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Moving Up: How To Go From A Half-Marathon To Your First Marathon

Completing a half marathon is a major accomplishment. But after you have done your first half (or have run several) you will undoubtedly at least be thinking about moving up in distance to the full Monty—the 26.2-mile challenge.

Now chances are after you have crossed the finish line of a half marathon, you probably felt like there’s no way you could have run a step farther than 13.1 miles. Chances are you couldn’t—on that particular day.

Thirteen miles is a heckuva long way to run and 26 just doesn’t seem even remotely possible. But it’s entirely possible that if anyone had told you a year or so earlier that you could run 13 miles, you would have said, “Not a chance.”

Here’s a shocker for you: If you can run 13 miles, you can complete a full 26.2-mile marathon. In fact, because you have already run a half, you are way ahead of most people who begin training for a marathon. You already know what it takes and have demonstrated an ability to run long.

Now, all you have to do, is double the distance. It certainly isn’t easy, but it’s easier than it sounds.

First off, since you already have one (or several) half marathons under your belt, you already have a pretty good approximation of how well you’ll do in a marathon. Simply, double your half-marathon time and add 10-15 minutes to that.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that’s exactly what you’ll run for the marathon (it depends on the course, conditions and other factors), but doing so will give you some sort of idea how long you’ll be out there. For example, if you have run a two-hour half, your marathon time will be roughly 4:15. Maybe a little faster, possibly a bit slower.

The major difference between training for a half-marathon and moving up to the marathon is the length of your long runs. Basically, that’s it. Every other aspect of your training is about the same—speed, hills, recovery runs—but your long runs will have to be longer to train your body and mind for the 26.2-mile challenge.

Even so, the long-run training for the marathon is not that much longer than for the half. Most half marathoners probably ran at least 12 miles on their long runs and many went up to 14-16 miles. To get ready for the marathon, you’ll need to goose those long runs until eventually you can comfortably reach 20 or 21 miles.

Considering you’re already in great shape from the half, moving up your long-run distance is remarkably easy. After finishing the half, give yourself at least a good two or three weeks to recover.

Now, select a marathon (perhaps Austin, Cowtown, Galveston, The Woodlands) are coming up. Assuming you’ve decided on one that will take place in the next two or three months, begin doing your long runs by running 12 miles at a very comfortable pace that is one or two minutes per mile slower than your half-marathon pace.

This should be easy. You’re still in good shape from the half and since you’ll be running slower, you should not have any trouble with this long run. (If it is hard, rest for another week or two. You probably haven’t recovered adequately from the half.) But if the 12-miler was easy to complete, the following week add either a mile or 10-15 minutes to your long run.

And so on. Each subsequent week, add a little distance (either the mile or added time) to your long run total. By increasing your long run distance gradually, your body will easily adapt.

Do your long runs every week or two. On the weekend you aren’t running one, either do a race or do a “long run” which is about half the distance of your longest run. That is, if you’re doing an 18-miler next weekend, run nine or 10 on your easy week. (Some runners—experienced marathoners—do long runs every weekend, year ’round but for newbies that’s too much.)

Within a couple of months, you’ll be knocking out a 20-miler and be surprised how easy it is to stretch your long runs out. But don’t go beyond 20 or 21 miles in prep for your first marathon. That should be your ceiling.

The rest of your training week should be very similar to your half-marathon training—lots of easy runs, some hills with one speed workout a week. On that speed day, you may also want to gradually lengthen those outs so you’re doing longer repeats, tempo runs and cruise intervals that are more applicable to marathon training.

If you have just run the Decker Challenge Half and are thinking about running the Austin Marathon on February 16, you still have time to get ready. But you should start doing long runs immediately to give you time to build up to 20. Plus, the Austin course is somewhat similar to Decker in that it is extremely hilly. Decker was good prep for Austin, but on your long runs you will need to incorporate hills. One other thing to consider if you’re gearing up for Austin is at least one long race. Perfect for pre-marathon practice is the Rogue 30-K (18.6 miles) on January 5th in Cedar Park.

Keep in mind the marathon isn’t a speed event. It’s all about training your body and mind to handle the unique demands of moving continuously for 26.2 miles. The long run is the key.

Search this site for plenty of other marathon-training workouts, long run tips and other advice for marathon prep.

Good luck.