Pfitzinger Marathon Plan: Pros and Cons of Pete’s Approach

Are you looking for a training schedule to get you through 26.2 miles and hit a new PR? Well here’s an overview of a great choice – the Pete Pfitzinger marathon plan.

Pfitz – also known as Uncle Pete – is an accomplished distance runner. He studied exercise science and wrote several books about training. He represented the U.S. in both the 1984 and 1988 olympics in the marathon. Pete also wrote for Running Times, when that magazine was in publication.

Pfitz is a well known name when it comes to marathon training, and a lot of runners swear by his training plans. He’s also written a book about about training for shorter races.

His marathon plans are intense, and they will definitely put you to the test. But if you can handle the training load, you will probably come out the other side stronger. Keep on reading for an overview of the plans, some pros and cons, and a few final thoughts on whether or not this is the right choice for you.

Note: This post focuses on marathon training. Here’s an overview of the Pfitz half marathon training plans.

Where Can I Learn About Pete Pfitzinger Marathon Training?

Pete has written several books about training, but he deals directly with the marathon in Advanced Marathoning. If you’re looking at a shorter race, check out Faster Road Racing. He deals with a lot of the same underlying concepts in both books, but the training plans are tailored specifically to each type of race.

In the book, Pete lays out some of the exercise science behind running training. He goes into detail about lactate threshold, VO2 max, and running economy – and their role in determining running performance.

For a marathon, his training philosophy emphasizes endurance throughout the entire training block. He does this through mid-week medium long runs and traditional weekend long runs. He incorporates some hill sprints and strides for speed work, as well as a little bit of VO2 max work. The rest of the workouts focus on lactate threshold.

Another interesting chapter focuses on supplementary training. It has illustrations of stretches as well as weight lifting routines. This chapter also includes a brief discussion of different 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. This is also of particular importance to marathoners given the need to fuel during the race.

Another topic he delves into is multiple marathoning. A lot of runners have questions about what to do if they are trying to run two marathons in a short amount of time. He has some suggestions, as well as recommended schedules for anywhere from 4 weeks to 12 weeks between marathons.

Finally, the book ends with several charts to help you determine paces for your workouts and your race. 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 a Pfitz marathon training plan and other training plans, but a few things set him apart.

One key difference is his advice on how to pace your regular training runs. Some other plans neatly divide all of your miles into workout miles and easy miles. For the easy miles, it doesn’t matter how slowly you run – the emphasis is on not running too fast. But Pfitz distinguishes truly easy runs – recovery runs – from what he calls “endurance” runs. For these runs, you target a pace that’s somewhere in between your marathon pace and an easy pace.

This applies to some of the longer regular runs, as well as the medium long runs and long runs. They’re not all out workouts – but they’re not truly easy either. And you might find yourself running on a fine line trying not to run too hard.

A second thing that distinguishes Pfitz is the mid-week medium long run. Every marathon training plan has a long run on the weekend. But some divide the rest of the mileage into pretty evenly divided, manageable bits on the weekdays. Pfitz always includes a medium long run in the middle of the week. He also tends to spread the miles across fewer days of the week – so you’ll run fewer days, but longer than in other plans with comparable weekly mileage.

For example, his plan that peaks at 55 mpw has two rest days during most weeks. The long run gets up to 20 miles, and the medium long in the middle of the week is often 11 to 12 miles.

A third difference is that Pete recommends that you use heart rate reserve to calculate your training paces – instead of a set percentage of your max heart rate or a percentage of your race pace. To do this, you subtract your resting heart rate from your max heart rate. That’s your heart rate reserve, and each intensity is based on a percentage of that reserve. It’s a little more complicated, but it may create paces that are better suited to your particular fitness.

Overview of Pete Pfitzinger Marathon Training Plans

There are four marathon training plans in Advanced Marathoning. The plans vary by their total volume and the number of days run. The amount of quality running also scales with the weekly mileage, but the overall periodization and number of workouts stays more or less the same.

Each of the plans comes in two versions – the standard 18 weeks or the condensed 12 weeks. There’s also a five week return to running schedule to manage your post-marathon recovery.

If you read about these plans online, they are usually referred to by a shorthand method that starts with the number of weeks and is followed by the peak mileage. For example, the Pfitz 18/55 plan is the 18 week plan peaking at 55mpw. Pfitz 18/55 and Pfitz 18/70 are probably the most popular versions of the plan.

Each Sunday is a long run. These progress in distance over the course of the plan. For example, in the 55 to 70 mpw plan, they start at 15 miles and peak at 22 miles. Most of the long runs are done at Pete’s endurance pace, but a few of the runs incorporate longer segments at marathon pace. These are typically seen as some of the toughest workouts in the plan.

There’s also a medium long run scheduled in the middle of each week – typically Wednesday or Thursday. These are also done at endurance pace, but they’re not quite as long as the weekly long runs.

