intense on this plan.
- The Hanson plan has found success with runners who have previously burned out on other plans, but it's unclear if it would be viable to swap that Hanson plan part way through a training cycle.
- Depending on the severity of your problem it may be better to give up on your chosen race, and restart your training cycle, targeting a later date.
5 Tweaking the Plans
It is quite possible to use one of these plans as an initial basis and then tweak it to your particular needs. There are trivial tweaks, such as doing the Long Run on a different day, to major changes. Changes such as swapping out runs that are not key workouts for cross training or rest can be done quite easily. However, the more extensive the change, the more experience you need to understand the implications. I've added some notes on each plan where I believe modifications are advisable.
6 Modifying the Plans for Continuous Training
The vast majority of these plans assume you're starting off from a low level of training. One of my Top 10 Marathon Training Mistakes is detraining between marathons. If you race a marathon every six months and your training pattern is to have a two month gap between finishing one race and starting doing your Long Runs for the next race, you will lose a disproportionate amount of your fitness. Instead, I would recommend that after you have recovered from a race you quickly return to doing 16+ mile Long Runs. Most of the plans shown here can easily be adapted this way. Simply ignore the weeks leading up to the first 16 mile Long Run, and start your training at that point for the next race.
7 Difficulty and Benefit
Different people will respond differently to any given training plan. Some people will respond well and become fitter, some will not be stressed enough and won't improve, while others will be stressed too much and become injured or unable to Supercompensate. A plan that has a higher level of training stress will produce a greater benefit in the subset of the population that can withstand the stress, but will have a larger number of people that become injured or unable to adapt. Thus, a harder plan may have strong advocates, but it may not be suitable for a wider population.
8 Want to Look for in the Marathon Training Plan
Marathon training plans differ but at least partly because there is no consensus on what is best. I think however there are some key attributes to consider.
- Length. The longer the plan, the more time you have to adjust to the training load. However, a longer plan also requires a greater time commitment.
- Starting Mileage. A marathon training plan needs to start with an initial mileage that matches your current fitness. However, you can skip the first few weeks of a plan if you are fitter than the initial few weeks call for. In fact, it can be important to skip these weeks, otherwise you may become detrained.
- Ramp up. The quicker the plan ramps up the mileage, the less time you have to adapt and Supercompensate. A faster ramp up generally indicates a higher risk of injury or burn out.
- Rest. One of the most important, and often overlooked, aspects of marathon training plans is the amount of rest and recovery you get. Without sufficient rest, you won't be able to adapt and Supercompensate. I believe that running 3-4 days/week is optimal.
- Monotony. The ratio of training days to rest days, or easy to hard days, can be evaluated with Overtraining Syndrome. . High values of monotony are associated with reduced fitness benefits and increased risks of
- Days/Week and Easy Days. To keep low and get the best recovery, running 3-4 days/week is probably optimal. If you prefer to run more frequently, then it is critical to keep the easy days as easy as possible.
- Longest Run. There is some controversy over the length of the longest Long Run. I believe that it is better to have a longer longest run as this provides better preparation. However, this is only true if you build up to these longer runs gradually enough that you can recover well. A Long Run that leaves you overly fatigued will not benefit you. It's better to reach the start line slightly undertrained, than injured or burned out.
9 Suitability Comparison
The table below gives some high level guidance as to the suitability for the different plans for different types of runner. In the table, the numbers 0-5 indicate suitability with 5 being more suitable. There is a lot of individual variability, so a plan that is marked low for a particular type of runner does not mean it won't work for anyone in that category, but it's less likely to be a good candidate. Likewise, a rating of 5 does not mean it will work, just it's a better candidate. As always, I'd like to hear from anyone that disagrees ;}
| Jeff Galloway's
You Can Do It!
Marathon Method Just Finish
Marathon Method Beginner/Advanced
Marathon Method Elite
| Jack Daniels
| Jack Daniels
| Jack Daniels
| Jack Daniels
Elite (AKA 12 Week)
| Hal Higdon's
Ultimate Training Guide
| Waitz's Run
your first marathon
|Running With Lydiard|
|Limited Training Time||4||4||0||3||2||0||5||5||5||4||0||2||2||0|
- Beginner: A first time marathon runner with no background in speedwork or hard racing at shorter distances.
