Best Books on Marathon Training: Check Out These Must Reads

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced runner, here are the best books on marathon training that you should have on your bookshelf.

When I first started running, I didn’t know what I was doing. I had spent some time running in high school, but otherwise I’d had no coaching and I hadn’t read up on the subject.

Perhaps as a result of that, I ended up overtraining and injuring myself after running my first half marathon. No fun.

When I finally got back into running, I was determined to do things differently. I found every book I could find, and I made sure to read up on training philosophies and training plans.

It paid off. I’ve been running consistently for several years and I’m continuing to see steady progress. And it’s all thanks to some of the books listed below.

So without further ado, here are some of the best books on marathon training. If you haven’t read them yet, and you plan on running a marathon, I suggest you put them on your reading list.

Best Books on Marathon Training for Beginners

Although I learned a lot from some of the more advanced books, the sheer amount of miles that authors like Pfitz and Daniels recommend can scare off beginner runners.

So if you’re a beginner, here are the three books I’d recommend.

First up is Run Your First Marathon: Everything You Need to Know to Reach the Finish Line by Grete Waitz.

Grete was a champion marathon runner – and world record holder – back in her day. But this book is very much aimed at the true beginner. The book includes the usual – a basic training plan and some advice to help prepare you for race day.

But what sets this book apart is her philosophy of running – hurry slowly, get there but be patient. I didn’t read this until after I’d run my first marathon, but that idea really resonated with me.

If you plan to have a long running career, hurry slowly. You’ve got a lifetime to run. And the worst thing you can do to derail that is to do too much too soon.

You can also read some more about the book and the training plan here.

Next is Marathon: Revised and Updated 5th Edition by Hal Higdon.

I’m not the biggest fan of Hal’s training plans. I think they tend to overemphasize the long run, and running that long without a sufficient base can be problematic.

But he is a huge cheerleader for the marathon, and he has inspired and guided many beginners through the process. His stories make the distance seem approachable, and there is a lot of useful information in the book.

If you’re on the fence about whether or not you think you can run a marathon, read this book by Hal. And read some more about his training plans here.

Finally, I’d recommend 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster By Training Slower by Matt Fitzgerald.

It’s common for beginners to overdo things and go too hard for most of their runs. If you only run two or three times a week, that’s not a problem. You’ve got plenty of time to recover between your runs.

But marathon training involves running a lot, and as a beginner you’ll be doing way more volume than you’ve ever done before. In this situation, it is extremely important that you take your easy days easy – and only push the tempo when you’re supposed to.

The training plans in 80/20 Running can be a little confusing, but the underlying philosophy is very simple. You don’t necessarily need to calculate things to the minute – and beginners sometimes go too far down that rabbit hole – but you should definitely take everything in and find a way to apply it to your own running.

Here are some more thoughts about the training plans in 80/20 Running.

Best Books on Marathon Training for Experienced Runners

The books above are aimed at beginners. That being said, I still enjoyed them and I found some useful information despite already having run a couple marathons.

But the books below … these are the best books on marathon training for serious runners. If you’re past the point of wanting to finish a marathon and your goal is to run the best marathon you can – you need to read them.

First up is Daniels' Running Formula by Jack Daniels.

This is the first major book I read on training, and I found it super useful and inspiring even as a beginner. The plans themselves were too advanced for me to follow, but I appreciated his training philosophy and the science that supported his recommendations.

Even if you don’t adhere to his ‘train the systems’ approach, everyone should take heed of this piece of advice: as you train harder, there are always diminishing returns, so you should do the least amount of work possible to still get most of the benefit.

I’m a big fan of the plans in this book, and I’ve used his 5k-10k plan as well as his 2Q marathon training plan. They are demanding plans, so make sure you go into them prepared. But if you can follow this plan successfully, it will absolutely prepare you to run a great marathon.

Here are some more thoughts on Jack Daniels 2Q marathon plans.

Next up is Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger.

I read Pfitz after I read Daniels. There’s a lot of overlap between the books, but it’s good to get a slightly different take on everything that goes into running a marathon. The two men approach the distance similarly – but not identically.

Pfitz is the more popular of the two among runners on places like r/AdvancedRunning. He has a lot of fans and acolytes. In my opinion, his plans are a little bit more accessible than Jack Daniels 2Q plans, so this is a great book to have if you’re making your first foray into serious marathons.

Just make sure you pick a weekly mileage that you’re prepared for. If you finish the plan, you’ll be ready come race day.

Read more about Pfitz marathon plans here.

The final book on the list is The Science of Running: How to find your limit and train to maximize your performance by Steve Magness.

Unlike the previous two books, this one doesn’t have any cookie cutter training plans for you to follow. But if you read this book, you will understand so much more about running.

Steve does an excellent job of reviewing the scientific literature related to running. He helps you understand what we actually know, what we think we know, and what is likely a bunch of hogwash.

He also talks a lot about Canova’s approach to training. There’s no ‘book’ for Renato Canova’s training philosophy – but Magness does a good job of making it make sense. Personally, I think this approach is better suited towards very experienced runners who have already rung out as much progress as they could from plans like Daniels and Pfitz.

But one way or another, this book should be required reading for anyone who wants to run a good marathon – and who wants to understand what they’re doing.

What’s Your Required Reading for Marathon Training?

These six books are my recommendations for what you should read if you’re looking for advice on marathon training. They all have something to contribute to your success.

What about you?

What’s your recommendation for the best book on marathon training?

Leave a comment below, and share your recommendation. Or let me know what you think about the books above.

And if you’re looking for a marathon training plan to follow, here’s a comparison of some of the most popular plans that will help you make a choice.

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