Hal Higdon, 90 Year King of Education Plans

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Hal Higdon is the 90-year-old internet king of plans.

His brand went beyond his running career, with eight appearances in the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials and a storied resume that included a personal best marathon time of 2:21:55.

Now the name has become a brand synonymous with training plans for all types of runners, from beginners to Boston Marathoners.

“It’s all about the democratization of running,” said her daughter, Laura Sandall. “It was all about making sure everyone who wanted to go out and run had a training program at their fingertips.”

At your fingertips and at the top of Google search results. Free training plans have remained one of the most common – a rarity in a world where most plans and coaches cater to runners willing to spend hundreds of dollars on personalized programs.

His unmatched enthusiasm, deep understanding of the sport, and a large, supportive family have kept him in mind for advanced and novice runners alike. But that wasn’t quite his plan, according to Higdon and his family.

Higdon started running in high school and began exploring different ways to train for races while a student-athlete at Carleton College in the late 1940s. “I was a spoiled little freshman and sophomore who came up with my own educational ideas,” he said in a phone interview. Developing his expertise as an elite runner in both the youth and master classes, he took his family for a ride with him.

Before the water stations were installed at the races, his family used to stand at the side of the tracks with glasses of water. Her kids fondly remember eating spaghetti before marathons. Do they also remember marathon greats like Bill Rodgers stopping by the family home for a meal or two?

In those days, Higdon made a living as a freelance writer on a variety of subjects. But the crossing line continued to work with athletes and write for runners. In 1990, when a high school friend hired him to design plans for the Chicago Marathon runners, he began drafting training plans for a wider audience.

“I don’t think I could have predicted my life at any point in time,” he said, speaking with the enthusiasm of someone who has never stepped down from the top of a runner. “I went with the flow. Especially for someone who had no idea he was going to be a runner, I had the intelligence I had absorbed over the decades.”

In 1993, he wrote “Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide,” now in its fifth edition. She signed up for a website in 1994, when Oprah Winfrey ran the famous Marine Corps Marathon. Running was a new hit main curtain of fire.

The Higdon family – three children and nine grandchildren – were training for what would become. Higdon began naming some of his family members: Jake (or grandson number 5, as Higdon calls it) and Jake’s father, David, who helped update the website. Her granddaughter Sophie has taken to Instagram. Before she cut herself off, she started talking about the role of her son Kevin, worried she wouldn’t give equal credit to everyone in the family business.

“Without leaving anyone out, the whole family is included,” he said. “It could also be called the Hal Higdon team legacy.”

Jake estimates that about 2 million people use his education plans online each year. More recently, the site added two subscription-based programs: TrainingPeaks and the RunwithHal app. But Jake added that removing any program from the website is not entirely the start. More than 90 percent of runners only use the free plans.

“He never went into this business to make a ton of money,” he said. “Putting that barrier would really fly in the face of trying to reach runners of all levels.”

And it reaches them. Sure, it’s a family affair. But every family member I spoke to was adamant about one thing: Hal talks to runners on Facebook and Twitter. His daughter, Laura Sandall, was an early adopter of social media, and the family set up a system to let her do what she does best.

“Grandpa Hal who is still interacting with the users,” said Kyle, a proud Higdon grandson. “He treats all users the way he treats me. It’s like his grandchildren or children are like Hal Higdon’s running community. And I think that comes through in the way each person answers their questions and makes sure they enjoy their training.”

Higdon has recently slowed his pace (he ran seven marathons in seven months for his 70th birthday) and now prefers lower-impact workouts. With his wife, Rose, he bikes two and a half miles to his favorite cafe, Al’s Supermarket. This is what allows me to “live a joyful old age,” he said.

His family doesn’t discuss it, but they say his online community also keeps him busy.

“He gets up early every morning,” Sandall said. “I’m getting alerts for their tweets.”

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