A comparison of the best marathon training plans

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What's on your bookshelf? I've looked at a many of the popular marathon training plans so you don't have to.

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.

1 The purpose of this comparison

This comparison should not be used to choose a plan by itself. The goal is to provide the reader with some guidance around which plans are candidates so they 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 Daniel's. 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, intervals and long run, plus 2 days of cross training.
  • Galloway. All plans use Walking Breaks and some include training runs longer than the marathon distance.
  • Hanson. Long runs limited to 16 miles but with lots of marathon paced running.
  • Pfitzinger. Plans for experienced runners, including some high mileage plans with multiple runs per day.
  • Higdon. The easier plans are 'vanilla', while the harder ones include back to back long runs.
  • Waitz. Only a single, simple plan for first time marathon runners.

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 and 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 Hansen 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 Hansen 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 Training Monotony. High values of monotony are associated with reduced fitness benefits and increased risks of Overtraining Syndrome.
  • Days/Week and Easy Days. To keep Training Monotony 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 number 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 ;}

FIRST Jack Daniels Plan A Jack Daniels Elite Jack Daniels To Finish Jeff Galloway Hanson Pfitzinger Advanced Marathoning Hal Higdon Waitz
Beginner 1 1 0 2 4 0 0 3 2
Novice 2 3 0 1 3 1 0 3 1
Ringer 3 4 1 0 1 2 1 2 0
Maintenance 2 2 0 0 3 2 0 4 0
Improver 4 5 3 0 1 3 3 2 0
Enthusiast 4 5 4 0 1 2 3 2 0
Elite 3 4 5 0 0 0 3 0 0
Limited Training Time 4 5 4 0 1 2 0 2 2
Traditionalist 2 3 3 0 2 0 4 4 4
Triathlete/Multisport 4 5 3 0 4 0 0 2 3
Prior Overtraining 3 5 0 0 4 4 0 0 0
Sub 3:00 5 5 5 0 0 2 4 2 0
3:00-4:30 5 5 3 1 2 3 3 3 2
4:30-5:30 3 3 0 1 5 2 0 2 2
5:30+ 0 0 0 0 5 0 0 0 0
Like Speedwork 5 5 5 0 0 3 3 1 0
Hate Speedwork 0 0 0 2 5 0 2 4 5
  • 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.

10 Characteristics

The table below looks at the general characteristics of the various plans. For many of the plans there are multiple different versions, based on the experience, fitness, or weekly mileage of the runner. The Jack Daniels plans vary based on the specifics of the runners fitness and weekly mileage, so some sample values are used. The specifics of the Jack Daniels plans for specific runner are likely to vary from these values.

Plan Name Min Days/week Max Days/week Min Cross Training days Max Cross Training Days Speedwork Fitness Based Paces Long Run Pace
Jack Daniels To Complete (4hours, 50miles/week) 3 7 0 0 1 Yes MP+90 to MP+120
Jack Daniels To Complete (4hours, 90miles/week) 3 7 0 0 1 Yes MP+90 to MP+120
Jack Daniels Plan A (3hours, 90miles/week) 3 7 0 0 1 Yes MP+90 to MP+120
Jack Daniels Plan A (4hours, 50miles/week) 3 7 0 0 1 Yes MP+90 to MP+121
Jack Daniels Plan A (4hours, 90miles/week) 3 7 0 0 1 Yes MP+90 to MP+122
Jack Daniels Plan A (5hours, 50miles/week) 3 7 0 0 1 Yes MP+90 to MP+123
Jack Daniels Elite (3hours, 90miles/week) 3 7 0 0 1 Yes MP+90 to MP+124
Jack Daniels Elite (4hours, 50miles/week) 3 7 0 0 1 Yes MP+90 to MP+125
Jack Daniels Elite (4hours, 90miles/week) 3 7 0 0 1 Yes MP+90 to MP+126
Jack Daniels Elite (5hours, 50miles/week) 3 7 0 0 1 Yes MP+90 to MP+127
FIRST Novice 3 3 2 2 2 Yes MP+15 to MP+45
FIRST Marathon 3 3 2 2 2 Yes MP+15 to MP+60
Pfitzinger <55/18 week 5 5 0 1 1 No MP+10% to MP+20%
Pfitzinger <55/12 week 5 5 0 1 1 No MP+10% to MP+20%
Pfitzinger 55-70/18 week 6 6 0 1 1 No MP+10% to MP+20%
Pfitzinger 55-70/12 week 6 6 0 1 1 No MP+10% to MP+20%
Pfitzinger 70-85/18 week 7 7 0 0 1 No MP+10% to MP+20%
Pfitzinger 70-85/12 week 7 7 0 0 1 No MP+10% to MP+20%
Pfitzinger >85 (105)/18 week 7 7 0 0 1 No MP+10% to MP+20%
Pfitzinger >85 (105)/12 week 7 7 0 0 1 No MP+10% to MP+20%
Galloway Beginner 6 6 0 0 0 No NS
Galloway To Finish 6 6 0 0 0 No NS
Galloway Fat Burning 5 5 2 2 0 No MP+120
Galloway Goal 4:40 4 4 2 2 0 No MP+120
Galloway Goal 4:20 4 4 2 2 0 No MP+120
Galloway Goal 4:00 4 4 2 2 0 No MP+120
Galloway Goal 3:45 4 4 2 2 0 No MP+120
Galloway Goal 3:30 4 4 2 2 0 No MP+120
Galloway Goal 3:15 4 4 2 2 0 No MP+120
Galloway Goal 2:59 4 4 2 2 0 No MP+120
Galloway Goal 2:39 4 4 2 2 0 No MP+120
Higdon Novice 4 4 1 1 0 No MP+30 to MP+90
Higdon Intermediate 1 5 5 1 1 0 No MP+30 to MP+90
Higdon Intermediate 2 5 5 1 1 0 No MP+30 to MP+90
Higdon Advanced 1 6 6 0 0 1 No MP+30 to MP+90
Higdon Advanced 2 6 6 0 0 2 No MP+30 to MP+90
Waitz RYFM 4 4 0 0 0 No NS
Hanson Beginner 6 6 0 0 2 No MP+50 to MP+30
Hanson Advanced 6 6 0 0 2 No MP+50 to MP+30


10.1 Notes on the columns

  • 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.

