Reviews of Training Plans: Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway, Couch-to-5K, and Run Less Run Faster

Posted Wednesday March 21, 2012 3 Comments

It feels like everyone is training for something right now, and I just finished.

But my hard work paid off. In fact, I took a whole minute off my 5K time in three months (and scored a second place finish in my age group!) following the Runner’s World Run Less Run Faster (RLRF) plan by Bill Pierce, Scott Murr and Ray Moss. It’s an intense plan and I really enjoyed it…to a point. Each workout is so focused that I began to feel a little burnt out as I got closer to my race, which was Saturday.

But after the 5K, I felt different. Recharged. And I’m ready to start training again. I’m planning to run the Seattle Rock ‘N’ Roll Half Marathon at the end of June. I’ve tried quite a few training plans since I began running as an adult. Here are my thoughts on the plans I’ve tried:

Hal Higdon Half Marathon Novice: I used this 12-week plan for my very first half marathon. I began running in July of 2009 and ran my first 13.1 in November finishing in about two and a half hours. I liked the plan, but I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners knowing what I know now. For beginning runners, like I was, try something that incorporates walking and running.

Hal Higdon Marathon Novice: Since I’d had success with the Hal Higdon Half Marathon Novice plan, I decided to use his 18-week marathon novice training plan for my first marathon scheduled in May 2010. First of all, I was just trying to do too much too soon in general. I think this plan was more advanced than where I was at in my fitness level at that time, and I ended up hurting myself (fracturing my shin) and not running my first 26.2. I think the thing to keep in mind is that “novice” is different than beginner. I was not able to finish this training plan.

Couch-to-5K Running Plan: After fracturing my shin, I could not run for an entire summer. In the fall, I was allowed to begin running again…gradually. I chose the Couch-to-5K to help me ease back into the run. And it was perfect for that. If you are just starting out as a runner, I would recommend beginning with this plan, which alternates walking and running, and will help to keep you from getting injured by doing too much too soon.

Jeff Galloway “To Finish” Marathon Plan: If you are a beginner who is training for a marathon, like most people, I would advise you to rethink that plan. But, let’s be honest, we’re probably not going to change your mind. So, if you are going to do it anyway, at least use something like Jeff Galloway’s marathon plan “to finish.” It is a long plan at 32 weeks, but it eases you into the mileage and keeps you at relatively low mid-week miles. There are three 20+-mile runs. I missed two of them due to life. Twenty miles was my longest run. And I finished my marathon in about four hours and 45 minutes. I used the run-walk-run method that Jeff Galloway recommends during the training and the race. I had an awesome first marathon, one that I enjoyed and will remember for the rest of my life. Note: The run-walk-run method is great, too, if you are injury-prone.

Runner’s World Run Less Run Faster 5K Training Program: If you are ready for some speed, I highly recommend this plan. I even bought the book to get all my paces. (You can get just the plan online at the link I provided.) RLRF has you running only three times a week with two other days of cross training, plus strength workouts. I liked that the RLRF book gives you actual cross training plans and a challenging strength routine. This plan is very intense. Every workout has a purpose, and will have you challenging yourself with new track workouts, speedy tempo runs and a faster-than-most pace for long runs. In the book, there are plans for beginners, as well, that are less intense. I wouldn’t recommend the other plans for beginning runners, though. I’ve been running for almost three years now and I felt that Run Less Run Faster took me just to the edge. If I wasn’t paying attention, if I didn’t know my limitations, I might’ve hurt myself. Overall, I’m very pleased with this plan and am so happy that my hard work paid off last Saturday.

Are you training for something? What plan are you using? Do you like it? What other training plans have you used?