Pfitz includes three tune-up races in the schedule in the weeks leading up to the race. These will give you an opportunity to test your fitness and work out your race day jitters before the big day.

On average, there’s one tough workout each week. These start with a focus on threshold running, and later in the plan they transition to faster VO2 max running. There are also quicker speed days sprinkled in, though these workouts are just 100m strides – so not really a hard workout.

The rest of the mileage consists of easy runs – either general aerobic or recovery. If you want to mix some trail running in to your marathon training, these are the best days to do so. Pace doesn’t matter much.

The lowest mileage schedule starts at 33 miles and peaks at 55 miles per week. The mileage is spread across four to five days of running.

The next tier starts at 54 miles and peaks at 70 miles per week. The mileage is spread across six days of running.

The third schedule starts at 65 miles and peaks at 87 miles per week. This plan involves running every day, and many weeks have one short double.

The final schedule starts at 80 miles and peaks at 107 miles. You’ll double quite a bit on this plan, averaging 9 to 10 runs per week.

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 Marathon Training Plan

To give you an idea of what this plan looks like, here’s a look at week 5 from the 54 to 70 mile plan (Pfitz 18/70):

  • Monday: Rest or cross-training
  • Tuesday: Lactate Threshold workout. Total of 9 miles, including 5 miles at threshold pace
  • Wednesday: 14 mile medium long run at endurance pace
  • Thursday: 5 mile recovery jog
  • Friday: 12 mile medium long run at endurance pace
  • Saturday: 5 mile recovery jog
  • Sunday: 18 mile long run, with 10 miles at marathon race pace

This week totals 63 miles, about halfway between the starting mileage and the peak mileage for the plan.

A man running along a river while training using a Pfitz marathon plan.

Pros of a Pete Pfitzinger Marathon Plan

Pete Pfitzinger has a reputation for creating strenuous training plans, and these plans can definitely help you meet your goals. Here are some pros to consider.

There’s a focus on endurance. Between the long runs, the medium long runs, and the general compression of weekly mileage over fewer days of running you will definitely develop the leg strength and endurance that you need to finish strong over 26 miles. You’ll finish this plan well prepared.

The plans are simple and detailed. Each day has a scheduled run, and the runs are not complex. You don’t have to worry about remembering multi-step workouts, and you don’t need to figure out how much to run on any given day. This is the choice if you want something spelled out for you.

There’s clear guidance for post-race recovery. The return to running schedules are great. They’ll help you resist the temptation of getting back into things too soon. Even if you don’t use the training plan to prepare for your marathon, you may want to take a look at these to plan out your recovery.

There’s built in recovery, and there aren’t too many workouts. The 18 week plans include two recovery weeks to help you manage the stress. And in any given week, you’re probably only dealing with one strenuous workout. There is a lot of mileage – but you aren’t going to be beat into the ground by multiple workouts.

Cons of a Pete Pfitzinger Marathon Plan

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

Rapid mileage increases. Week 1 is pretty mild in each plan, and if you believe Pete’s advice that you’re “ready” for the plan if you’re ready for week 1 – well you might not really be ready. I’d suggest you be a little bit more conservative and look ahead. If the peak weeks look daunting, you might want to opt for the next tier down in terms of mileage.

The plans seem rigid. While Pete offers some advice on how to adjust the plans to fit your own lifestyle, they definitely come across as rigid. If you have to move around a workout, how do you adjust the rest of the week? Pete offers some advice on how to do this, but you may find yourself struggling with making the best decision. This is not the right plan if you want a ton if flexibility.

Large time commitments. Overall, the plans require a lot of time. The Sunday long runs can get pretty long, and you might find yourself out there for three hours. Finding time for a 15 mile run on a Wednesday morning might be tough, too. And compressing the mileage over fewer days means that each run is going to be longer. You might have several runs during the week that exceed an hour.

The plans are hard. Maybe this goes without saying. If you’re considering a Pfitz plan, you’re probably a relatively advanced runner. But let me be clear – these are not beginner plans.

Is a Pfitz Training Plan Right For You?

A Pfitz marathon training plan might be right for you if:

  • You’re an experienced runner with at least a year or two of running under your belt.
  • Your comfortable running decent mileage, and you have a strong base.
  • You run five or six days a week.
  • You have at least some experience running workouts.
  • You want a detailed plan that spells things out for you.
  • You’re looking to push yourself to new levels and achieve a goal time.
  • You’re willing to put in the time for long runs on the weekend and medium long runs at least once a week.

Different Versions of the Pfitz Training Plan

There are eight different versions of the plan in Advanced Marathoning. There are four levels of mileage – 55, 70, 85, and 100. Each level comes in a 12 week version and an 18 week version.

