Pros and Cons of the Pete Pfitzinger Half Marathon Training Plans

A man finishing his race strong after following a Pete Pfitzinger half marathon training plan.

Looking for a training schedule to get you through 13.1 miles and hit a new PR? Here’s an overview of the Pete Pfitzinger half marathon training plans, along with some guidance on whether or not they’ll work for you.

Pete is an accomplished distance runner who went on to study exercise science and write several books about running. He represented the U.S. in the 1984 and 1988 olympics in the marathon. He also wrote for Running Times, when the magazine was in publication.

Pfitz is a well known name when it comes to marathon training, and many runners swear by his plans. Although marathons are his specialty, he has written a book about shorter races – including the half marathon.

His half marathon plans are intense, and they will put you to the test. But if you can handle the workload, you’ll probably come out the other side with a PR. Keep reading for an overview of the plan, some pros and cons, and some final thoughts on whether or not these plans are right for you.

Where Can I Learn About Pete Pfitzinger Half Marathon Training?

Pete has written several books about racing, but he deals directly with the half marathon in Faster Road Racing: 5k to Half Marathon.

In the book, Pete lays out some of the exercise science behind running and adaptations. He discusses the role of lactate threshold, VO2 max, and running economy in determining running performance.

At the half marathon distance, his philosophy of training is to emphasize endurance throughout the entire training block – through mid-week long runs and weekend long runs. Hill sprints and and strides provide the stimulus to develop and maintain speed. The other workouts focus first on lactate threshold at the beginning, followed by VO2 max towards the end.

Another chapter of interest focuses on supplementary training. He includes illustrations and explanations of stretching routines as well as weight lifting routines. This chapter also includes a brief discussion of various types of cross training.

There’s also a chapter dedicated to diet. There are a lot of misconceptions around what and how much runners should eat, and this chapter does a great job of cutting through the non-sense. He clearly explains the role of glycogen as an energy source, and suggests a simple, well-rounded diet to keep yourself sufficiently fueled.

Finally, the end of the book includes several charts to help you determine workout paces and race paces. This is a good reason to make sure that you have a copy of the book, since some of his training paces are different from other training methodologies.

What Makes Pete Special?

There are a lot of similarities between Pete Pfitzinger’s Half Marathon training plans and other training plans, but a few things set him apart.

The first difference is the advice on what pace to run. Generally, training plans are divided into easy miles and workout miles. But Pete includes an emphasis on an “endurance” pace – somewhere between an easy pace and a marathon pace. While some days are truly easy, the long run and the mid-week long run are both intended to be at a somewhat faster pace. They’re not all out workouts, like a long run at marathon pace, but they’re a definite step above easy.

The second distinguishing factor is the inclusion of the mid-week long run. The Sunday run is still the longest run of the week, but each plan includes a slightly shorter run on Wednesday or Thursday. In his second tier plan, the long run tops out at 16 miles, while the mid-week long run tops out at 12 miles.

A final difference is that Pete uses the concept of heart rate reserve to identify various training paces. Many plans use a percent of maximum heart rate to determine the appropriate pace for a workout. Heart rate reserve is similar, but instead of using the maximum heart rate as a benchmark, it uses the difference between the maximum heart rate and the resting heart rate.

Overview of Pete Pfitzinger Half Marathon Training Plans

Pete includes four different half marathon training plans in Faster Road Racing. They vary in the total volume of running and the number of days run. The amount of quality running in the workouts varies as well, but the periodization and the number of workouts remains more or less than same.

All of the plans are twelve weeks in length, and they also include two post-race recovery weeks.

Sundays are reserved for long runs. Each plan progresses in distance over the course of the twelve weeks. Most of these are “endurance” runs, in Pete’s vocabulary. This means that the intensity is not easy, per se, but it’s still slightly slower than marathon pace. Three of these long runs are progression runs, in which the pace picks up to lactate threshold pace towards the end. They will kick your ass.

In the middle of the week, on Wednesday or Thursday, you’ll find another endurance run. These are mid-week long runs – longer than your typical easy run but slightly shorter than the true long run you do on the weekends.

As you get closer to your goal race, you’ll schedule two tune-up races. These 10k’s will give you an opportunity to check your fitness and handle the race day jitters going into your big day.

Most weeks have one truly hard workout day. Early on, this is either lactate threshold cruise intervals or a tempo run. Later on, it’s shorter, faster intervals. There’s a second, easier workout day in most weeks that features an easy run followed by hill sprints or strides. The remainder of the mileage is made up of recovery runs.

The lowest volume workout schedule is 31 to 47 miles. This plan starts with four days of running for the first four weeks, after which it increases to five days of running.

The second training plan is 46 to 63 miles. This schedule starts with five days of running for the first four weeks, after which it increases to six days of running.

The third training schedule is 61 to 84 miles. This plan starts with six days of running for the first two weeks, after which it increases to seven days of running. It also doubles on a handful of the recovery days.

