Review: Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide

Last week I decided on when to run my first marathon (more about that later). I had gotten the book Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide by Hal Higdon for my birthday. I have been holding on to it until I was ready to put the information into practice. That time has come.

This was a well written book. Higdon is an experienced author and his skill comes through. The book is written particularly with the first time marathoner in mind. He briefly covers the history of the marathon and why anyone would want to run one. But it is not just for the new marathoner. After I have a couple of marathons under my shoes I think it would be a great resource to read again. He talks further on how to improve your time.

There were two things that disappointed me in the book. One was how little ink was dedicated to shoes and also how he handled nutrition.

The information he did give about shoes was incomplete. The edition of the book I have was written in 1999; I hope that his shoe coverage was expanded in the 2005 edition. I don’t know if it was even possible to go into your local running store 10 years ago and have a gait analysis done like it is today. There is much more that the average runner can do in choosing the right shoes than what Higdon covered in the book.

The chapter on nutrition seemed to advise from the perspective that the readers would already be eating properly and that to train for a marathon you would need to change where you get your calories from. But there was not a basic list of good and bad foods. I realize that this is not a nutrition book, but since one chapter was dedicated to nutrition, I expected there to be more about general eating. In a nutshell, he said that it would be hard to get the volume of calories you need from your regular diet because it would mean so much greater volume of food. Of course he has to be talking about someone who already gets the bulk of their calories from non-processed foods. I think it would be more accurate to assume people are eating junk and they should be taught what is proper and what to avoid. It could also have to do with the fact that he grew up in a different generation and has always been an athlete.

His chapter on post race recovery, without being overly long, went into detail as to what you should be doing immediately after the marathon and just about every hour following that until the next day. He then gives you guidelines to follow for several days after your race.

His training plans are worth the price of the book. The plan itself is reproduced all over the Internet. But what makes the book special is that he does not just say “Run 3 miles today.” Rather he tells you that on Thursday of week 4 (4 weeks before the marathon): “Five miles for novices. You are entitled to feel a bit tired today. It’s normal. That’s what training is all about. A 40-minute tempo run for experts. Although the mileage buildup continues, we’ve already begun to cut back on your tempo runs. Don’t overdo today’s workout. Save something for a very tough weekend.” That is his coaching coming through. It is not just a bunch of numbers on a chart for Higdon. Those numbers represent something and he knows what you need to hear each day of the 18 week plan.

I am curious to see the newer edition just to see if he spent more time on shoes and changed his focus with nutrition. Other than those two things I thought it was an excellent preparation book. I am glad I had a chance to read it several weeks before I need to start training for my fall marathon.

Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide, Hal Higdon, 1999, Rodale Press, 121 pages.

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