Pfitz 18/55 is an 18 week plan that peaks at 55 miles per week. You’ll hit 20 miles three times throughout the plan, and you’ll run peak mileage for a couple weeks. This is a good fit for someone who is comfortable at around 40 miles per week, and they’re ready to step it up a notch.

Pfitz 12/55 is a 12 week version of the same plan. It ramps up more quickly, so it’s a better choice for someone who has already gone through a similar plan. If you’ve recently run a good marathon, you can sharpen and train in twelve weeks. But this is not a good choice for someone who is trying to reach this level for the first time.

Pfitz 18/70 is an 18 week plan that peaks at 70 miles per week. There are a lot of long runs – several at 20 miles, and two above 20. Be ready for a commitment. This is a staple for serious amateurs, and it’s a good goal to strive for. You’re ready for this plan if you can comfortably run 60 miles per week, and there’s nothing wrong with rinsing and repeating this same plan a few times.

Pfitz 12/70 is a 12 week version of the plan that peaks at 70 miles per week. Again, it is condensed and it ramps up quickly. This is a good choice for someone who has already done Pfitz 18/70 or a similar plan, and they’re looking to get back into marathon shape quickly. It’s not a good choice if it’s your first time training at 70 miles per week.

After that, there’s Pfitz 18/85, 12/85, 18/105, and 12/105. These are serious plans for runners who are used to high mileage. They are demanding, and you shouldn’t attempt these until you have a few good seasons under your belt. But if you’ve outgrown 18/70 or 12/70, then the next logical choice is to step up the mileage. With these plans, be ready to go long – up to 24 miles – and to put in doubles regularly.

Pfitz Marathon Plans: The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that these Pete Pfitzinger marathon plans work – but they are not for everyone.

Without a doubt, these are not beginner plans. If you’re trying to move up from your first 10k to your first marathon, you should look elsewhere.

Pete’s recommendation for starting mileage is low, in my opinion, and if I were you I’d be a bit more conservative. I’d aim to be comfortable running within 5 or 10 miles of the peak weekly mileage before starting one of these plans. So if you’re not already running 40+ miles per week, Pfitz might not be right for you.

And if you haven’t worked on your speed lately, you might find the plan lacking. There’s a much greater emphasis on developing endurance than speed, so this works well if you’ve come off a training block for a shorter race like a 5k or a 10k.

But otherwise, if you’re ready to put in the work, these are some great options. Read the book, mark your calendar, and get out there!

In my opinion, the sweet spot for who would benefit most from a Pfitz marathon plan is someone who has an established base of mileage, has recently trained for a shorter event, and is looking to change gears for a marathon. Novice runners need not apply, and veteran marathoners with sub-elite times might want to choose something with more time spent at specific workout paces.

And remember, if you’re going to give one of Pete’s plans a try for your next marathon – you should definitely pick up a copy of Advanced Marathoning. It will help you really understand the plan and how to execute it.

If you’re looking for a challenging marathon training plan, and Pfitz doesn’t seem right to you, give some thought to a Jack Daniels 2Q marathon plan. It offers a bit more flexibility, and I had a good experience using it for my first marathon.

If you’ve used a Pfitz training plan in the past, I’d love to hear what you thought. Leave a comment below, and share your experience – good, bad, or ugly.

3 thoughts on “Pfitzinger Marathon Plan: Pros and Cons of Pete’s Approach”

  1. I used Pete’s 55mile week for my 3h8m marathon at age 59. It was my 5th marathon. I was aiming for the 3h10m so got my PB and goal. I agree with your comments and found the mid week medium long run as he puts it the hardest to fit in before work or after work (shift worker here).
    I found it successful and as an older guy I liked his fastest pace being 5k race pace. I tend to get hurt running Jack Danial Rep paces too much. I like the simple workouts and agree some of the marathon pace in the long run quite hard as he gets you to do them in one chunk. No 1k repeats in there. I did find using the max HR he suggested quite accurate but find myself needing to be at the low end of the suggestion. There’s no way I would run a gen-aerobic run at 81%MHR. I stick with the 75%. As I live in a hilly area I’ll be using it this time to run the pace percentages as suggested and cap out on the max HR range for the up hills so go pace limit on downhill and level and HR limit on the up hill. I plan to try a sub 3hr @ 60 if I’m healthy enough 18weeks out using the 55mile week option.

  2. I used Pete’s 55-70 plan to run a PR 3:03 a few years ago at age 44. The mid-week medium long runs were tough. The other odd thing about this program is the limited taper. It seems like a lot of running in the 10-14 days and especially 7 before the race. I didn’t follow that part.

  3. I think you nailed it with this description of the characteristics of the Pfitz plans.
    I think Pfitz is spot on by including less but longer runs and by making the long runs more demanding than LSD runs.
    His programs are hard but all that hard work pays off on marathon day: you have never felt (and been!) so prepared!


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