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Fourth Edition

The following excerpt is the introduction to the fourth edition of Hal Higdon’s best-selling Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide. Click here to purchase this book.

What would we do for fun if the Persians had won the Battle of Marathon? This thought occurred to me while I was in Greece recently to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of that battle—and the legendary run from Marathon to Athens by Pheidippides, who announced "Rejoice, we conquer," and immediately died.

That legend—and it is more "legend" than historical fact—inspired a race in 1896 at the first modern Olympic Games over the same 25-mile route. Only 17 runners participated in that first marathon. In 2010, 20,000 runners appeared for the 2,500th anniversary celebration, and races with twice as many runners had become common throughout the world in Berlin and London and New York and Chicago and beyond. Races that, by the way, are called "marathons," that term having conveniently taken hold as a description of a running race 26 miles 385 yards long.

In 1993, Rodale Press published the first edition of Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide. The book featured a red cover with a photograph of a dozen or so elite men (no women) charging off the starting line.

A half dozen years later in 1999, the book had sold enough copies and the sport had changed sufficiently to justify an updated second edition. Its "white" cover featured a number of mid-pack runners crossing the line in the New York City Marathon, one of them an Italian pop-music singer, Johnny Paoli. (Believe it or not, Rodale's photo editors did not know the runner's identity when they selected the shot.)

By 2005, Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide had established itself as one of the best-selling books for runners training for marathons. More changes in the sport justified a third edition. Its red-and-white cover showed a pastiche of runners, slow and fast, including Svetlana Zakharova of Russia, winning the prestigious Boston Marathon. Yes, the marathon sport had come a long way from the fast men on the cover of the first edition to the fast woman on the cover of the third edition.

The focus of each of those books shifted somewhat as the sport shifted. I gathered much of the information for the first edition from questionnaires sent to marathon coaches and follow-up interviews with those same individuals. Indeed, the cover featured the sub-title: "Strategies from 50 top coaches."

By the time of the second edition, I had become more involved in coaching mid-pack runners, serving both as training consultant for the Chicago Marathon and coach for the Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA) Training Program, which had grown to 2,000 participants.

As we moved into the new millennium, I shifted my attention to providing training programs and answering questions for runners online, both on my popular Web site, halhigdon.com, and on my Virtual Training Bulletin Boards. The third edition featured quotes and stories from and about members of my online "V-Team."

All three of these groups—coaches, (in-person) runners and (online) runners—provided a research base for this fourth edition, but I also have been central to the explosion of running information on the Internet. My Website has attracted more than 5 million "viewers." It ranks among the top-20 most viewed running sites both in the U.S. (13th) and in the world (17th). But I'm not alone in providing useful information to runners. Google the words "marathon training" (as I just did) and you will encounter 1,170,000 links.

Admittedly, not every search for marathon training help will lead you to useful advice, thus the purpose of this fourth edition: to serve as a gateway for those seeking to conquer the 26 miles 385 yards of the marathon. Also, to recognize that the sport has experienced another major change in the half dozen years since the third edition.

First, more and more women are running, outnumbering men in more and more marathons. Should women train differently than men? That is a question I might have answered, no, a half dozen years ago. I'm less sure of myself now.

Marathons have both become more expensive and more difficult to enter, the Boston Marathon filling its field in 8 hours and 3 minutes after opening for registration. While Big City marathons with their 40,000-runner fields often are "more fun" than smaller races, not everybody enjoys being slowed by crowds—particularly when it comes time to achieve an illusive Boston Qualifier (BQ). Charities continue to attract large numbers to the sport, but running lately has suffered some stress faults, which may need to be mended.

We also have more gadgets, everything from GPS watches to heart monitors to map-tracking devices. I recently recorded an "app" for a training program of mine that you can download onto your iPhone.

Speaking of half marathons, these 13.1-mile events are growing even faster than marathons. More and more new runners (thankfully) now use half marathons as stepping stones to their first marathons. And more and more experienced runners now welcome the surge in half marathons, which allow them to maintain their involvement in the sport without always going the full 26.2-mile distance. At events such as Disney World (Orlando) and Grandma's (Duluth), the accompanying half marathon sells out more quickly than the full.

All this has happened since the publication of the third edition of Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide in 2005. I am happy to offer you this fourth edition as reflecting the sport as it exists today. I want to show you the way to a comfortable finish if you are running your first marathon, or to an improved performance if that is your goal in a latter marathon. Please join me on the starting line.