Plan Name Long Run Speedwork Duration # Runs 16+ # Runs 20+ Total Miles Over 16 Starting Mileage Weeks To 16 Weeks 16 To Max 16 To Race Max To Race Initial Ramp (First To 16) Core Ramp (16 To Max) Overall Ramp (first to max) 26 25 24 23 22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Jack Daniels To Complete (4hours, 50miles/week) Marathon, Tempo 18 0 0 0 3 - - - 9 #N/A #N/A 0.96 3 3 3 12 12 12 12 12 5 14 14 11 10 14 12 10 11 5 race
Jack Daniels To Complete (4hours, 90miles/week) Marathon, Tempo 18 0 0 0 3 - - - 15 #N/A #N/A 3.30 3 3 3 14 14 14 14 14 10 14 14 11 10 14 14 10 11 10 race
Jack Daniels Plan A (3hours, 90miles/week) Marathon, Tempo 24 14 2 29 4 3 13 20 7 3.60 0.36 0.82 4 4 4 16 16 16 15 8 14 18 13 15 18 18 17 18 21 19 18 21 18 19 12 race
Jack Daniels Plan A (4hours, 50miles/week) Marathon, Tempo 24 4 0 8 3 16 3 7 4 0.77 0.30 0.73 3 3 3 9 9 9 10 6 11 11 10 12 13 15 15 13 17 17 14 19 14 19 10 race
Jack Daniels Plan A (4hours, 90miles/week) Marathon, Tempo 24 4 0 8 3 16 3 7 4 0.65 0.30 0.61 3 3 3 14 14 14 11 6 11 14 10 12 14 15 15 14 17 17 14 19 14 19 10 race
Jack Daniels Plan A (5hours, 50miles/week) Marathon, Tempo 24 2 0 1 2 19 2 4 2 0.60 0.50 0.55 2 2 2 9 9 9 9 5 10 11 9 10 11 13 13 11 14 15 11 16 11 17 8 race
Jack Daniels Elite (3hours, 90miles/week) Marathon, Tempo 24 19 11 73 4 3 14 20 6 3.60 0.51 1.01 4 4 4 16 16 16 18 18 18 20 19 20 22 22 20 22 22 23 22 22 22 19 11 race
Jack Daniels Elite (4hours, 50miles/week) Marathon, Tempo 24 16 11 69 3 6 12 17 5 2.25 0.49 1.17 3 3 3 9 9 9 18 16 18 20 17 20 22 22 20 22 22 22 23 22 22 19 8 race
Jack Daniels Elite (4hours, 90miles/week) Marathon, Tempo 24 16 11 69 3 6 12 17 5 2.79 0.49 1.04 3 3 3 14 14 14 18 16 18 20 17 20 22 22 20 22 22 22 23 22 22 19 8 race
Jack Daniels Elite (5hours, 50miles/week) Marathon, Tempo 24 15 11 68 2 6 12 17 5 2.46 0.53 1.22 2 2 2 9 9 9 18 15 18 20 16 20 22 22 20 22 22 22 23 22 22 19 7 race
FIRST Novice Marathon 16 3 1 6 8 8 4 7 3 0.88 0.90 0.75 8 9 10 11 12 14 10 15 16 12 18 13 20 13 8 race
FIRST Marathon Marathon 16 8 5 25 13 2 1 13 12 2.00 3.00 2.30 13 15 17 20 18 20 13 18 20 15 20 15 20 13 10 race
Pfitzinger <55/18 week Marathon 18 10 3 18 12 4 3 13 10 1.00 1.80 0.90 12 13 14 15 16 12 18 20 16 14 20 17 18 17 20 16 12 race
Pfitzinger <55/12 week Marathon 12 7 2 10 13 2 4 9 5 1.50 0.60 0.75 13 15 16 17 16 15 20 17 20 16 12 race
Pfitzinger 55-70/18 week Marathon 18 12 4 29 15 1 9 16 7 1.00 0.34 0.37 15 16 15 18 18 15 21 20 16 15 22 18 18 17 20 17 13 race
Pfitzinger 55-70/12 week Marathon 12 9 2 19 15 1 5 10 5 2.00 0.63 0.71 15 17 17 18 17 18 21 18 20 17 13 race
Pfitzinger 70-85/18 week Marathon 18 16 6 43 17 0 10 17 7 0.00 0.39 0.39 17 17 16 20 18 16 20 22 18 16 24 18 20 18 22 17 13 race
Pfitzinger 70-85/12 week Marathon 12 10 2 23 17 0 6 11 5 0.00 0.43 0.43 17 18 19 17 18 17 22 18 20 17 13 race
Pfitzinger >85 (105)/18 week Marathon 18 15 8 47 16 0 10 17 7 0.00 0.42 0.42 16 17 18 20 20 16 20 22 20 16 24 13 22 18 21 17 13 race
Pfitzinger >85 (105)/12 week Marathon 12 10 2 23 17 0 6 11 5 0.00 0.43 0.43 17 18 19 17 18 17 22 18 20 17 13 race
Galloway Beginner No 26 4 3 22 3 14 8 11 3 0.60 0.52 0.51 3 4.5 3 6 7.5 3 9 3 11 4 13 4 15 4 17 4 20 6 6 23 6 6 26 6 6 race
Galloway To Finish No 26 4 3 22 3 14 8 11 3 0.66 0.47 0.53 3 4.5 3 6 7.5 4 9 4 11 5 13 5 15 6 17 6 20 6 7 23 6 7 26 6 7 race
Galloway Fat Burning No 26 4 3 22 3 14 8 11 3 0.58 0.53 0.49 3 4.5 6 3 7.5 4 9 4 11 4 13 4 15 4 17 4 20 5 6 23 6 6 26 6 7 race
Galloway Goal 4:40 No 26 5 4 34 7 11 11 14 3 0.51 0.54 0.44 7 7 7.5 9 4 11 5 13 5 15 5 17 4 20 6 6 23 8 6 26 10 6 28 12 7 race
Galloway Goal 4:20 No 26 5 4 34 7 11 11 14 3 0.51 0.54 0.44 7 7 7.5 9 4 11 5 13 5 15 5 17 4 20 6 6 23 8 6 26 10 6 28 12 7 race
Galloway Goal 4:00 No 26 5 4 34 7 11 11 14 3 0.51 0.54 0.44 7 7 7.5 9 4 11 5 13 5 15 5 17 4 20 6 6 23 8 6 26 10 6 28 12 7 race
Galloway Goal 3:45 No 26 5 4 35 7 11 11 14 3 0.48 0.57 0.49 7 7 7.5 9 6 11 6 13 6 15 4 17 6 20 8 7 23 10 7 26 12 7 29 14 7 race
Galloway Goal 3:30 No 26 5 4 35 7 11 11 14 3 0.48 0.57 0.49 7 7 7.5 9 6 11 6 13 6 15 4 17 6 20 8 7 23 10 7 26 12 7 29 14 7 race
Galloway Goal 3:15 No 26 5 4 35 7 11 11 14 3 0.48 0.57 0.49 7 7 7.5 9 6 11 6 13 6 15 4 17 6 20 8 7 23 10 7 26 12 7 29 14 7 race
Galloway Goal 2:59 No 26 5 4 35 7 11 11 14 3 0.48 0.57 0.49 7 7 7.5 9 6 11 6 13 6 15 4 17 6 20 8 7 23 10 7 26 12 7 29 14 7 race
Galloway Goal 2:39 No 26 6 4 40 7 9 13 16 3 0.63 0.57 0.51 7 7 7.5 9 6 12 6 14 6 16 4 18 6 21 8 7 24 10 7 27 12 7 30 14 7 race
Higdon Novice No 18 3 1 6 6 10 4 7 3 0.97 1.00 0.89 6 7 5 9 10 7 12 13 10 15 16 12 18 14 20 12 8 race
Higdon Intermediate 1 No 18 4 2 11 6 9 3 8 5 0.99 0.40 0.96 6 9 6 11 12 9 14 15 11 17 18 13 20 12 20 12 8 race
Higdon Intermediate 2 No 18 6 3 16 10 6 4 11 7 0.79 1.00 0.95 10 11 8 13 14 10 16 17 12 19 20 12 20 12 20 12 8 race
Higdon Advanced 1 No 18 6 3 16 10 6 4 11 7 0.79 1.00 0.95 10 11 8 13 14 10 16 17 12 19 20 12 20 12 20 12 8 race
Higdon Advanced 2 No 18 6 3 16 10 6 4 11 7 0.79 1.00 0.95 10 11 8 13 14 10 16 17 12 19 20 12 20 12 20 12 8 race
Waitz RYFM No 16 3 1 6 5 11 2 5 3 0.96 2.00 1.11 5 5 6 8 6 9 10 12 13 10 14 16 18 20 13 10 race
Hanson Beginner No 18 3 0 0 4 10 0 7 7 1.16 0.00 1.16 4 4 5 5 6 8 10 10 15 10 16 10 16 10 16 10 8 race
Hanson Advanced No 18 3 0 0 8 10 0 7 7 0.63 0.00 0.63 8 8 10 8 12 8 14 10 15 10 16 10 16 10 16 10 8 race

