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Novice Training Programs

This is an excerpt from Hal Higdon's Half Marathon Training by Hal Higdon.

How Novice 1 Works

Let's begin by defining the workouts for novice 1.


When you begin novice 1, the first workout you encounter on Monday (and all Mondays) is rest. It may seem counterproductive to consider rest a workout, but rest is as important a part of your training as the running. You will be able to run the long runs on the weekend better - and limit your risk of injury - if you rest before them on Fridays and rest after them on Mondays. Rest thus brackets the cross-training and long runs on Saturdays and Sundays, when runners have more free time to devote to their training. Bracketed weekends is at the heart of all my training programs.


When you see the word run in any of my programs, that means I want you to run at a conversational pace. I mentioned this in the chapter on base training, and I'll mention it again here because this is important: Don't worry about how fast you run your regular workouts. The numbers that various electronic devices spit at us during our workouts (and afterward) are fun, but don't become trapped by them. If you're training with a friend, the two of you should be able to hold a conversation without getting out of breath. If you can't do that, you're running too fast, perhaps trying to keep up with a faster runner who should be slowing down for you. Be aware also that your conversational pace might be different from one day to another, depending on what you did the day before. Tuesday's run might be easiest (and fastest) after a day of rest on Monday. Thursday's run might be hardest (and slowest) because it's your second or third day in a row of running. (For those wearing heart rate monitors, your target zone probably should be between 65 and 75 percent of your maximum pulse rate. One reason to wear a heart monitor is that it takes the decision making out of your hands when it comes to picking an easy pace.) One other consideration. Often you encounter a day - sun shining, cool rather than warm, beautiful scenery, wind at your back regardless of which direction you run - so perfect that there is no excuse to hold back. I will not be standing by the side of the road to trip you. Running should be fun. At the same time, a program is a program. Following it pretty close to "precisely" will help you achieve all your goals. Keep that in mind so you don't deviate from the program too frequently.


The novice 1 training schedule features workouts at distances from 2 to 10 miles (4.8-16 km). Don't worry about running precisely those distances, but you should come close. Pick a course through the neighborhood or in some scenic area where you think you might enjoy running. Then measure the course either by car or bicycle. In deciding where to train, talk to other runners. They probably can point you to accurately measured courses for your workouts. GPS watches seemingly make measuring courses easy, but trees and tall buildings can temporarily interfere with their accuracy. Also, don't be afraid to use educated guesses when it comes to determining how fast you just ran. If you normally run at a 10:00 pace (6:12/km), and you come in after running a half hour, you probably ran about 3 miles (4.8 km). Probably works for me; it should work for you.


When you see cross on any of my schedules, it means cross-train. What form of cross-training works best? It could be swimming, cycling, walking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, in other words, exercises that are aerobic, meaning they stress your cardiovascular system. What cross-training you select depends on your personal preference. But don't make the mistake of cross-training too vigorously. Sports such as basketball or volleyball that involve sideways motions or sudden stops and starts do not, in my mind, qualify as cross-training. In fact, you may increase your risk of injury if you double up on these sports, particularly as the mileage builds. Novice 1 suggests that you cross-train on Saturday before your long run, but you could just as easily flip-flop days and run long on Saturdays. In week 1, cross-train for a half hour, gradually increasing to a full hour in weeks 10 and 11. On Wednesdays, you have the option of doing a short run or cross-training.

How long should each cross-training workout last? For the weekend cross-training workouts, I usually suggest the number of minutes. Please note use of the word "suggest." Don't get hung up on specific time limits. Exercises such as swimming, cycling, and walking are different enough from running, so it is difficult to compare one workout to another. If I prescribe 60 minutes, I mean "about an hour." On days when I offer you the option to cross-train or run, determine how long it would take you to run the distance prescribed, then cross-train for about that same length of time. I'll continue to say more about cross-training in later chapters.

Long Runs

The most important workout of the week comes on Sundays in this program: the long run, progressively increasing in distance each weekend. Over a period of 12 weeks, your longest run will increase from 4 miles (6.4 km) in week 1 to 10 miles (16 km) in week 11. Don't worry about making the final jump from 10 miles in practice to 13.1 miles in the race. Inspiration will carry you to the finish line, plus the final week features a taper to ensure you are well rested going into the race. The schedule suggests doing your long runs on Sundays, but you can do them on Saturdays or any other convenient day, if necessary.


Walking is an excellent exercise that a lot of runners overlook in their training. I don't specify walking breaks, but feel free to walk during your running workouts any time you feel tired or need to shift gears. Let me offer a nod in the direction of fellow friend and guru, Jeff Galloway, who popularized the use of walking breaks both in workouts and in races. (Thank you, Jeff.) When you go to the starting line in your 12th week, nobody will care whether you run every step of the half marathon; they're more concerned that you finish! If this means walking every step in practice and in the race, do it! Be aware that I also offer a separate half marathon training program for those who plan to walk all the way (see chapter 13).


In week 6 and again in week 9, I suggest that you consider entering a running race at a relatively short distance: a 5K or a 10K. If you never have experienced a running race before, the thought of running 13.1 miles in the company of 10,000 or more runners may seem intimidating. One way to dispel your nervousness is to dip your toes in the water without jumping in. Choose a local 5K, one without too many people or too high an entry fee. Wait a couple of weeks and test yourself in another race, maybe a 10K. Each race is different, and a lot of psychic energy is generated in the biggest ones, so you might as well get an idea of what to expect. If you can't find races at the prescribed distances on the day of the week suggested, or in the week suggested, feel free to modify the schedule. Notice that I prescribe one or two days of rest on Friday and Saturday before the Sunday races as well as a rest day on Monday for recovery afterward. For Saturday races, shift the rest days accordingly.


Don't be afraid to juggle the workouts from day to day and week to week. If you have an important business meeting on Thursday, do that workout on Wednesday instead. If your family is going to be on vacation one week when you will have more or less time to train, adjust the schedule accordingly. If your vacation includes hiking, skiing, biking, or some other fun activity, you have my permission to consider it cross-training. Be consistent with your training, and the overall details won't matter. Having said that, I know that many of my followers take great pride in following my programs exactly as written. And I can understand the confidence that this builds in them.

More Excerpts From Hal Higdon's Half Marathon Training