The final training schedule is 81 to 100 miles. This schedule includes seven days of running throughout, and many of the recovery and easy days include doubles.

Pete suggests that before you start any of these plans, you should be running the lower end of the mileage consistently. So to start the first tier plan, you should already be running around 30 miles per week.

A Sample Week from Pete’s Half Marathon Training Plan

To give you an idea of what this plan looks like, here’s a look at week 5 from the 46 to 63 mile plan:

  • Monday: Rest or cross-training
  • Tuesday: 9 miles, easy (aka general aerobic)
  • Wednesday: Lactate Threshold workout. Total of 10 miles, including 22 minutes at lactate threshold, a four minute recovery jog, and another 18 minutes at lactate threshold.
  • Thursday: 11 miles, mid-week long run at Endurance pace (between easy and marathon pace)
  • Friday: 3 mile recovery jog
  • Saturday: 8 miles, easy run followed by 2 sets of 6 x 100m strides with a 3 minute jog between sets
  • Sunday: Progression long run. Total of 14 miles, starting at endurance pace and increasing to lactate threshold for the final 3 miles.

This week totals 55 miles, about halfway between the starting mileage and the peak mileage for the plan.

A woman training for a half using a Pfitzinger plan in the park.
You won’t spend much time at the track during a Pfitzinger half marathon training plan. This is a great opportunity to spend some time running in a more natural setting.

Pros of Pete Pfitzinger Half Marathon Training Plans

Pete Pfitzinger has a reputation for developing rigorous training plans and they definitely have the potential to help you hit your goals. Here are some pros to consider when looking at these plans:

  • You will develop the leg strength and endurance to finish strong through 13.1 miles. Between the long runs and the medium long runs, you’ll be well prepared.
  • The emphasis on lactate threshold early on will help you maintain a difficult pace throughout the race.
  • The plans are straightforward and simple to understand. There aren’t many complex workouts to confuse you, other than one or two of the VO2 max workouts.
  • The inclusion of hill sprints and strides will help maintain top-end speed.
  • With less emphasis on speed work, you may find it’s easier to recover.
  • There’s a recovery week built in to help your absorb some of the training stress.
  • There are clear guidelines for tapering and recovering.

Cons of Pete Pfitzinger Half Marathon Training Plans

Despite his reputation for great plans, they aren’t perfect. Here’s a quick rundown on some of the weaknesses of the Pfitzinger half marathon plans:

  • The mileage increases rapidly. If you’re not prepared, this can lead to burnout or injury. The lowest mileage plan increases 50% over two months.
  • The lower mileage plan concentrates a lot of miles on a few days. Again, if you’re not prepared this could be a recipe for injury.
  • Longer runs during the week require a hefty time commitment. This may be difficult to schedule, depending on what else is going on in your life.
  • The plans will maintain speed, but they pay little attention to developing it.
  • You may have difficulty scheduling tune-up races at the appropriate times prescribed by the plan.
  • You may find the plan a bit monotonous if you’re looking for lots of work on the track or other “creative” workouts.
  • There’s no race-specific running at half marathon pace. If you’ve already highly trained your LT and VO2 max, this may be a problem.
  • They’re hard. But then again, do you really expect to progress without putting in some hard work?

The Bottom Line of Pete Pfitzinger Half Marathon Training Plans

The bottom line is that the Pete Pfitzinger half marathon training plans work – but they aren’t for everyone.

They definitely are not beginner plans. They will not take you from couch to half marathon, and if you aren’t running consistently you shouldn’t even bother.

The recommendation for starting mileage is a little low, and I’d suggest you be a bit more conservative. Rather than use the starting mileage as a benchmark, use the peak mileage as your benchmark. If you don’t regularly run within 5 to 10 miles of the peak mileage, you’re not ready for the plan. If you’ve actually hit the peak mileage before, even better.

And if you haven’t put any focus on your speed recently, you may find the plan lacking. This would be a great plan to follow if you’re coming off a 5k or 10k training block, but it would not be your best bet if you just finished a marathon and you want to step down and speed up.

Otherwise, if you can put in the work, these are great plans. Read the book, mark your calendar, and get out there!

I think the “sweet spot” for who would benefit the most from a Pete Pfitzinger half marathon plan is someone who has an established base of mileage, who has recently trained for a shorter event, and is looking to gear up for a half marathon. Beginners need not apply, and established half marathoners with elite times may be better served by something that’s a bit more specific to the half.

And remember, if you plan on following one of Pete’s training plans for your next half marathon you should definitely pick up a copy of Faster Road Racing. You’ll understand the plan better so you can execute it as intended.

If this doesn’t sound like the right plan for you, check out this collection of some of the best half marathon training plans. You might find something you like better.

If you have any experience with Pete Pfitzinger half marathon training plans, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below, and let me know how it went.

Pros and Cons of the Pete Pfitzinger Half Marathon Training Plans

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