Training plans: From Hal to Hanson to Pfitz

girl training for a race

There are two things to remember when choosing a training plan for a race: Make sure it’s the right level for you, and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t follow it perfectly.

That’s the advice of Brett Beil, a strength and conditioning specialist with Sanford Health in Fargo, North Dakota.

Runners – and walkers – should remember life happens, even when you’re training. Being flexible and ready for that means a sick child or unexpected work travel won’t emotionally derail you in the months before an event.

“I can’t imagine someone who has been through an 18-week program without some kind of issue,” Beil says. “They just need to understand that’s going to be part of it.”

It’s the time of year when runners are trying to figure out how to best train for spring races, including the Fargo Marathon in May.

Beil, a half-marathoner and long-time road runner, and I spent an hour debating the pros and cons of everyone from the much-loved Hal Higdon to the complex Pete Pfitzinger and our own experiences. Let’s be fair and say that he comes at this conversation with much more technical knowledge – watching various athletes try the programs and helping them train. Me? I’ve run 10 marathons and two ultras, and the only real training plans I’ve followed faithfully have been ones for runners recovering from injury – because I was an idiot up until it caught up with me.

Here’s a little bit about what we talk about when we talk about running:

Hal Higdon

Beil: There are so many plans, from novice to intermediate and elite. The basic is very basic – three days of running and lots of rest, and then it moves along. It’s so accessible.

Me: I think everyone I know has done a Higdon program. There are a ton of options on there.

Beil: That can be a pro or a con. Someone might be a novice and not realize what’s best – you might get in and find one is too easy for you, or way too hard.


Beil: People say, hey, I don’t have a lot of time to commit, and this is what I suggest. The whole idea is that each run is purposeful – intervals, tempo and long runs. Plus, “Run Less, Run Faster” is an easy read and it lays out pace in there.

Me: You know what’s awesome for pace? The McMillan calculator. Is that thing still around?

Beil: Yes!

Me: Every time I’ve used that, it’s been dead on. It’s super handy for figuring out your training paces.

Beil: I totally agree. You can’t just guess. My only complaint with the FIRST program is there’s a lot of speedwork. It can be aggressive and mentally taxing. It might not be the direction for someone who is just learning. If you’re doing 400-meter repeats and you haven’t run before, you might as well set up your physical therapy appointment now.

I see a lot of runners who run five to six days a week, and I suggest this to help them fine-tune.

Jeff Galloway

Beil: I haven’t used this, but it seems like it would be really attractive to new runners.

Me: I have seen a ton of folks start with this. What I love is that it breaks it down for new runners and helps people who walk a lot transition to running. It’s approachable and accessible.

Beil: That’s exactly right. You’re breaking yourself in for consistent running down the road. It doesn’t need to be this year.

Pete Pfitzinger

Beil: I wasn’t familiar with this. Pfitz might be a tough sell.

Me: I know. He’s really complex. It’s tough for people who need a little more flexibility in their schedule. I don’t think I could commit.

Beil: Yeah, how long are these plans?

Me: Some of them are 24 weeks! I’ve had the best luck with his return to running programs after injury, especially his pool running plan. It’s intervals of pool running, and it breaks up the monotony and honestly, I came out of the water as fast as I was when I went in. I couldn’t believe how well it worked. I have recommended this plan for injured runners for years. He also eases you back into actual running, and I’ve done that, too.

Hanson plans

Beil: My worry is overtraining. I disagree with the 16-mile maximum long run, even though they say you’re really preparing by running on tired legs.

Me: I don’t know. I’ve seen folks do it, and it worked. When I’ve done longer races, sometimes I’ve trained with back to back long runs instead of one monster run each week.

Beil: Yeah, Higdon has that, too, in some ways.

Me: It’s worked for me, but it was tiring.

Beil: I would just worry about never going 20 miles in training. You’re looking at 10 miles of uncharted territory in the race.

Me: I agree with the marathon – I think mentally you might want to conquer 20 miles so you just know you can do it. Just for confidence. But I also know I get injured with too high of mileage, so for me, that theory of running on tired legs on the weekend worked better than going longer and longer for distances longer than the marathon.

Other plans

Other comparisons of plans can be found and

Posted In Health Information, Healthy Living, Orthopedics, Running