Marathon and Half Marathon Training for Beginning Runners

Thinking About Running a Marathon or Half Marathon?

If you enjoy running, or are just getting into the sport, a half marathon or full marathon may be on your goal list.

Less than 0.5% of all runners ever complete a full 26.2 mile run - the distance of a marathon. But, as the sport has grown in popularity, more and more people are signing up for races of all distances.

In fact, so many more people are running marathons today than 20 years ago, that they have made it more difficult to qualify for the prestigious Boston Marathon, as well as the New York City Marathon. On the other hand, the half marathon distance (13.1 miles) is an impressive goal, but much more achievable. And, recovery afterwards is significantly shorter. You can train for a half-marathon in less time, as well.

Personally, I have run a total of 7 marathons and 12 half marathons (so far) since 2008, as well as countless 10K and 5K races. I qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon in 2011, and I hope to do so again soon!

If you are thinking about running a marathon or half marathon, with good health and clearance from your doctor, you can probably train for and run either distance within the next 12 months.

Here's how!

Running my first full marathon in 2008
Running my first full marathon in 2008 | Source

Specialized Running Workouts

It has been said that if you do the same run at the same pace over and over, you will get really good at that, but you will not improve.

In other words, if you run a 5-mile loop several times a week at a 10 minute per mile pace, you will eventually be able to do it without feeling winded or too tired.

But what if you want to run farther or faster?

That's where running workouts come into play! These are:

  • Speed work
  • Tempo run
  • Hill repeats

Each are explained below.

Marathon or half marathon finishers are usually awarded medals
Marathon or half marathon finishers are usually awarded medals | Source

Training for a Half Marathon for Beginning Runners

If you have been running consistently for at least 1 year, a half marathon may be easy to achieve.

Even those new to the sport may be prepared to complete a 13.1 mile distance within 8-12 months, if not sooner.

I have been running and racing for more than 20 years, and I have to say that the half marathon distance is my favorite for racing. Its definitely long - the run takes most people 2-3 hours to complete. Its less strenuous and painful than a full marathon.

Recovery is usually quicker, as well. In fact, one of my favorite T-shirts says:

13.1: Half the Distance, Twice the Fun!

That sums it up for me!

If you are training for a half marathon, there are several questions to ask yourself first:

  1. What is your goal for the race? To finish? To achieve a certain time?
  2. Do you have at least 3 months to train?
  3. Will you (and your family) have time for you to devote to workouts and long runs?

General tips for half marathon training include the following:

  • Plan on at least a 12 week training schedule before your race
  • Start with a weekly long run of 6 miles (if possible) and add 1 mile to the total long run each week
  • Cross-train with strength workouts, bicycling, swimming or yoga at least 2 times per week
  • Schedule approximately 2-3 running workouts per week, usually consisting of 1 easy run, 1 running workout (see right) and 1 long run

Basic Advice for Half Marathon Training

Training for Running Races in General

Any runner that is looking to enter races should be engaged in a regular running schedule.

Perhaps surprisingly, you don't have to run every day. In fact, I only run 3 times per week, but also take part in strength/core conditioning classes (2X per week) and spin classes on indoor bicycles (2X per week).

Cross-training is an important part of a runner's preparation for 1/2 and full marathons. By engaging useful muscles in movements that differ from the same, repetitive motions of running on pavement or trails, you can get stronger and prevent injury.

A strong core will help keep a runner's form efficient, and upper body strength is important to help propel you to faster finishing times. Common running injuries can also often be prevented by strengthening the back, abdomen, quadriceps muscles and hamstrings.

How to Train for Your First Half Marathon Race

Training for a Full Marathon

While many people believe that a full marathon effort is only twice that of a half marathon, the truth is that it is considerably more.

I have run many more 1/2 marathons than full marathons in my running career (12 half marathons, compared to 7 full marathons... as well as numerous 10K and 5K races). I have also taken part in lengthy relay races, which are very fun, as well as challenging.

Running a full marathon is a very different effort than shorter races. Pacing yourself can be a difficult task, especially is you tend to go out quickly from the starting line - as I do.

Training for a full marathon usually takes at least 4 months. This time period should be extended if you are a beginning runner, but may be shorter if you have completed many races in recent years.

As with a half marathon, you will be adding 1-2 miles per week to your weekly long run. Do not get overly aggressive because injuries often occur as a result of over-training.