11.1 Notes on the columns

  • 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.
  • Long Run Speedwork. While some plans have the longer runs as steady easy continuous running, some include elements of speed work. This is typically sections of the long run where the pace is increased to marathon pace or faster. I believe that this type of speed work can be remarkably effective.
  • Duration. The simple view of the duration of the plan is the number of weeks from start to finish, but this can be rather misleading. Many runners training for a marathon have a higher level of fitness than that required for the start of the plan. If a runner starts a plan that has several weeks of training at significantly below their current fitness level, they may actually become detrained. For example a runner who is used to running 12 mile long runs would not needed to begin at the start of the Jack Daniels "Plan A (4hours, 50miles/week)", but might be able to skip the first 12 weeks.
  • # 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.
  • Weeks. This section shows the long run for each plan by week, aligned by race day to make it easier to compare.

12 Best plan for experienced marathoners

My preferred training plans for experienced marathoners are FIRST, and Jack Daniel's Plan A. There are other well established plans that can work well, but these two are my favorites. So how do they compare?

  • Rest.
    • FIRST explicitly uses three days of running a week, which I think is an advantage.
    • Jack Daniels specifies two quality workouts a day and leaves the rest up to the individual. This means you could use the Jack Daniels plans with running three or four days a week, which I would suggest is the ideal approach.
  • Speedwork.
    • FIRST has two speed work sessions per week, one interval, and one tempo. I suspect that this can be too much speed work for some runners.
    • Jack Daniels only has one speed work session per week which may be more reasonable.
  • Long Runs.
    • FIRST has more Long Runs than Jack Daniels Plan A (but less than Jack Daniels elite plan). The FIRST plans are at a steady pace, but some of the runs are at marathon pace. The Long Run pace is a fixed offset from your marathon pace.
    • Jack Daniels plans incorporate various speed work sessions with the aim for longer runs, something I believe is a powerful training stimulus. The Long Run pace is an offset from your marathon pace that is proportional to your fitness, something I believe is better than the FIRST approach.

So what's my conclusion? I believe that if you use the Jack Daniels approach and train 3 to 4 days per week, you end up with a superior training approach than FIRST, but it's not a vast difference.

13 Best plan for newbies

It is much harder 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 of 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 Hal Higdon 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.
    • If you just wish to finish, then yet again Galloway is a great option, or you could consider the Hal Higdon novice plan.
    • If you're hoping to perform well then look at Jack Daniels Plan A or FIRST.

14 The Plans

This section describes each of the plans in more detail.

14.1 Jack Daniels Running Formula

Main article: Jack Daniels Running Formula

Jack Daniels introduced his training plans in 1998, and he has justifiably been called "the world's greatest coach" by runner's world. Jack Daniels introduced the concept of specifying training paces based on fitness, and measuring fitness based on race performance, something other plans, including FIRST have built on. Most of the training books here include more than plan, but they are normally variations on a single underlying plan. However, the Jack Daniels book includes three plans ("Plan A", "Elite", and "To Finish Plan") that are so different I have considered them separately. Note that the first edition of Jack Daniels book had three marathon training plans, simply called A, B, and C. These three plans were much more alike than the plans in the second edition, and upgrading to the new copy of the book is definitely worthwhile.

14.1.1 Jack Daniels Plan A

The "Plan A" varies with the runner's fitness and weekly mileage more than most. It generally has quite a long build up to the longer runs unless you are a fast runner doing high mileage. Plan A includes some significant speed work as part of the Long Run, far more than any other plan I've come across except Jack Daniels elite. I think that the Plan A is an excellent approach for an experience runner looking to improve their performance.

