Marathon and Half Marathon Training Books

Let me begin this post by saying: I am a self-professed bibliophile. I love books. I hoard books. In our apartment for two people, Ryan and I have five bookshelves full of books (and this is AFTER I gave away at least 40 books when I finished up graduate school and knew I wasn’t going to need books on medieval historiography or guides to passing German reading exams again). Currently, I love reading books on running to learn about different training philosophies, especially as I will soon begin training for my very first marathon. 

Choosing marathon and half marathon training books can be overwhelming, since you are bombarded by dozens of titles at your local bookstore and even more when you search on Amazon. Amongst the multitude of books, there are some marathon and half marathon training books that have stood the test of time and promise you a PR, while other books fall short and are not worth your read. So how do you choose?

While I have not read all of these books in their entirety, I have read excerpts from them at least and am familiar with their training philosophies. Many of these authors are prominent coaches and researchers in the sport of running, such as the famous running coach Dr. Jack Daniels.

Marathon Training Books

For my first marathon, I plan on using the Hansons Marathon Method: A Renegade Path to Your Fastest Marathon. I’ve read their Hansons Half-Marathon Method a couple times now and pretty much carry it around with me the week leading up to half marathons because of all the valuable information it offers on nutrition, racing strategies, and recovery in addition to a thorough training plan and detailed pace charts. Additionally, they break down the science behind their training plans into accessible language to help you understand the why behind your training. The Hansons Marathon Method is famous for its six-days-a-week running plan that includes weekly speed work, tempo runs at marathon pace, and long runs maxing out at 16 miles. Even if you don’t use their marathon plans, this book provides valuable and practical advice on goal setting, modifying training plans to fit your life, nutrition, supplemental training (strength and mobility exercises), and strategies for race day. 

Hal Higdon’s Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide: Advice, Plans, and Programs for Half and Full Marathons offers a more traditional approach to marathon training. This book in now in its 4th edition and has been a popular marathon training book for years, as Higdon estimates on his website that he has helped over half a million runners cross the finish line of a marathon. In his book, he offers plans for everyone who are running the marathon as their very first road race to experienced runners seeking PRs. In addition to his popular training plans, Higdon discusses the popularity of the marathon, how to build both speed and endurance, whether women runners should training differently, and how to adjust your diet to account for the higher mileage (and increased hunger) of marathon training. 

Like Higdon, Pete Pfitzinger boasts an impressive running resume. Pfitzinger was the first American finisher at the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Marathon and has a PR of 2:11:43 for the marathon. His Advanced Marathoning – 2nd Edition
is in its second edition and is an excellent resource for anyone looking to run a PR or qualify for Boston. As with the Hansons books, Pfitzinger devotes as much time to all the details around marathon training and racing (nutrition, supplemental training, tapering, and race day tactics) as he does to his marathon plans. Pfitzinger’s plans are not for new marathoners, unless you are coming off of running for college or a strong base and a few solid half marathons. His plans include 55-70 mile per week plans, a 70-85 mile per week plans, and plans for runners averaging above 85 miles per week. Each training plan is divided into five mesocycles: endurance, lactate threshold + endurance, race preparation, taper and race, and recovery. 

First published in 1998, Daniels’ Running Formula is a classic for runners and is now in its 3rd edition. Daniel’s Running Formula contains a wealth of technical information, especially when it comes to his discussion of paces, intensities, and VDOT numbers. VDOT is a system Jack Daniels developed to help runners train at the appropriate intensities and set realistic goals for racing. For example, his table gives me a VDOT score of 44 based on my most recent half marathon time, and this score shows me that an equivalent marathon time is 3:32:xx and that my easy runs should be around an 8:50/mile pace. This book is worth buying for those tables alone, especially if you are training with a specific goal in mind or are a very numbers-oriented runner. 

Dr. Tim Noakes’ Lore of Running, 4th Edition does not provide a wide range of training programs; most of its plans are samples from the training of great marathoners of the 20th century such as Jim Peters and other legends. However, this tome offers information on anything you could want to know on physiology and anatomy, training basics (both for beginners and experienced runners), transferring your training into racing, and injury prevention. My favorite section of this book is the overview of the history of marathoning; there is nothing more inspiring before a big race than reading about Grete Waitz’s record-setting moments at the New York City Marathon. 

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4 Responses

  1. I’m definitely going to have to look into some of these! I love reading, but I hate to admit that I have become a kindle addict… I still really really love having actual books, but it’s sooooo easy to just buy a kindle book and read it on your phone.

    1. I’ll be providing a more thorough review of Hansons Marathon before and after I use it for the Portland Marathon if you’re interested. 🙂 And I love to hear how many books you have – I always say well-stocked bookshelves are the best decorations!

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