Training for a full marathon, when spread out over at least 4 or 5 months, allows you to gradually build weekly mileage, while dialing back for 1-2 weeks after each of three or four long considerably long runs (18-22 miles).

For a variety of excellent full marathon training schedule depending on your ability and length of time running, check out Runner's World here.

Preparing to run a half marathon with 3 of my friends
Preparing to run a half marathon with 3 of my friends | Source

Training for a Full Marathon

Specialized Running Workouts for People Training for Half and Full Marathons

There are three specialized running workouts for those training for a longer distance race like a half or full marathon. These include speed, hills, and tempo.

Each of these workouts will help you improve your endurance, speed and lung capacity. Your body will adapt to more intense workouts and will be able to push through more difficult tasks in the future, improving your overall performance.

A speed workout is usually conducted in short spurts. My favorite is 1/2 mile (800 meter) repeats, following a 20 minute warm-up, with 1/4 mile (400 meter) recovery in-between. Run hard at 80-90% effort for the 800 meters, and repeat 4-8 times, with recovery. Cool down with a 10 minute easy run.

Running a hills workout is also completed after a 20 minute warm-up. Run up a steep (7-9% incline) for 60-90 seconds at a challenging pace. Cool down for 60-90 seconds, then repeat. Complete 4-8 sets.

A tempo run may be one of the easiest to plan, yet still difficult to accomplish. The goal is to push the pace of your regular run. After a 10-20 minute warm-up, speed up the pace of your run by 60-90 seconds per mile and hold the pace for 20-40 minutes. At the end, cool down for 10 minutes. Many people say that a tempo run should be completed at a 10K race pace. For me, that is about 8:15-8:30 per mile. My usual training pace is 9:20-10:00 per mile.

Strength Training for a Full Marathon

Running a Marathon or Half Marathon Takes Dedication

Once again, you should consult your doctor or other medical professional to ensure you are in good health to train and run a marathon or half marathon.

The sense of accomplishment after completing a distance race cannot be adequately summarized in this hub. I broke into tears as I crossed the finish line after my first marathon in 2008. After completing my most recent marathon in March 2012, I still welled up as I completed the race.

No matter how many races you run and how many miles you complete, a marathon or half marathon race is a major accomplishment!

If you have run a longer race, or are currently training for one, please share your experiences in the comments below!

My sister running the 2008 Portland Marathon
My sister running the 2008 Portland Marathon | Source

Will you Run a Half or Full Marathon?

  • Yes - I love running and cannot wait to complete a longer distance race
  • No - running for more than an hour sounds like torture to me
  • Maybe - I am a runner and would like to build my training for a half or full marathon
  • I have already completed a half or full marathon!
See results without voting

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Comments 36 comments

robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey

Absolutely awesome as usual, Steph-- not that I am even dreaming of becoming part of that elite group of runners that runs marathons-- but you really do explain it all so simply and so well. It takes a lot of dicipline and commitment as well as focus and I stand in awe of you on that score-- I have trouble making it out the door for a long walk along the river. As a friend of mine says--" the hardest part of working out is getting your sneakers on" Well done on every count, Steph.


K Nicole Smith profile image

K Nicole Smith 4 years ago from Huntsville, AL

Kudos to you on what you have accomplished as a runner so far!!! I am just starting. I hope to try a 3k or 5k by end of the year but you make the half marathon sound doable also. Maybe that will be my stretch goal for next year.


twoseven profile image

twoseven 4 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

Great hub! I have done 4 half marathons in the last 2.5 years since I had my son and absolutely love it. I agree that it's really doable, and I was able to reach goals I was really happy with only running three times a week. I really liked Hal Hidgon's training programs, and was able to reach my goals even without completing every single run. Thanks for writing this, you got me excited for my next one! And I hope someday to do a full - that's really inspiring that you have qualified for Boston!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Robie - distance running is not for everyone, for certain. But, those that do enjoy racing can definitely work toward completing a half or full marathon. I should have mentioned that there are training groups for people aiming to walk the distance, rather than run it, as well. Thanks much, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Nicole,

Congratulations to you for starting out with some running goals! We have a training group here where I live that promises to take anyone from couch to finish line in 6 months (or less). There are different levels within the larger group and coaches work with people that train at different speeds, including walking. Keep up the great work and setting goals! Best, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi twoseven - I do like Hal Higdon's training programs too! I used an online training course when I prepared for my first marathon in 2008, and my sister and I kept each other "honest" by exchanging updates on each week's training. If you have completed four half marathons, a full marathon may be a logical next step! Keep up the great work - Cheers, Steph


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States

Thanks steph for providing such a great answer to my question! I was actually watching people come in from a marthon as I was grading papers in my office and so I was wondering what it really took to do that sort of racing. Voted up and useful!


kjrzeek1 profile image

kjrzeek1 4 years ago from New Jersey, USA

I did my 1st half marathon last summer and am looking to do a full marathon this summer, so thanks for the helpful info!