- Novice: A first time marathon runner, or someone who not run a marathon for some time, but has some experience of speedwork or racing at shorter distances.
- Ringer: A first time marathoner who has lots of experience and talent at racing shorter distances.
- Maintenance: A regular marathon runner who is looking to keep their performance, but not intending to work hard on improving their time.
- Improver: A runner who has run several marathons and is hoping to improve their performance. An improver will have not trained hard in the past, so may have the ability to improve significantly.
- Enthusiast: This is a runner who has trained hard for marathons in the past and is looking for ways of optimizing their performance.
- Elite: A runner who is prepared to work 'as hard as it takes' to improve performance and typically is a faster marathon runner.
- Limited Training Time: Here I'm thinking of time for training during the week, rather than the number of weeks to the race.
- Traditionalist: this is someone looking for an established, traditional plan with no particular innovation and novelty.
- Triathlete/Multisport Athlete: These athletes need to have time to dedicate to overtraining, so I plan that has days that can be used for other exercise methods is particularly applicable.
- Prior Overtraining. Some runners have trained for marathons on plans that have resulted in them feeling overtrained. This can be due to a lack of rest, or the training stress ramping up too quickly. The Overtraining could be Overuse, Too Much Too Soon, or full Overtraining Syndrome. These runners may benefit from a much lower intensity training plan, or one with much more rest, especially if they can carry some of their endurance forward from their prior training.
- Time categories: Some plans are better suited to faster or slower runners.
- Like or hate speed work: Some plans include a lot more speed work than others, and different runners either enjoy or hate doing speed work. Also some runners find themselves easily injured by speed work, and need to avoid it.
The table below looks at the general characteristics of the various plans.
|Plan||name||Duration||Min Days/week||Max Days/week||Min Cross Training days||Max Cross Training Days||Speedwork||Long Run Pace||Long Run Speedwork|
|FIRST's Run Less, Run Faster||Novice, Marathon||16||3||3||2||2||2||MP+15 to MP+45||Yes|
|Galloway You Can Do It||Beginner, To Finish||26||6||6||0||0||0||Not Specified||No|
|Galloway You Can Do It||Fat Burning||26||5||5||2||2||0||MP+120||No|
|Galloway You Can Do It||Goal based plans||26||4||4||2||2||0||MP+120||No|
|Galloway's Book On Running||Goal based plans||32||4||7||0||0||1||MP+120||No|
|Hanson's Marathon Method||Beginner and Advanced||18||6||6||0||0||2||Scaled (MP+50 to MP+30)||No|
|Hal Higdon's Ultimate Training Guide||Novice||18||4||4||1||1||0||NS (MP+30 to MP+90)||No|
|Hal Higdon's Ultimate Training Guide||Intermediate 1/2||18||5||5||1||1||0||NS (MP+30 to MP+90)||No|
|Hal Higdon's Ultimate Training Guide||Advanced 1/2||18||6||6||0||0||1 (Ad1), 2 (Ad2)||NS (MP+30 to MP+90)||No|
|Jack Daniels Running Formula||To Finish, Novice||18||3||7||0||0||1||MP+90 to MP+120||Yes|
|Jack Daniels Running Formula||Plan A||24||3||7||0||0||1||MP+90 to MP+120||Yes|
|Jack Daniels Running Formula||Elite, 12 Week||24||3||7||0||0||1||MP+90 to MP+120||Yes|
|Jack Daniels Running Formula||2Q||18||2||7||0||0||1||MP+90 to MP+120||Yes|
|Jack Daniels Running Formula||4Weeks||26||2||7||0||0||1||MP+90 to MP+120||Yes|
|Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning||<55/18 week||18||5||5||0||1||1||MP+10% to MP+20%||Yes|
|Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning||<55/12 week||12||5||5||0||1||1||MP+10% to MP+20%||Yes|
|Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning||55-70/18 week||18||6||6||0||1||1||MP+10% to MP+20%||Yes|
|Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning||55-70/12 week||12||6||6||0||1||1||MP+10% to MP+20%||Yes|
|Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning||70-85/18 week||18||7||7||0||0||1||MP+10% to MP+20%||Yes|
|Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning||70-85/12 week||12||7||7||0||0||1||MP+10% to MP+20%||Yes|
|Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning||>85 (105)/18 week||18||7||7||0||0||1||MP+10% to MP+20%||Yes|
|Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning||>85 (105)/12 week||12||7||7||0||0||1||MP+10% to MP+20%||Yes|
|Waitz's Run your first marathon||RYFM||16||4||4||0||0||0||Not Specified||No|
- Plan. I have generally used the last name of the primary author of the plan, except where the plan is better known by another name.
