Pros and Cons of Hal Higdon Half Marathon Training Plans

A woman who used a Hal Higdon half marathon training plan to prepare for her race crosses the finish line.

Hal Higdon is a runner and a long-time writer for Runner’s World. He’s also written a lot of books about writing, and his half marathon training plans are very popular among beginners.

If you’re looking for a training plan to help you prepare for a half marathon, keep reading. We’ll take a look at Hal’s book, an overview of his half marathon plans, and the pros and cons to his approach.

Where Can I Learn About Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Training Plans?

If you’re thinking about using a Hal Higdon plan to prepare for your next half marathon, you should definitely get a copy of his book on the subject – Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Training.

Unlike other authors who tend to focus on marathons or shorter distances, Hal’s book is geared very directly at half marathons. His book starts with the history of half marathons, and it then it proceeds to some things that beginning runners will need to know.

Hal explores the basics of how to become a better runner, and his book is easily readable and approachable. You won’t find answers to all of your questions about how and why we do certain things, but you also won’t get lost in the science behind running and coaching.

This book is very much for those who want to know a little bit about why they’re doing certain things, but is more interested in just being told what to do. If you’re more interested in the science and the “why,” you’d be better served with a book like Steve Magness’ Science of Running or Pete Pfitzinger’s Faster Road Racing.

But that’s not a knock on the book. The simple fact is that for most novice runners, the science is irrelevant. It’s just a matter of getting out there and doing some easy running. Hal’s book will give you just enough information to do that, and he’ll sprinkle on a bunch of motivation throughout.

You can also find most of Hal’s training plans on his website. You can also download the Run with Hal app. The basic version is free, but there’s an upgraded version with additional features.

Hal is a choice for the average, every day runner. He’s not just for the young ‘uns out here trying to set records.

What Makes Hal Special?

Hal is the “everyman’s” runner.

Although he was competitive back in his day, he writes for an audience that skews towards the novice and intermediate runner. Whereas people like Pfitz, Hanson, and Jack Daniels are only concerned with “serious” runners looking to get better, Hal’s goal is to help people become runners in the first place.

While he does have a more advanced plan for experienced runners, the more popular Hal Higdon half marathon training plans are those geared towards beginners. They don’t require a lot of mileage to start. They’re also not complicated or intimidating.

Overview of Hal Higdon Half Marathon Training Plans

Hal’s book contains a variety of half marathon plans.

The beginner plans are designed to help you finish your first race. The intermediate plans will help you get across the finish line a little stronger, but they still don’t require a huge base of running to complete. The advanced plan will help you run a better race, and it has a lot more emphasis on speed and performance than the other plans.

Then, there are a couple of other plans for different situations. The book is full of plans.

The Beginner Plans Hal Higdon Plans

The beginner plans – aka Novice 1 and Novice 2 – are perfect for new runners. They start out easy, and they gradually build to the half marathon distance.

In Novice 1, you’re running 12 miles over 4 days in week 1. The weekday runs increase slightly – from 3 to 5 miles – and the Sunday long run slowly builds from 4 miles to 10. On race day, you make a leap of faith from 10 miles to 13.1. Don’t worry, it’s possible. The plan also calls for an increasing amount of cross-training (30-60 minutes) on Saturday.

In Novice 2, you’re running 13 miles over 4 days in week 1. The weekday runs don’t change much, but the long run slowly grows about a mile per week until you reach the full 13.1 miles in a race. There is a minor addition of speed work in the form of the occasional tempo run at race pace every other Wednesday. You’re also expected to cross train – likely biking, walking, or swimming – for 60 minutes on Sundays.

Both plans are good for beginners. Novice 2 puts a greater emphasis on the weekends, through longer long runs and longer cross training sessions. Meanwhile, Novice 1 puts a greater emphasis on the weekdays, spreading the mileage out over slightly longer weekday runs. Novice 2 also assumes a bit more experience, since there is some race pace work involved.

The Intermediate Hal Higdon Plans

The intermediate plans are a step up, but there still accessible to novice runners. Instead of cross training on the weekends, the intermediate plans feature 5 days of running per week.

In Intermediate 1, the plan starts with 17 miles across five runs in the first week. It slowly builds to 30 miles in the peak week (11). Mondays are reserved for cross training, and Saturdays include some race pace work. Some Saturdays are rest days, assuming you run a 5k or 10k tune up race. The mid-week runs are significantly longer than the Novice programs, with the longest Wednesday run at 8 miles.

In Intermediate 2, there’s the first real glimpse of speed work. The plan looks very similar to Intermediate 1, except that Wednesdays are now workouts and Thursdays are limited to short recovery runs. The workouts alternate between 400m repeats and long tempo runs.

These are good plans for runners who have some consistent running under their belt, but who have never really trained before. There’s just enough quality running to give you a taste of what training is like, but not enough that you’re overwhelmed. In the end, you’ll be a lot more prepared for a decent half marathon after the Intermediate Plans than the Novice plans.

The Advanced Hal Higdon Plans

The advanced plan is very different from the others, and it clearly expects you to have a solid base of running before starting it. Throughout the plan, you’ll run 5-6 days, with two workouts and a long run.

In the first week, you’ll run 25 to 30 miles. The plan is a bit vague in some areas, so it’ll vary depending on your pace. In the peak week, you’ll probably run closer to 35. There isn’t a huge increase in mileage over the course of the plan, and I think there’s the expectation that you come in ready to comfortably run 25 to 30 miles.