EuroCafeAuLait profile image

EuroCafeAuLait 4 years ago from Croatia, Europe

Hi Steph!

I have run a few 10ks in my day, being a runner in high school (we had the first girls' cross country team in the history of the school). I don't run anymore but swim. Fantastic job as usual, reading your Hub brings back some good memories. Voted up and awesome, you are such a great writer!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Awesome Virginia! Yes, it does take time and dedication to train for a marathon, but I really love the sport. Glad you found the hub useful! Best, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Good luck kjrzeek! Which marathon are you training for this summer? Cheers, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hey there EC, have you ever considered a triathlon? With swimming and a history of running, just add a bicycle segment and you're there! ;) Best, Steph


stessily 4 years ago

Steph, Your marathon hubs are among my favourites; you give wonderful advice, and I was thrilled that you crossed the finish line in the Boston Marathon.

I myself took a less structured approach to training for my marathon; it's a casual approach that worked for me because of the stamina which I have, thanks to meditation, yoga, walking, cycling, swimming, etc.

I would recommend that anyone and everyone read your marathon training hubs. I will follow your example whenever I'm ready to aim for the Boston Marathon! Or, for that matter, for any competitive running.

Very, very well done! UABI.


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 4 years ago from Texas

Stephanie - Someone copied this hub: http://health.bigezine.com/marathon-and-half-marat...


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Stessily,

You are correct that people who are already in shape may take a less structured approach to marathon training. I have broken "rules" about training myself, like last fall when I ran back to back marathons 7 days apart. :) I appreciate the comment and vote. Best to you, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Cindy - I appreciate you and the others in the Elite Writers Network on HP for alerting me to this! I left a comment on the "article" and also contacted the website administrators to alert them to the copyright violation. Best, Steph


bdegiulio profile image

bdegiulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

Great job Steph. Very informative and well written. Love the pictures and video.

Keep running and hubbing.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Bill - appreciate the comment! Best to you, Steph


oceansnsunsets profile image

oceansnsunsets 4 years ago from The Midwest, USA

Hi Steph, I think its awesome that you run like this, good for you! Thanks for sharing this hub and encouraging others to get involved. Voted up, awesome, and interesting.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks so much oceansnsunsets - yes, running is definitely a passion of mine. Glad you enjoyed the hub! :) Best, Steph


breathe2travel profile image

breathe2travel 4 years ago from Gulf Coast, USA

Great article. I want to train initially just for a 5K, to run with my 10 year old who is training with his school team. Do you have any tips for that?

Also - I left a message on the plagiarized page that it's not "Michael Sy"s article. Grrrr. Someone tried to do that to one of my articles, but it was removed within hours, thankfully.

Great article. I am a bit jealous of your athleticism!

Voted up & useful.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks for the support on that bigezine scandal... UGH!

As for training to run a 5K, if you have never run before, pick a short 1-2 mile distance and alternate walking and running. Do this 3x a week (no more) and try to extend the periods during which you are running gradually. When you can complete the entire distance running, add .5 mile per week to the distance, working up to a total of 4 or 5 miles. A 5K is only 3.1 miles, but if you can comfortably run farther, the race will seem easier. Best of luck! How cool that you are going to run with your 10 year old! Cheers, Steph


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 4 years ago from United Kingdom

Congratulations on completing 7 marathons and 12 half marathons, what an achivement.

Great advice here and you are an inspiration!

I do go jogging every day but I'm not ready for a marathon just yet!