  • Key Characteristics
    • Training pace based on fitness.
    • Two key workouts; speedwork and Long Run.
    • Except for the two key workouts, all other running is left open, so it's possible to run as many or as few days per week as you choose.
    • Many Long Runs include speedwork which requires a high degree of fortitude.
    • Initial Ramp (mileage increase/week from start to 16): Generally quite low at around 0.6-0.75, but watch out as the plans for higher mileage, faster runners jump into longer runs quickly.
    • Core Ramp (mileage increase/week from 16 to max): Lower than most at 0.3 to 0.5.
  • Modifications
    • I believe that you should use this training plan with three or four days a week of running. To do this, you will probably need to ignore some of Jack Daniels advice, and configure the plan as if you were running more miles per week than you actually will.
  • Overtraining risk
    • If you only run three or four days per week, they should be a low to moderate risk of Overtraining.
    • It is critical that you select training paces based on your actual fitness measured by a previous race. Using training paces based on your target finish time will increase the risk of Overtraining and likely reduce the effectiveness of your training.
  • Pros
    • Precise training paces and distances provided for quality runs.
  • Cons
    • Working out the details of the plan for each individual is complicated, though my VDOT Calculator will generate each workout based on your fitness and mileage goals.
    • There is no obvious way of adjusting the training paces for hilly terrain.
  • Good For::
    • Beginner: 1. This plan probably has too much speed work for a beginner, and adding speed work to the requirements of the Long Run is likely to be excessive. Look at Galloway or Higdon instead.
    • Novice: 2. This plan can have a very gentle ramp-up, and you probably only have to be trained up for a 10K distance before starting this plan.
    • Ringger: 4. This plan can have a very gentle ramp-up, and this plan can also make good use of the runners existing performance.
    • Maintenance: 2. This plan is typically for someone wanting to improve, and is more work than you need for simple maintenance.
    • Improver: 4. This is a great plan someone looking to improve, with the combination of speed work, Long Runs, and speed work in the Long Runs.
    • Enthusiast: 5. This is one of the top plans for an enthusiast. Consider the FIRST plan if you think you can handle two speed work sessions per week, and you don't want to do much easy running. However, the speed work in the Long Runs gives this plan advantage over FIRST.
    • Elite: 3. This is a possibility for elites, but you're probably better off with the elite plan.
    • Limited Training Time: 5. You can do this plan on three days per week and the midweek session is not overly long.
    • Traditionalist: 3. This plan differs a little bit from the traditional marathon training plan by including speed work in the Long Run.
    • Triathlete/Multisport: 5. It would be possible to do this plan on just the two quality workouts, and use the other days for your other sport specific training.
    • Prior Overtraining: 5. By reducing your running to three days per week, the added rest should be good at preventing Overtraining while leveraging your prior fitness.
    • Sub 3:00: 5. This plan adapts well to fast runners.
    • 3:00-4:30: 5. This plan adapts well to mid-pack runners.
    • 4:30-5:30: 3. This plan could work, but you're probably better off with Galloway.
    • 5:30+: 0. Use Galloway.
    • Speedwork. You have to be prepared to do speed work with this plan

14.1.2 Jack Daniels Elite Plan

The 'Elite' plan is one of the few I've seen that focuses on high performing runners who are prepared to put in a lot of effort. This plan is intended for elite marathon runners with a race time of 2:10 or less (VDOT 77+), but it is possible to scale it down for lesser runners. The plan includes a lot more Long Runs than Plan A, and more than any other except the high mileage versions of Pfitzinger.

  • Key Characteristics
    • Training pace based on fitness.
    • Two key workouts; speedwork and Long Run
    • Except for the two key workouts, all other running is left open, so it's possible to run as many or as few days per week as you choose.
    • Nearly all of the Long Runs include speedwork. Consider this 18 mile Long Run for a 3 hour marathon runner: 6@8:09, 6@ 6:56, 1 @ 6:32, 3 @ 6:56, 1 6:32, 1 @ 6:56. That's a brutal training run, but one that will build a lot of endurance and confidence if you can do it.
    • There are a lot of longer Long Runs; typically 16 or more runs of 16+ miles and 11 runs of 20+ miles.
    • Initial Ramp (mileage increase/week from start to 16): You need to be doing 16+ mile plans regularly before considering this plan.
    • Core Ramp (mileage increase/week from 16 to max): Moderate at around 0.5.
  • Pros
    • Precise training paces and distances provided for quality runs.
  • Cons
    • Working out the details of the plan for each individual is complicated, though my VDOT Calculator will generate each workout based on your fitness and mileage goals.
    • There is no obvious way of adjusting the training paces for hilly terrain.
  • Modifications
    • I believe that you should use this training plan with four days a week of running. To do this, you will probably need to ignore some of Jack Daniels advice, and configure the plan as if you were running more miles per week than you actually will.
  • Overtraining risk
    • If you only run four days per week, they should be a moderate risk of Overtraining. However, running more days per week may dramatically increase the risk of Overtraining.
    • It is critical that you select training paces based on your actual fitness measured by a previous race. Using training paces based on your target finish time will increase the risk of Overtraining and likely reduce the effectiveness of your training.
  • Good For::
    • Beginner: 0. This is an elite plan that is unsuitable for newbies. Look at Galloway or Higdon instead.
    • Novice: 0. This is an elite plan that is unsuitable for newbies.
    • Ringger: 1. If you really are an elite level runner at shorter distances, then this plan might work for you, otherwise avoid it.
    • Maintenance: 0. This plan is an elite plan.
    • Improver: 3. This is likely to be too intense, but depending on your level of fitness and commitment it might work for you. However, you're probably better off with Plan A, or FIRST.
    • Enthusiast: 4. This is may be too intense, but it's worth considering. Evaluate your level of fitness and commitment carefully, and compare this plan with Plan A and FIRST.
    • Elite: 4. This is my pick of training plans for elite runners, though any true elite will have their own coach. It is demanding with significant speed work, including speed work on the Long Run. However, when combined with plenty of rest and recovery this plan could deliver great results. If
    • Limited Training Time: 4. You can do this plan on four days per week and the midweek session is not overly long.
    • Traditionalist: 3. This plan differs a little bit from the traditional marathon training plan by including speed work in the Long Run.
    • Triathlete/Multisport: 3. It would be possible to do this plan on just the two quality workouts, but the level of training intensity required by this plan may make it tricky to do any meaningful training on your other sport.
    • Prior Overtraining: 0. If you have a history of Overtraining, then this plan is likely to be too intense.
    • Sub 3:00: 5. This plan focuses on fast runners.
    • 3:00-4:30: 5. This plan is not really designed for mid-pack runners, but it may be viable depending on your level of endurance and commitment.
    • 4:30-5:30: 0. Avoid this plan and look at Galloway.
    • 5:30+: 0. Use Galloway.
    • Speedwork. You have to be prepared to do speed work with this plan.