  • Shauna

    I ran my first Half Marathon in 1:52 and felt immediately inspired to train for a full marathon, but now that I’ve read books on the Hal Higdon and Jeff Galloway methods of training, I am torn.  I tried my long run last week with the walking breaks as outlined by Galloway, making sure I walked for about 45 seconds each 1 – 1.5 miles.  It seemed kind of “unnatural” to be running and “in my groove” to almost have to force myself to slow down to a fast walk.  Then, when it came time to run again, I had some moments of feeling like I needed to overcome stiffness all over again (similar to when you just start running).  I understand that his training techniques are preparing runners to not “hit the wall” at mile 20 and supposedly allow miles 20-26 to be run at a faster pace because of the walk breaks, but I would like to have more input from others who have tried both methods.  Also, everything I’ve been reading encourages first-time marathoners to not have any kind of time goals: just have fun and set a goal of finishing.  However, I already have a time goal without even planning for it… similar to when I ran my Half with a goal of getting under 2 hours, I would like to finish my first marathon in 4 hours or less.  I feel like if I train wisely and allow plenty of time (my marathon is at the end of November, in Florida: a relatively flat course at sea level, and I live at 5500 ft. elevation and train on hills), that to set goals for myself isn’t unreasonable.  I suppose that in the back of my mind, I think it would be awfully sweet to qualify for Boston at my first marathon and do know this would be quite a challenge.  It would basically be my Half Marathon time, doubled.  But, with 6 more months of smart training and the 30% more oxygen I’ll have in Florida, I actually think it’s do-able.  I’m 42 and enjoying running for the first time in my life!  Would love input especially from those who’ve tried different training methods!

  • Kerrie

    Hi Shauna,
    Kerrie here — I write the 2Toms blog. I’m going to try my best to give you a helpful answer! I didn’t have too difficult of a time getting used to the run-walk-run method because I was coming back from an injury, but my training buddy did have an adjustment period to the walking part during long runs, if I remember correctly. We ran 5 minutes and walked 1 during training. During the race, we ran 5 minutes and walked 30 seconds for the first half of the marathon, and a went back to 5:1 for the second half. I was secretly shooting for a time, but was not married to it — it being my first full and all. The second 13 miles is TOUGH, but I had a wonderful first marathon using this method.

    I’ve run 6 or 7 half marathons (my PR is a 1:52, too!) since 2009, and in my opinion, a full marathon is a completely different animal than a half. So much can happen over 26.2 miles. Plus, there is much more opportunity for injury in training for a full — and that was the main reason I chose to use the Galloway method. I’d already been injured once training for a full.

    If you’re not injury-prone, however, and are more interested in a goal time, I’d go with something like the Run Less Run Faster (RLRF) plan: The plan is intense, but there are only 3 runs per week (which helps to keep injuries at bay). The other days, you will focus on cross and strength training, which will make you an even better runner than you already are! If speed is your thing, the RLRF plan might be the right one for you. (In 3 months, I took a minute off my 5K time using the RLRF 5K plan, which is a good chunk of time to take off of a short, fast race I’m told.) 

    Hal Higdon is sort of in the middle of Galloway and RLRF. You just gotta go with what feels right for you. What are you comfortable with? Do you want to do track workouts and tempo runs and long runs and a slighlty unfomfortable pace (RLRF)? Do you want to just finish not hating the marathon (Galloway)? Or do you want to focus on endurance with lots of mileage (Higdon)? Whichever one you choose, if you start to get uncomfortable (like you feel you might get injured), back off and go with a different plan. There’s no rule you have to stick with one — they all kind of follow the same build-up-back-off schedule. I hope this all makes sense and is helpful. Let me know if you have any other questions and good luck with your training! (Which race are you training for?)

    PS: Not sure if you’re a mom or not, but Runner’s World authors Sarah Bowen Shea and Dimity McDowell have a book out called Train Like a Mother, which has a speed-focused marathon training plan in it. Obviously, you don’t need to be a mom to use it. I haven’t used one of their plans, but it might be worth a look.

  • Kerrie

    Just realized I didn’t actually respond using the “reply” button. Hope you’ll read my response above, though…