Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Book Review: Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide

Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide by Hal Higdon

Marathon (as you have probably guessed) is another book on training for a marathon. As with Marathoning for Mortals, much of the focus of this book is on helping beginners or runner who are inexperienced at long distances tackle the task of training for the 26.2 miles of a marathon. Marathon is a very comprehensive book that not only gives you a great foundation to start your training, but also gives you a ton of other information that you may not have considered or even thought about.

The author, Hal Higdon, was a competitive runner in the 1960s and 1970s (he is still an active runner, but since he is in his 70s he isn't necessarily competitive anymore), when he achieved marathon times in the 2 hour, 20 minute range (phenomenally fast), including finishing as high as fifth (first American) at the Boston Marathon in 1964. He has been a longstanding contributing writer for Runner's World magazine, and has written over 30 books, mostly on running.

The biggest strength of Marathon is the breadth of topics that are covered. For example, there are chapters on beginning runners, "Your First Marathon," how to build up mileage, endurance training, speed training geared toward marathon running (although Higdon recommends you not worry about speed training for your first marathon), injuries, and even a whole chapter on "mind games" to help you get through the mental challenge associated with running for 3 plus hours (if you're really good) or 4 plus hours (if you are a normal, average jogger). I thought that two chapters in particular were very helpful, mostly because I had never really thought about them before. The first was "The Distance Runner's Diet," which helps you try to get your nutrition in good form to help you run 26.2 miles (I'll admit that I haven't really put this into practice myself, but I hope to). The "Diet" chapter also referred me to Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, which I hope to read soon and which looks like a fabulous book to help learn how to eat properly, not just for sports, but for life. The second chapter that I found really helpful was "Predicting Pace and Performance." This chapter talked about the ways you can predict what your race pace should/might be, and how to use that information to determine what your pace should be during some of your workouts. Higdon listed several methods, the most useful being McMillan Running Calculator, a truly fabulous tool for calculating paces and planning workouts. (By the way, Greg McMillan's website also has a great article on some of the physiological reasoning behind different training methods that really helped me understand the importance of long easy runs, shorter and faster tempo/threshold runs, and speedwork, even for long distance training).

Finally, Marathon also points you to Hal Higdon's personal website, halhigdon.com where he has includes tons more information on more specific training details and a link to a very good forum that he checks and posts on quite frequently where you can get more specific questions answered. Higdon's website alone is worth the price of admission for the Marathon book.

Like Marathoning for Mortals, Marathon doesn't go into incredible detail on how to do the actual training, day to day (although it is more detailed than Mortals), but there are other great books and websites for that. What Marathon does do very well is cover just about every topic that is related to running a marathon, and Higdon does a great job of pointing to other sources of information where you can learn more (the McMillan Calculator and Sports Nutrition Guidebook being two examples that I have already mentioned). Overall, Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide pretty much lives up to its name. It can, and should, be one of the first places you turn to get a question about this difficult race answered

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