14.1.3 Jack Daniels "To Finish" Plan

While I think that Jack Daniels "Plan A" and elite plan are both great, I'm not sure the "To Finish Plan" is adequate. The longest Long Runs for a 4 hour marathon runner are only 14 miles, so I don't recommend this plan.

14.2 FIRST's Run less, run faster

Main article: FIRST

The FIRST (Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training) plan is an evolution of the Jack Daniels approach and is described in the book Run Less, Run Faster. It is also the only plan I have come across that actually attempts a scientific evaluation of their training methodology. Like Jack Daniels it provides specific training paces based on fitness level for clearly defined workouts. The unique attribute of FIRST is that it combines 3 days per week of running with two days of cross training. The three days of running are a Long Run, a tempo run, and an Interval Training session. This makes FIRST a tough training plan, as every run is a hard workout, with no easy "fun" running. It is possible to use this training plan without the two days of cross training but according to the Furman Institute their research has shown that this is less effective.

  • Key Characteristics
    • Run 3 days/week, cross train 2 days/week.
    • Each week includes a tempo run, an interval run, and a Long Run.
    • Ramps (mileage increase/week): The ramp up is a little steep for the novice FIRST plans, but for the main plan you have to be used to running 16-20 miles before you start.
  • Pros
    • Training pace based on fitness.
    • The Long Runs are not at a slow pace, but between marathon pace and marathon pace + 60 seconds. While there is no speedwork per se in the Long Runs, the Long Runs at marathon pace are good idea.
    • Precise training paces and distances provided for all runs.
    • A great option for a triathlete or other multisport athlete.
  • Cons
    • Some runners find the workouts too hard, especially if they are not used to speedwork.
    • No easy, fun running.
    • You have to like cross training.
  • Modifications
    • This plan does not require any obvious modifications. It might be reasonable to add some speed work into the Long Run based on the Jack Daniels program, or convert the tempo run into a medium long easier pace run.
  • Overtraining risk
    • Only running three days per week does help reduce the risk of Overtraining. However, because those three runs are all extremely tough the risk of Overtraining may be a little higher than you'd expect. Also, the risk of Overtraining is likely to depend on the nature and intensity of the cross training you do. Overall, I would rate this plan as low to moderate risk of Overtraining.
    • It is critical that you select training paces based on your actual fitness measured by a previous race. Using training paces based on your target finish time will increase the risk of Overtraining and likely reduce the effectiveness of your training.
  • Good For::
    • Beginner: 1. Even of the novice plan probably has too much speed work for a beginner, and adding speed work to the requirements of the Long Run is likely to be excessive. Look at Galloway or Higdon instead.
    • Novice: 2. The novice plan has a reasonably gentle ramp-up, but you probably have to be trained up for a half marathon distance before starting this plan, as it is quite short.
    • Ringger: 3. The novice plan could work well for you, but the standard plan requires you to have run prior marathons before starting. If you have incorporated over distance training runs for the half marathon distance, then the standard plan becomes more reasonable.
    • Maintenance: 2. This plan is typically for someone wanting to improve, and is more work than you need for simple maintenance.
    • Improver: 4. This is a great plan someone looking to improve, but be careful if you've not done a lot of speed work before.
    • Enthusiast: 4. This is one of the top plans if you think you can handle two speed work sessions per week. However, I think the speed work during the Long Runs gives the Jack Daniels plans an edge over the FIRST plan.
    • Elite: 2. This is a reasonable contender for elites, but you're probably better off with the Jack Daniels Elite Plan.
    • Limited Training Time: 4. This plan requires three days per week, but he needs to do two days of cross training as well.
    • Traditionalist: 2. This plan is rather different from the traditional marathon training plan by only having three days of high intensity running per week.
    • Triathlete/Multisport: 5. This plan naturally incorporates to cross training days per week, making it a good choice for multisport athletes.
    • Prior Overtraining: 3. While reducing your running to three days per week will help prevent Overtraining, having all three runs as high intensity does increase the risk of Overtraining. I would rate this plan has a low to moderate risk
    • Sub 3:00: 5. This plan adapts well to fast runners.
    • 3:00-4:30: 5. This plan adapts well to mid-pack runners.
    • 4:30-5:30: 3. This plan could work, but you're probably better off with Galloway.
    • 5:30+: 0. Use Galloway.
    • Speedwork. This plan has two speed work sessions per week, and no easy running, so you have to really like speed work.

Note that the second edition is remarkably similar to the original, and it's probably not worth upgrading. The second edition has 5K training paces that now include 30-40 min 5K, don't cover 15-16 min 5K pace. Also the novice marathon plan is now in the book rather than just on the web.

14.3 Jeff Galloway's You can do it!

The Jeff Galloway training program is based around taking Walking Breaks to increase the distance that can be covered, and to run slowly. These plans are a good candidate for a 4:30-5:30 marathon runner and probably the best option for 5:30+ hour marathon runners. In addition they may be appropriate for people whose injury history makes running the marathon distance continuously problematic.

