Marathon Training Based on Hours vs. Miles

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 | By Hal Higdon
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Have a question about running? You're in the right place. Every Tuesday, world-renowned coach, author and athlete Hal Higdon posts and answers athlete questions here. You can submit your question by joining the discussions on Hal Higdon's Virtual Training Bulletin Boards.


I am excited about doing my second marathon in Chicago! Definitely following The Hal Plan. I am curious whether there are any schools of thought about the question of hours vs. miles when it comes to capping your long runs. A few runners have suggested to me that they aim for a certain number of minutes, or hours, rather than a certain number of miles. It just doesn't seem right to not run the miles. What do you think?


Capping long runs at a certain time probably was a more popular practice several decades ago when runners were "faster"--or at least when the marathon was less welcoming to those finishing in 4 hours or more. It used to be pretty lonely crossing the line at 5 or 6 or more hours back in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, when fields were smaller, and nobody would be standing beside the finish line to record your time with a stopwatch. Back then, three hours was considered a good cap by some coaches, and a few of the old-timers cling to this idea. But if your goal is 6 hours, a 3-hour long run does not fully prepare you to stay out on the course for twice the length of time as your longest run. I have a few time-based programs, but I prefer to cap at 20 miles regardless of how long it takes to get there.

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