Hal Higdon is the 90-year-old internet king of running plans.
His mark has surpassed his running career, a storied résumé that included eight appearances at the USA Track & Field Olympic Trials and a personal best of 2:21:55.
Now his name has grown into a brand synonymous with training plans for every type of runner, from novice to Boston marathon riders.
“For him everything revolves around the democratization of running,” said his daughter Laura Sandall. “It was important to him that everyone who wanted to get out and run has a training program at hand.”
At their fingertips and at the top of Google search results. Its free training plans remain some of the most widely used – a rarity in a world where most plans and coaches are geared towards runners willing to spend hundreds of dollars on personalized schedules.
His unique blend of enthusiasm, a deep understanding of the sport, and a large, supportive family have kept him in mind for both intermediate and novice users. But according to Higdon and his family, this was not his plan.
Higdon started running in high school and began looking for various ways to train for races as a student-athlete at Carleton College in the late 1940s. “I was a cheeky little freshman and sophomore with training ideas of my own,” he said in a telephone interview. He refined his expertise as an elite runner in both the youth and master classes and took his family with him on the ride.
Before there were water stations at the races, his family stood with water cups on the edge of the courses. His kids fondly remember spaghetti dinners before marathons. This is how they remember when marathon greats like Bill Rodgers stopped by the family for a meal or two.
Back then, Higdon made a living from freelance writing on a variety of subjects. But the continuous line continued to work with athletes and wrote for runners. It wasn’t until 1990, when a friend recruited him from high school to make plans for Chicago marathon runners, that he began creating training plans for a larger audience.
“I don’t think I could have predicted my life at any point,” he said, speaking with the enthusiasm of someone who has never come down from a runner’s high. “I went with the flow. I had the intelligence I soaked up over the decades, especially for the kind of people who had no idea that they were going to be runners. “
In 1993 he wrote “Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide”, now in its fifth edition. He signed up for a website in 1994, the same year that Oprah Winfrey ran the Marine Corps Marathon. Running had reached new mainstream fever levels.
The Higdon family – three children and nine grandchildren – had trained for what was to come. Higdon began naming some of his family members: Jake (or, as Higdon called him, grandson # 5) and Jake’s father, David, helped keep the website up to date. His granddaughter Sophie dived into Instagram. He started talking about the role of his son Kevin before interrupting himself for fear he wouldn’t give everyone the same credit in the family business.
“Without leaving anyone out, the whole family is involved,” he said. “It might as well be called the legacy of the Hal Higdon team.”
Jake estimated that approximately 2 million people used the training plans online each year. Recently the website added two programs – TrainingPeaks and a RunwithHal app – that are based on subscription. But, Jake added, it was a total no-starter to ever remove programs from the site. More than 90 percent of runners only use the free plans.
“He’s never been there to make a ton of money,” he said. “Erecting that barrier would really run counter to trying to reach runners of all levels.”
And he reaches her. Sure, it’s a family matter. But every family member I spoke to was adamant: Hal speaks to runners on Facebook and Twitter. He was an early social media user, said his daughter Laura Sandall, and the family put in place a system that allowed him to do what he did best.
“Grandpa Hal is the one who still interacts with users,” said Kyle, a proud Higdon grandson. “He treats all users the same way he treated me. It’s like they’re his grandchildren or children, his Hal Higdon running community. And I think that shows in the way he answers each individual’s questions and makes sure that he enjoys the training. “
Higdon has been slowing down his own pace recently (well, he ran seven marathons in seven months for his 70th birthday) and is now opting for less strenuous workouts. He drives two and a half miles with his wife Rose to his favorite coffee shop, Al’s Supermarket. That, he said, “made it possible for me to live into old age.”
His family doesn’t deny this, but they say his online community has kept him busy too.
“He gets up early every morning,” said Sandall. “I get notifications for his tweets.”
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Jordan Gray is the US record holder in the women’s decathlon. But she and her colleagues can only fight for Olympic places in the heptathlon with seven events. The decathlon is restricted to men.
That doesn’t go down well with many athletes and fans. Gray’s movement – Let Women Decathlon – is approaching 20,000 signatures for the inclusion of the women’s event for the Olympics in the name of gender equality in athletics and is gaining the support of Olympic icons who broke similar barriers decades ago.
On June 26th, long jumper Quanesha Burks qualified for her first Olympic Games. The 26-year-old jumped a personal best of 6.96 meters and finished third.
Two days later, she uploaded a “Tell yourself so” compilation on TikTok. The video cuts between different shots of the athlete saying the same thing. “I’m going to be an Olympian,” she said, “I’m going to the Olympics.”
The video ends with her standing at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon and doing enough to make this possible.
Do the systems designed to catch cheaters really protect Olympic athletes? Lindsay Crouse, writer and producer for The New York Times Opinion section, spoke to Mary Harris, host of Slate’s “What’s Next” podcast, about how controversial drug testing can hamper athletes’ Olympic dreams. Listen.
One last repetition
Post-Covid Syndrome is still not well understood. So doctors are throwing up the kitchen sink to help these patients get well – and get back to exercise.
They customize treatments for other diseases and, with permission, record data from personal fitness trackers from athletes like Apple Watches, Garmins, and Fitbits, which endurance athletes use to tell them how fast and far they have gone, writes Jen Miller.