  • Key Characteristics
    • run/walk pattern to cover the distance.
    • Some longer Long Runs, including 26-30 miles in training.
    • Initial Ramp (mileage increase/week from start to 16): Moderate at around 0.5 to 0.6.
    • Core Ramp (mileage increase/week from 16 to max): Moderate at around 0.5 to 0.6.
  • Pros
  • Cons
    • Using a run/walk for a faster marathon, especially sub 3:30 does not seem ideal.
    • No speedwork.
  • Modifications
    • It may be possible to combine this plan's longer run approach with the speed work from a Jack Daniels or FIRST plan.
    • Using the occasional longer Long Run from Galloway within another plan might be effective.
  • Overtraining risk
    • The Overtraining risk should be quite low for this plan in spite of the remarkably long length Long Runs.
  • Good For::
    • Beginner: 4. This is probably the best plan for beginners unless you are unusually fast. The plan has a gradual buildup from quite a low mileage and it uses the run/walk approach to allow for marathon length Long Runs.
    • Novice: 3. This is a good candidate for novice marathon runners who are looking for a plan that has a great chance of getting them through the race successfully, and are prepared to accept that they probably won't improve overall fitness due to the lack of speed work.
    • Ringger: 1. While a ringer could consider this plan, they probably don't need to use a run/walk approach.
    • Maintenance: 3. This plan could suit someone looking to maintain their performance remarkably well, though the time commitment of the Long Runs may be an issue.
    • Improver: 1. This plan is unlikely to help you improve your prior performance unless you are actually in the Overtraining category.
    • Enthusiast: 1. This is probably a poor choice unless you are looking to try something different.
    • Elite: 0. I don't believe that the run/walk approach is likely to be successful for elite runner.
    • Limited Training Time: 0. The run/walk approach does take more training time.
    • Traditionalist: 2. While the overall structure may be quite traditional, the run/walk approach is rather radical.
    • Triathlete/Multisport: 4. There are plenty of days for cross training in this plan, and the reduced impact from run/walk may impact the other sports far less than other plans.
    • Prior Overtraining: 4. The change to a run/walk approach might provide the recovery you need from prior Overtraining, while allowing an increase in endurance.
    • Sub 3:00: 0. I don't believe the run/walk is appropriate for fast runners for all of the training.
    • 3:00-4:30: 2. This plan can work well for mid-pack runners, though with the foster end of the spectrum were walking break impacts pace significantly
    • 4:30-5:30: 5. I believe this is the best plan for slower runners. The range of paces covered means that it is difficult to run slower than marathon pace without becoming too slow to be efficient.
    • 5:30+: 5. I believe that the run/walk approach is the only viable approach for runners finishing in 5:30 or more.
    • Speedwork. There is no speed work in this plan.

14.4 Hanson's Marathon Method

The Hanson's Marathon Method has gained attention because it limits the longest Long Run to 16 miles. This approach is based around the concern that a longer run can result in injury, and is unlikely to improve fitness. I agree completely with their concern, but I believe that the solution is not to avoid the longer distance runs, but to build up the level of fitness gradually enough that the athlete is well-prepared. However, what the Hanson plans lack in long runs, they make up for in marathon paced midweek running, and many runners have had great success with Hanson.

  • Key Characteristics
    • Long Run limited to 16 miles.
    • Three key workouts; interval, tempo and Long Run.
    • While called tempo runs, these are actually done at marathon pace. The beginners plan has 5 to 10 miles at marathon pace runs during the week and the advanced has 6 to 10 miles.
    • For the first half of the plan the interval training is at around 5K pace, and for the second half is at 10 seconds faster than marathon pace.
    • All training paces are defined based on goal pace.
    • No speed work or marathon paced running during the Long Runs.
    • Running 6 days per week.
    • Psychologically people's experience with the Hansen plan varies. Some people find that because the shorter Long Runs are easier, they are more confident going into the race, where other people worry about being underprepared.
    • Note that there are other plans available for purchase on their web site, but these are not included in this evaluation.
  • Modifications
    • Dropping one of the midweek short easy runs to improve rest and recovery might improve the fitness gains, but it also might undermine the accumulated fatigue that the authors believe are necessary to make sure that distance Long Runs a sufficient.
    • It may be possible to use the sample elite training plan in the appendix of the book, but it does not seem like it's intended for that purpose.
  • Overtraining risk
    • This plan seems to have the good success with runners that have previously burned out on other plans.
    • The reduced distance of the Long Run clearly reduces the training stress, but having a Long Run, two days of speed work and only one day completely off may create cumulative fatigue.
  • Pros
    • The midweek marathon paced runs provide good specificity, and get the athlete used to running at marathon pace. This is my favorite aspect of the Hanson plan and something I think is a huge benefit.
    • For much of the training program the second speed work is performed at 10 sec faster than marathon pace. Like the marathon paced tempo runs, this helps focus the runners' training on race pace. (Note that this is a fixed 10 second offset, rather than scaling based on race pace. 10 seconds faster than 6:00 min/mile is twice the percentage change in speed compared with 12:00 min/mile. While they fixed offset is easier to calculate, this would be better as a percentage.)
    • The shorter length Long Runs may suit some runners, especially those with a history of burning out or struggling on other plans.
    • All training paces are clearly defined, even down to the recovery pace for intervals.
  • Cons
    • The plan suggests that there 16 mile Long Run simulates the last 16 miles of the marathon not the first. However the plan has two short easy runs on the preceding days allowing for relatively good recovery. Of course, if the Hanson Long Runs did simulate the last part of the race, then this would result in excessive fatigue.
    • The Hanson plan claims to have a scientific basis, but only quotes anecdotal advice from coaches. I have been able to find remarkably little scientific evidence concerning the Long Run, and none of it supports the Hanson's ideas.
    • While the Hanson plan states that 16 miles is the longest Long Run, they use longer long runs for their elite runners. These elite runners are covering the distance faster, but everyone racing the marathon has to cover the same distance.
    • The training paces vary with the marathon goal, which is a significant difference from the Jack Daniel's or FIRST approaches, where your training pace is based on your previous result. An athlete's goal might be a 2:30 finish, but if their prior finish is 4:00 hours, then the Hanson approach will have them training way too fast. That's obviously an extreme example, but it is quite common for runners to set aggressive goals.
    • The long runs are between 30-45 seconds/mile slower than race pace. Personally, I don't believe that a 16 mile Long Run at 45 seconds per mile slower than race pace prepares an athlete adequately. That distance and pace represents only about half the effort required for the race itself (using Glycogen depletion equations as a proxy for effort).
  • Good For::
    • Beginner: 0. This plan probably has too much speed work for a beginner, and the Long Runs probably are not sufficient. In addition, the ramp up from the start to 16 miles starts off slowly, but then builds up rather rapidly. Look at Galloway or Higdon instead.
    • Novice: 1. This plans Long Runs probably don't give sufficient adaptation for new marathon runner, but is worth considering, especially if finding the time for longer Long Runs is problematic.
    • Ringger: 2. This plan has plenty of speed work which you should be used to as a ringer, but the short of Long Runs make this a risky plan . If you can't find the time to do the longer distance Long Runs, then this plan is worth considering.
    • Maintenance: 2. For a runner just trying to maintain their marathon skills this is a tough call. The Hanson approach requires far less time commitment to the Long Run, and you may have an existing level of endurance that you may do well on the shorter Long Runs. However, the plans also require quite a bit of speedwork and six days/week of running, which may be more than someone looking to maintain wants to do.
    • Improver: 3. The effectiveness of the plan is likely to depend on your running history. If you have built up a good level of endurance, then these plans may work for you by focusing on lots of marathon paced running. However, I would recommend the Jack Daniels Plan A on three days a week.
    • Enthusiast: 2. The different characteristics of these plans might be appropriate, but , I'd suggest trying Jack Daniels Plan A on three days a week or FIRST.
    • Elite: 3. I don't believe the plan as it is good for elite runners due to the shorter Long Runs, and because it seems like the Hanson's use a different approach with their elite runners. If you look at their example elite plan in the appendix you'll see long runs in the 18-21 mile range. The Hanson's have remarkable success with elite runners; it's just not with this plan. (I've not looked at the Hanson web plans to know if they provide different approaches there.)
    • Limited Training Time: 2. While not as demanding as some plans, this does require you to find time for a 10 mile midweek run, and to moderately Long Runs at the weekend. However, if your time limit is the longest single block, then the shorter Long Runs might be an advantage to you.
    • Traditionalist: 0. This is far from a traditional plan.
    • Triathlete/Multisport: 0. These plans require 6 days/week, so there is little time left in this plan for alternative sport training.
    • Prior Overtraining: 4. Many of the recommendations for this plan have come from people who've previously burned out or struggled with training levels of other plans, so this has more of a proven track record for this category of athlete. However, I believe that Jack Daniels Plan A on three days a week is more appropriate.
    • Sub 3:00: 2. This plan could work for faster runners.
    • 3:00-4:30: 3. The success stories I've come across with this plan seemed to be with mid-pack runners.
    • 4:30-5:30: 2. This plan could work for runners as slow as 5:00 (the slowest covered in the book), but you're probably better off with Galloway.
    • 5:30+: 0. Use Galloway.
    • Speedwork. You have to be prepared to do speed work with this plan

