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Marathon and Half Marathon Training for Beginning Runners

Updated on August 6, 2020
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Stephanie has run seven marathons, including the Boston Marathon and numerous half marathons, 10Ks and 5Ks. She loves running and exercise!

Running a Marathon or Half Marathon Requires Training and Planning

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 for People Training for Half and Full Marathons

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 task, but you will not improve pace or endurance.

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 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.

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 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.

Full Marathon Training Plan

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 Running Races in General

Any runner that is looking to enter races should be engaged in a regular running schedule. Whether you are considering a 5K or a technical ultra marathon, or anything in between, training is key to prevention of injuries. With a proper training schedule, you will be able to more fully enjoy your run - whether its a half marathon, a full marathon or any other distance.

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. Don't be fooled by the idea that only those runners that attempt half or full marathons can get injured! Just as you wouldn't drive a sports car that was not fully tuned, training for running races is important for both a strong start and finish.

Strength Training for Marathon Runners

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?

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Stephanie Marshall

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