Voted up and shared

Best wishes Lesley


Nicole S profile image

Nicole S 4 years ago from Minnesota

Running for a half hour kills me, props to you and those who can do these marathons!!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Lesley,

I really do enjoy running! I am planning on running 2 more full marathons this year, and probably 3 or 4 half marathons. Best to you, Steph


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Ha, Nicole! I didn't start running until I was in my 20s and it was a struggle for a while to get farther than 2 or 3 miles. Best, Steph


TotalHealth profile image

TotalHealth 4 years ago from Hermosa Beach, CA

Nice hub! Lots of stretching helps to avoid injury and using ice afterwards aids in the recovery process. If you're just starting out try running on the treadmill at the gym or home; it's easier on the knees.


kelleyward 4 years ago

Wow Steph you have ran so many marathons! I'm a runner but more of an interval person than long distance. How do you manage your blood sugar levels when running so long? That would be a great hub idea. Thanks for sharing this useful hub! Voted up and awesome. Take care, Kelley


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 4 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Kelley - great question! I should write a hub on blood sugars. I have to get up in the middle of the night to test and make any necessary adjustments.

Over years, I have learned (with some ability to predict) what level I should be at to start, and then I carry running gels with me and take them every 30-40 minutes. For races more than 2 hours, I always have to test at least once, so I have to carry my kit. I always have medical ID and my cell phone too. It is a lot, but very important!

I guess I should write a hub on these topics - two of my favorites together! :) Best, Steph


kelleyward 4 years ago

That would be helpful Steph ! Looking forward to reading it! Take care, kelley


StayPos profile image

StayPos 4 years ago from Florida, USA

Steph,

This is a great hub about the joy and worthwhile dedication it takes to become a half/full marathoner. Thanks for sharing your love of running in such an engaging way. I do a little running myself 2-3 miles several times a week.

As a former high school sprinter this hub definitely gives me pause to consider some real distance running in the future. Voted up and awesome!

Happy Running :-)


truebluewriter profile image

truebluewriter 3 years ago from Manila, Philippines

Great hub. I usually just run 5 and 10ks. I've been wanting to run 15 and 20+ ones but I'm still not sure if I could do it without having to walk some parts lol.

I do more interval training really, and because of my weightlifting background heavy stamina training is something that I don't really do that much (I was really into the "no cardio in order to preserve as much muscle" mentality before lol).

I have started to get into mountain climbing though and me and some friends are actually set to climb mt apo (2nd highest in the Philippines) this summer so I'm really trying to get my stamina and endurance up.

It's mostly just trekking but because of the altitude and elevation it kinda feels like your jogging/running even if you're not. Then there's the distance you have to cover of course. Shortest trek I've done is about 3-4 hours to get to the camp site.

I'll be giving the specialized running workouts a go since it seems that the results I'll be getting from them will work well for mt climbing.

Thanks for the great hub :).


Sheri Faye profile image

Sheri Faye 3 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

Very informative. Thanks. I have been away from running for a year or so due to an injury but am now ready to start again. This has inspired me.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 3 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Sheri- good luck! Its relatively easy to get back into running if you have been a runner before. Hope your re-entry goes well after your injury.

All the best, Steph


hawaiianodysseus profile image

hawaiianodysseus 2 years ago from Southeast Washington state

Good morning, Steph!

The first and ultimate thing that strikes me when I read your hubs about running is the wonderful investment you're making in your overall health so that your hubby and children can have you around for a long, long time. As we approach the holiday season, I think there's no better gift we can give our loved ones than our mindful presence in their lives.

The second thing I experience is this warm and heartfelt awe and appreciation for you and your amazing achievements here in Hubsville. I remember first seeing your photo and reading about you just shy of two years ago when HP used to feature these wonderful success stories. It gave me hope to read your story more than any of the others because, like me, you live in the Pacific Northwest and, well, you're familiar, I'm sure, with the universal trait we humans have of appreciating things we might have in common. Of course, I was certain a relative rookie like me would be on the fringe of HP's elite...and were these indeed REAL people? Ha-ha!

In scanning your prolific, down to earth yet compelling, and spectrum-wide topics, I definitely get why you're at the apex of the HP hierarchy. Congratulations on your topnotch writing, and thank you for being such an inspiration to me and thousands of other aspiring writers.

Best wishes for continued success in your writing, running, professional, and loving wife & mom endeavors!

With warm aloha,

~Joe


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 2 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Good morning Joe! What a wonderful heartfelt comment! I also really enjoyed your fan mail. I do share my passions of the things I love through my writing. It's a wonderful community here at HP and people like you are the reason I keep sticking around after almost 5 years here.

So glad to have found another friend at HP. Wishing you a beautiful day, weekend and more! Best to you, Steph

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