14.5 Hal Higdon's Ultimate Training Guide

In many ways most of the Higdon plans define the traditional, 'vanilla' marathon training plan. Hal Higdon's book includes five different plans, plus there are additional plans freely available on the web. You can also purchase more detailed versions of the plans online for between $20 and $40.

  • Key Characteristics
    • Plans at many different levels with the option of buying a plan with extra tips and advice for each run.
    • The easier plans have easy running midweek combined with a Long Run at the weekend.
    • The more advanced plans use a marathon pace run one day, followed by a Long Run the next day, as well as some speedwork.
    • Initial Ramp (mileage increase/week from start to 16): Rather steep at around 0.8 to 1.0.
    • Core Ramp (mileage increase/week from 16 to max): Steep at around 1.0.
  • Pros
    • The web plans are free and you can purchase versions with extra tips for each run.
    • The back to back MP + Long Run in the more advanced programs can be an effective training technique.
  • Cons
    • For the more advanced plans you have relatively longer runs back-to-back that requires you to commit time on both Saturday and Sunday, or have more freedom than most people during the week.
    • The large number of plans can make it tricky to decide between them.
  • Modifications
    • For novice, intermediate 1, intermediate 2, and advanced 1, I would be inclined to drop one or two of the midweek easy runs, and possibly increase the length of the remaining midweek easy run.
    • For advanced 2 I would be inclined to drop the two of the midweek easy runs and use the time for rest.
    • I would change the cross training day into a rest day for all plans.
  • Overtraining risk
    • The risk of Overtraining is probably low for the novice plan as it has two rest days.
    • The risk of Overtraining from the intermediate plans is moderate to high because of the back-to-back Long Runs. If you don't convert the cross training day to rest day, Overtraining risk is higher.
    • The advanced plans have a moderate to high risk of Overtraining due to the lack of rest and the demanding back-to-back Long Runs.
  • Good For::
    • Beginner: 3. The novice plan is worth considering as it has a gradual buildup and the scope for a reasonable amount of rest.
    • Novice: 3. One of the two intermediate plans may work well, but be cautious of the fatigue building up from the back-to-back Long Runs.
    • Ringger: 2. While it may be worth a ringer considering one of the two intermediate plans, I believe that the Jack Daniels Plan A or FIRST would be a much better bet.
    • Maintenance: 4. The intermediate one or possibly even the novice plan might work well for someone just looking to maintain their prior marathon fitness.
    • Improver: 2. The intermediate or advanced plans could provide some significant improvement, but this has to be weighed up against the risk of Overtraining. With modifications to improve the recovery and rest time, I might bump this up to a 3 rating. I believe that the Jack Daniels Plan A or FIRST would be a much better bet
    • Enthusiast: 2. The advanced plans look okay, but have enough Overtraining risk to make me cautious. I think that the Jack Daniels Plan A, or FIRST would be a better approach, or even the Jack Daniels Elite Plan or even Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning.
    • Elite: 0. These plans lack the sophistication for a high level runner. I think that the Jack Daniels Elite Plan or even Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning would be better Also consider Jack Daniels Plan A or FIRST.
    • Limited Training Time: 2. In terms of training time this is a middle-of-the-road plan.
    • Traditionalist: 4. This is generally a fairly traditional pan, with the exception of the back-to-back Long Runs.
    • Triathlete/Multisport: 2. The lower end plans include options for cross training, but these are probably better used as rest days.
    • Prior Overtraining: 0. Most of these plans have a significant risk of Overtraining.
    • Sub 3:00: 2. This plan adapts well to fast runners.
    • 3:00-4:30: 3. This plan is probably a stretch for mid-pack runners.
    • 4:30-5:30: 2. The novice, or possibly the intermediate-1, plans might work okay, but I think Galloway is a far better bet.
    • 5:30+: 0. Use Galloway.
    • Speedwork. There is no speed work in the lower plans, with a little in the advanced plans.

14.6 Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning

This plan is specifically for experienced marathon runners looking to improve their performance. There are no beginner or intermediate plans, but there are multiple plans depending on miles per week and number of weeks. The book includes some interesting plans with basic guidance around training, but not as sophisticated as Jack Daniels or FIRST. The plans involve a lot of long and medium Long Runs, and some speedwork, with the higher mileage plans having little rest and recovery.