- Name. This is the name of the plan with the in the book, or in the case of Jack Daniels the parameters used to generate the plan.
- Min/Max Days/week. The minimum and maximum number of days per week that the plan prescribes for running. For the Galloway plans are considered any day the prescribes walking as part of the running days and was Galloway is using a run/walk approach.
- Min/Max Cross Training days. This is the minimum and maximum number of days per week that the plan prescribes for cross training, rather than the number of days that the plan would allow for cross training.
- Speedwork. This is the number of days where the plan prescribes speed work such as intervals or at tempo runs. Any speed work performed as part of the long run is not included in this total.
- Fitness Based Paces. Both Jack Daniels and FIRST define all training paces based on your current fitness level, but other plans do not. (Note that the Hanson plans do prescribe training paces, but this is based on your goal rather than your proven fitness.)
- Long Run Pace. While only Jack Daniels and FIRST give fitness based Paces, most of the plans give at least a broad guidelines as to the appropriate long run pace. These training paces are specified as a number of seconds per mile slower than marathon pace, or occasionally as a percentage slower. (For example, MP+10% for a 6:00 min/mile marathoner: 6:00 pace is 360 seconds per mile, 10% of 360 is 36, so the pace would be 6:36 min/mile.)
Some of the plans have different number of days assigned to different activities as the plan progresses, in which case I've used a rough approximation.
11 Long Run Analysis
This section provides some detailed analysis of the long runs in each of the training plans. While some of the information is self-explanatory, some may require you to read the notes below the table. Only a subset of the plans for lower mileage, 4 hour marathoners is include'd'. For a complete table, see Full Characteristics Table
(First To 16)
(16 To Max)
(first to max)
|FIRST's Run Less, Run Faster||Novice||3||1||6||8||8||4||7||3||0.88||0.90||0.75|
|FIRST's Run Less, Run Faster||Marathon||8||5||25||13||2||1||13||12||2.00||3.00||2.30|
|Galloway You Can Do It||Beginner||4||3||22||3||14||8||11||3||0.60||0.52||0.51|
|Galloway You Can Do It||To Finish||4||3||22||3||14||8||11||3||0.66||0.47||0.53|
|Galloway You Can Do It||Fat Burning||4||3||22||3||14||8||11||3||0.58||0.53||0.49|
|Galloway You Can Do It||Goal 4:00||5||4||34||7||11||11||14||3||0.51||0.54||0.44|
|Galloway's Book On Running||To Finish||6||4||30||2||16||10||13||3||0.61||0.82||0.64|
|Galloway's Book On Running||Goal 4:00||6||4||30||4||18||10||13||3||0.34||0.83||0.32|
|Hanson's Marathon Method||Beginner||3||0||0||4||10||0||7||7||1.16||0.00||1.16|
|Hanson's Marathon Method||Advanced||3||0||0||8||10||0||7||7||0.63||0.00||0.63|
|Hal Higdon's Ultimate Training Guide||Novice||3||1||6||6||10||4||7||3||0.97||1.00||0.89|
|Hal Higdon's Ultimate Training Guide||Intermediate 1||4||2||11||6||9||3||8||5||0.99||0.40||0.96|
|Hal Higdon's Ultimate Training Guide||Intermediate 2||6||3||16||10||6||4||11||7||0.79||1.00||0.95|
|Hal Higdon's Ultimate Training Guide||Advanced 1||6||3||16||10||6||4||11||7||0.79||1.00||0.95|
|Hal Higdon's Ultimate Training Guide||Advanced 2||6||3||16||10||6||4||11||7||0.79||1.00||0.95|
|Jack Daniels Running Formula||To Complete (4hours, 50miles/week)||0||0||0||3||-||-||-||9||No 16+ miler||No 16+ miler||0.96|
|Jack Daniels Running Formula||To Complete (4hours, 90miles/week)||0||0||0||3||-||-||-||15||No 16+ miler||No 16+ miler||3.30|
|Jack Daniels Running Formula||2Q (4hours, 35miles/56Km)||3||0||1||11||10||5||8||3||0.48||0.07||0.39|
|Jack Daniels Running Formula||4Week (4hours, 35miles/56Km)||0||0||0||8||-||-||-||8||No 16+ miler||No 16+ miler||0.15|
|Jack Daniels Running Formula||Plan A (4hours, 35miles/56Km)||4||0||5||3||16||5||7||2||0.74||0.19||0.71|
|Jack Daniels Running Formula||Elite (4hours, 35miles/56Km)||16||12||74||3||6||12||18||6||1.98||0.51||1.26|
|Jack Daniels Running Formula||Scaled Elite (4hours, 35miles/56Km)||0||0||0||3||-||-||-||11||No 16+ miler||No 16+ miler||0.85|
|Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning||<55/18 week||10||3||18||12||4||3||13||10||1.00||1.80||0.90|
|Waitz's Run your first marathon||3||1||6||5||11||2||5||3||0.96||2.00||1.11|
Notes on the columns
- # Runs 16+. I consider that the 16 mile mark defines the beginning of "the long run". While this is somewhat arbitrary on my part, I believe that counting the number of long runs that are 16 miles or more is a useful metric. The first run the diesel 16 miles or more is highlighted in green in the weekly section.