Tuesdays offer a variety of speed workouts – hills, short intervals at 5k pace, longer intervals at 10k pace, and some mile repeats at race pace. Thursdays feature increasingly long tempo runs – 60 minutes at their peak. The amount of work isn’t deadly, but it’s fairly intense.

This plan is good for people who have graduated from the easier plans and want to really challenge themselves. If you’ve never done a rigorous training plan before, it’s probably just enough stimulus to provoke some big gains without leaving you beat down and fatigued. That being said, an experienced half marathoner will probably find it light work – so I wouldn’t recommend this to the truly advanced.

The Other Hal Higdon Plans

The book features a few other plans, which may be of interest to you.

If you’re a true beginner, and you’re not ready for Novice 1, there are some base training plans. Base training is divided into three phases – starting at a mile per run. This is something akin to couch to 5k. Over the course of three months, these base phase plans will slowly take you from nothing to running 4 miles on a Sunday. That’s a little more than 5k – and it’s a perfect starting point for the Novice 1 program.

There’s also a walking plan. This isn’t a walk-run Jeff Galloway plan. It’s literally walking. The plan features five days of walking per week, and it slowly builds up to a ten mile long walk on the 11th week – and a 13.1 mile walk in your race.

Then there’s the HM3 program. The HM3 program is designed for older or injury prone runners, and it places a greater emphasis on rest and cross training. It’s similar to an intermediate plan, with pace runs and tempo runs. But there are only 3 running days per week, paired with two lengthy cross training days for recovery. The overall mileage ramps up from about 17 in week 1 to 24-25 in week 11.

Finally, there are some bridge plans that connect multiple races or marathons. There are a few short plans if you have two, four, six, or eight weeks between half marathon plans. None of these involve speedwork, and they’re really just mileage suggestions for maintaining your fitness between races. Hal also includes an adapted Novice marathon plan here that would allow a new runner to continue straight from the half marathon plan to the marathon plan.

A Sample Week from a Hal Higdon Half Marathon Plan

To give you an idea of what Hal Higdon’s half marathon training plans are like, here’s a sample week (week 7) from his Intermediate 2 plan:

  • Monday: Rest (after a 10k tune up race the previous day)
  • Tuesday: 4.5 mile run
  • Wednesday: 8 x 400m at 5k pace
  • Thursday: 3 mile run
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: 4 mile pace run
  • Sunday: 9 mile run

As you can see, it’s simple and fairly straightforward. There’s a little bit of quality work – the 8x400m at 5k pace and the 4 mile pace run – but there isn’t too much.

Pros of Hal Higdon Half Marathon Training Plans

Hal Higdon plans are amazingly popular. That’s probably because there are so many new runners out there trying to run their first half marathon.

Here are some of the pros to Hal Higdon’s half marathon plans:

  • The plans don’t require a massive base of running, and the novice plans are perfect for true beginners.
  • The plans are simple to follow, and there are no complicated workouts.
  • The relative (or complete) lack of workouts makes it safer to ramp up mileage without risking injury.
  • The more advanced plans offer a taste of intense training without the risk of overtraining, fatigue, or injury.
  • The more advanced plans include half-marathon specific work to help you adjust to your race pace.
  • His book is friendly, readable, and encouraging.

Cons of Hal Higdon Half Marathon Training Plans

But a Hal Higdon half marathon training plan isn’t for everyone. Here are some of the cons:

  • They are very basic, and the novice plans are hardly “plans.”
  • They’ll help you get in shape to finish a half marathon, but they won’t prepare you to race one very well – except maybe the advanced plan.
  • The advanced plan is relatively low mileage. Again, great for a newly serious runner, but not for an experienced runner.
  • The advanced plan includes workouts, but these don’t seem to be periodized thoughtfully. I don’t see why the intervals would transition from 5k pace to race pace and back to 5k pace.
Two men, running silhouetted against the sun. They're using a Hal Higdon half marathon plan.
Hal is a good choice if you’re a novice runner, and you’re looking to finish your first or second half marathon and stay healthy.

The Bottom Line on Hal Higdon Half Marathon Plans

It’s pretty clear who Hal Higdon half marathon training plans are for – and who they aren’t for.

If this is your first half marathon, this is a great choice. If you’ve been running for a while, but you’ve never dabbled in the dark arts of long distance, intermediate plans might be for you.

Let’s say you’ve run a half marathon or two before, using beginner plans, and you’re just starting to get serious about running. The advanced plan will introduce you to what a harder training plan can do. It could be a good choice if you’re just bumping up to 25-30 miles per week.

If you plan on trying out a Hal Higdon half marathon training plan, don’t forget to pick up a copy of Hal Higdon Half Marathon Training.

But these plans are not for experienced runners who are trying to beat their own personal bests. The advanced plan doesn’t have the mileage or intensity required to help you bring that time down.

Hal Higdon is a good choice for your first and second half marathon training plans. But once you’re comfortable running 13.1 miles and looking to sharpen your performance check out some other advanced half marathon plans – like Jack Daniels and Pete Pfitzinger.

If you’re still looking for the perfect half marathon training plan, check out this guide to some of the popular choices.

And if you have experience with Hal, drop a comment below. I’d love to hear how it worked for you!

Pros and Cons of Hal Higdon Half Marathon Training Plans

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