  • Key Characteristics
    • Depending on the mileage, you run from 4-5 days/week up to 7 days/week, with the two highest mileage plans requiring you to run twice a day (doubles).
    • One or two medium Long Runs per week in addition to the Long Run. The higher mileage plans require you to run 13-15 miles midweek, with the highest mileage plans having two runs totaling over 20 miles midweek.
    • Initial Ramp (mileage increase/week from start to 16): You need to be doing 16+ mile plans regularly before considering this plan.
    • Core Ramp (mileage increase/week from 16 to max): Low to moderate at around 0.3 to 0.6.
  • Pros
    • The focus on advanced runners and the marathon gives the book some useful specificity.
    • These plans take in to account the runner's weekly mileage, providing four unique sets of plans.
    • This plan prescribes far more Long Runs than any other except Jack Daniels elite. Depending on your mileage, you will have 10-16 runs of 16 miles or more and 3-8 runs of 20 miles or more.
    • While there is no speedwork per se in the Long Runs, a number of the Long Runs include segments at marathon pace.
  • Cons
    • There is remarkably little rest and recovery in all but the lowest mileage plan. I am concerned that the high levels of Training Monotony make the higher mileage versions of these plans a poor choice for most runners.
    • Some broad guidance for training paces and distances provided. For instance, there is a note that the Long Runs should be 10% to 20% slower than goal marathon pace, but there is no advice on how to do the calculation, or tables to use.
    • While the plans adjust for mileage, they don't adjust for fitness levels.
  • Modifications
    • I would drop some of the Recovery Runs in the higher mileage plans and use of those days for rest.
  • Overtraining risk
    • The Overtraining risk varies with the plan; sub-55 is moderate, 55-70 is moderate to high, 70-85 is high, 85+ is high to very high. I would be extremely cautious of the higher mileage plans.
  • Good For::
    • Beginner: 0. Don't' even consider this plan. Look at Galloway or Higdon instead.
    • Novice: 0. Don't' even consider this plan.
    • Ringger: 1. The lowest mileage could work well for you, but only if you're an experienced half marathon runner that incorporated over distance training runs.
    • Maintenance: 0. This plan is far too intense for someone simply wishing to maintain an marathoning ability.
    • Improver: 3. This is most likely to be too intense, but depending on your level of fitness and commitment the lower mileage plan might work for you. Overall, I think Jack Daniels Plan A would be better.
    • Enthusiast: 3. This is likely to be too intense, but one of the two lower mileage plans are worth considering if you want to run higher mileage. Overall, I think Jack Daniels Plan A would be better, or even Jack Daniels Elite Plan.
    • Elite: 3. This is a worthy contender for elites, especially if you want to run high mileage. However, beware the risk of Overtraining, and the lack of recovery that may devalue your efforts. You're probably better off with the Jack Daniels Elite Plan.
    • Limited Training Time: 0. This plan requires a lot of training time.
    • Traditionalist: 4. This plan almost defines the traditional approach of high mileage runners.
    • Triathlete/Multisport: 0. This plan leaves little or no time for much in the way of cross training or other sports.
    • Prior Overtraining: 0. This plan is likely to increase your risk of Overtraining, rather than reduce it.
    • Sub 3:00: 4. This plan is focused more on faster runners.
    • 3:00-4:30: 3. This plan is probably a stretch for mid-pack runners.
    • 4:30-5:30: 0. Trying to do this level of intensity and mileage is too much slower runners.
    • 5:30+: 0. Use Galloway.
    • Speedwork. This plan generally has one speed work sessions per week, , but it's mostly about pounding out the mileage.

14.7 Waitz's Run your first marathon

This book is by the nine time winner of the New York City Marathon and the focus of the book is, as the name suggests, the first-time marathon. There is only a single plan, but because the plan is short, the buildup of distance is too quick, so there is a higher risk of injury. There is also relatively little advice on training plans. In some ways this is quite similar to Hal Higdon's Novice plan.

  • Key Characteristics
    • A single plan focused on the novice marathoner.
    • Initial Ramp (mileage increase/week from start to 16): Rather too steep at 1.0 as the plan is short.
    • Other than the Long Run, there are three weekly runs of 3-8 miles.
    • Core Ramp (mileage increase/week from 16 to max): Way too steep at 2.0.
  • Pros
    • The initial buildup to the first 16 mile run is quite gradual and linear.
    • The plan is only 16 weeks long, so if you don't have many weeks before the race this is a good option.
    • The book includes a 'pre-plan' to get you running.
    • While this plan does not provide as many Long Runs as would be ideal, it is probably a good compromise between effectiveness and time commitment.
  • Cons
    • Obviously this is limited to a first-time marathoner.
  • Modifications
    • This plan is fine for what it is.
  • Overtraining risk
    • The risk of Overtraining is probably low as the ramp up is slow and you only run 4 days/week.
  • Good For::
    • Beginner: 2. The dedicated nature of this plan makes this worth considering, but I feel you'd be better off elsewhere. The initial ramp up is slow, but the ramp up from the 13 mile Long Run is rather abrupt.
    • Novice: 1. This plan is worth considering, but you'd be better off elsewhere.
    • Ringger: 0. This plan is for people running the first marathon with relatively little prior experience of racing.
    • Maintenance: 0. This plan is for people running the first marathon.
    • Improver: 0. This plan is for people running the first marathon.
    • Enthusiast: 0. This plan is for people running the first marathon.
    • Elite: 0. This plan is for people running the first marathon.
    • Limited Training Time: 2. In terms of training time this is a middle-of-the-road plan.
    • Traditionalist: 4. This is generally a fairly traditional plan.
    • Triathlete/Multisport: 3. The rest days could be used for other sports, or the midweek runs could be converted.
    • Prior Overtraining: 0. This plan is for people running the first marathon.
    • Sub 3:00: 0. If you're a fast runner, look elsewhere.
    • 3:00-4:30: 2. This plan is probably a reasonable approach for mid-pack runners.
    • 4:30-5:30: 2. This plan would work, but I think Galloway is a far better bet.
    • 5:30+: 0. Use Galloway.
    • Speedwork. There is no speed work in this plan.

15 Other Plans

There are a number of plans I've excluded from the comparison for various reasons.

15.1 Runners World Fixed Plans

Runners World has some plans available on their web site, but these plans are $30 per plan, making them remarkably expensive.

15.2 Runners World SmartCoach

Runners World has a web application called SmartCoach that generates customized training plans. You input a race time, your weekly mileage, training effort, schedule length and when you want to start, then you get a plan based on that information. The approach is based around the work of Jack Daniels and other coaches, but does not use Jack Daniels specific formula. You can get a single plan for free, but any changes to the plan require you to have a subscription, which is $10/month. The flexible nature of the application makes it hard to evaluate, and because it's an online application, the algorithm for generating the plans can also change without notice.