- # Runs 20+. There is some limited evidence that suggests that runs over 20 miles provide important adaptations for marathon running, and help prevent "hitting the wall". This column gives account of the number of runs that of 20 miles or more.
- Total Miles Over 16. Another way of evaluating a training plan is to look at the number of miles run in excess of 16 miles. For example an 18 mile long run would count as 2 miles in excess of the 16 mile Mark. This metric reveals some dramatic differences between some of the advanced plans.
- Starting Mileage. This column shows the mileage of the first long run, and may be useful in selecting a plan based on your current fitness.
- Weeks To 16. This is the number of weeks from the start of the plan to the first 16 mile long run. This section of the training plan I've called the "initial ramp up" that brings a runner from their initial level of fitness to what I consider the threshold of performing long runs.
- Weeks 16 To Max. This is the number of weeks from the first run of 16 miles or more to the longest run in the plan. If the longest run is repeated more than once, I use the first instance, which is highlighted in red in the weekly section.
- 16 To Race. The number of weeks from the first run of 16 miles or more to the race itself.
- Max To Race. The number of weeks from the longest long run to the race itself.
- Ramps. One key aspect of any marathon training plan is how quickly it increases the mileage. It seems likely that one of the biggest factors behind excessive fatigue and injury from the long run is at this rate of mileage increase. Therefore I have attempted to quantify this rate of increase as a "ramp", which is approximately the number of miles per week the long run is increased by. (For those interested in the details I use the least squares approach to calculate an approximate slope between the two points on the training plan. This approach has some obvious limitations when the training plans have cut back weeks.)
- Initial Ramp (First To 16). This is the ramp from the first run to the first 16 mile or longer run.
- Core Ramp (16 To Max).This is the ramp from the first 16 mile or longer run to the longest run.
- Overall Ramp (first to max). The ramp from the first run to the longest run.
Below is the list of the long runs for a sample of the plans. Only a subset of the plans for lower mileage, 4 hour marathoners is include'd'. For a complete table, see Full Long Runs Table
|FIRST's Run Less, Run Faster||Novice||8||9||10||11||12||14||10||15||16||12||18||13||20||13||8||race|
|FIRST's Run Less, Run Faster||Marathon||13||15||17||20||18||20||13||18||20||15||20||15||20||13||10||race|
|Galloway You Can Do It||Beginner||3||5||3||6||8||3||9||3||11||4||13||4||15||4||17||4||20||6||6||23||6||6||26||6||6||race|
|Galloway You Can Do It||To Finish||3||5||3||6||8||4||9||4||11||5||13||5||15||6||17||6||20||6||7||23||6||7||26||6||7||race|
|Galloway You Can Do It||Fat Burning||3||5||6||3||8||4||9||4||11||4||13||4||15||4||17||4||20||5||6||23||6||6||26||6||7||race|
|Galloway You Can Do It||Goal 4:00||7||7||8||9||4||11||5||13||5||15||5||17||4||20||6||6||23||8||6||26||10||6||28||12||7||race|
|Galloway's Book On Running||To Finish||2||3||4||4||5||6||7||8||9||10||11||6||12||6||14||7||16||8||18||9||20||10||22||11||24||12||26||13||12||race|
|Galloway's Book On Running||Goal 4:00||4||5||6||7||8||9||10||11||12||12||12||12||12||12||12||4||14||6||16||2||18||4||20||6||22||6||24||6||26||6||12||race|
|Hanson's Marathon Method||Beginner||4||4||5||5||6||8||10||10||15||10||16||10||16||10||16||10||8||race|
|Hanson's Marathon Method||Advanced||8||8||10||8||12||8||14||10||15||10||16||10||16||10||16||10||8||race|
|Hal Higdon's Ultimate Training Guide||Novice||6||7||5||9||10||7||12||13||10||15||16||12||18||14||20||12||8||race|
|Hal Higdon's Ultimate Training Guide||Intermediate 1||6||9||6||11||12||9||14||15||11||17||18||13||20||12||20||12||8||race|
|Hal Higdon's Ultimate Training Guide||Intermediate 2||10||11||8||13||14||10||16||17||12||19||20||12||20||12||20||12||8||race|
|Hal Higdon's Ultimate Training Guide||Advanced 1||10||11||8||13||14||10||16||17||12||19||20||12||20||12||20||12||8||race|
|Hal Higdon's Ultimate Training Guide||Advanced 2||10||11||8||13||14||10||16||17||12||19||20||12||20||12||20||12||8||race|
|Jack Daniels Running Formula||To Complete (4hours, 50miles/week)||3||3||3||12||12||12||12||12||5||14||14||11||10||14||12||10||11||5||race|
|Jack Daniels Running Formula||To Complete (4hours, 90miles/week)||3||3||3||14||14||14||14||14||10||14||14||11||10||14||14||10||11||10||race|
|Jack Daniels Running Formula||2Q (4hours, 35miles/56Km)||11||11||10||11||11||11||12||13||12||15||16||14||16||14||14||17||11||8||race|
|Jack Daniels Running Formula||4Week (4hours, 35miles/56Km)||8||9||8||0||8||11||8||0||11||13||4||0||11||14||6||0||12||15||9||0||12||14||13||0||8||race|
|Jack Daniels Running Formula||Plan A (4hours, 35miles/56Km)||3||3||3||6||6||6||7||6||11||8||10||12||9||15||15||9||17||17||14||17||14||19||10||race|
|Jack Daniels Running Formula||Elite (4hours, 35miles/56Km)||3||3||3||6||6||6||18||16||18||20||17||20||22||22||20||22||22||22||23||22||22||22||19||8||race|
|Jack Daniels Running Formula||Scaled Elite (4hours, 35miles/56Km)||3||3||3||6||6||6||10||11||10||11||12||11||12||13||11||12||12||12||12||12||12||12||11||8||race|
|Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning||<55/18 week||12||13||14||15||16||12||18||20||16||14||20||17||18||17||20||16||12||race|
|Waitz's Run your first marathon||5||5||6||8||6||9||10||12||13||10||14||16||18||20||13||10||race|
12 Best Plan for First Time Marathoners
It is hard to recommend the best overall plans for first-time marathon runners because their situation and objectives can vary so widely. First-time marathon runners could be highly experienced at racing shorter distances, or completely new to structured training. They could be aiming for a competitive finish, or just hoping to survive. Therefore, I'd recommend you read the suitability comparison above, and understand how I've characterized each type of first-time runner.
- If your predicted marathon finish time is 5:30 or longer then I believe Galloway or a similar run/walk approach is by far the best approach. If you can predict your marathon finish time from a shorter race using my VDOT Calculator. A 5:30 marathon finish is about a 35:00 5K.
- For those with a predicted finish time of 4:30-5:30 (28:30-35:00 5K time) then Galloway is still probably your best bet, but you could consider the Higdon's Novice plan, or Jack Daniels Plan A.
- If your predicted finish time is faster than 4:30, the best plan will depend on your objectives.
13 Individualized Plans
I have not included any individualized plans. This approach allows you to input things like a race goal, your weekly mileage, training effort, schedule length and when you want to start. This is partly because these plans require a fee for each set of inputs, making them extremely expensive if you want to get an overview of different paces and weekly mileage. The other major problem is that because they are customized, the algorithm for generating the plans can also change without notice.