Training to Run Your First Half or Full Marathon

Foxtrotter (MA) Marathon
November 1981

Foxtrotter (MA) Marathon
November 1982

Foxtrotter (MA) Marathon
November 1982

So you want to run a marathon or half-marathon? That's great. I hope you make it! Distance running can bring a lot of satisfaction, and I still remember the four marathons I ran and the satisfaction I felt upon completing them. This web page is for recreational runners who are not concerned about how fast they can complete a long distance race but want to enjoy running that distance and who want to run without injury. I'm giving training tips that will help you run injury free. The suggestions given in this page are the basis for training plans for running your first
half-marathon or marathon. These plans encourage you to add extra weeks if you need more time to prepare for the distance.

In the following information, I give distances in both miles and kilometers. The kilometers are rounded to give values that are whole numbers.

Don't even think of training for a half-marathon or a full marathon until you have a good base of at least 24 miles (39 km) per week. A "good base" means that you have run that distance for several months and that you enjoy it. You feel comfortable with that distance. No sore throats or side stitches. No feeling overly tired after your runs. You experience no serious pain after your runs. Why 24 miles (39 km) per week? Because that is about half the minimum weekly distance you'll need to do for your training, and doubling your mileage is a big stress on your body. Do your distance training by following the "heavy/light" model that is given in the running literature. If you do a "heavy-stress" run today, do a "light-stress" run or walk or light cross-training tomorrow.

Dr. George Sheehan, a former medical columnist for Runner's World, said it takes 48 hours for ones body to recover from a heavy run. If you run heavy every run, your body can't fully recover from the runs, and residues of stress build up and eventually may lead to injury. For me, a light run is about half the distance of my heavy run. A good base of at least 24 miles (39 km) per week is something like three 6 milers (10 km each) and two 3 milers (5 km each).

Now that you have a good base of at least 24 miles (39 km) per week and you feel fine after your runs, you're ready to begin training for your race. The picture is at mile 18 in my third marathon, the Green Mountain Marathon in Vermont. My son, Chad, joined me for a few hundred yards.

An important "rule" in running is the 10% rule. Don't increase the stress from running (either distance or pace or both) more than approximately 10% at a time, and remain at the new level until you feel comfortable with it. Some folks may want to follow a 5% rule, especially as they get into higher mileage. By following this rule, you'll give your body sufficient time to adjust to each new stress level. Part of injury free running is giving your body sufficient rest. Some of you will want to run 6 days per week, and that's fine. Do what is appropriate for your body. Listen to your body and if you feel tired or develop unusual soreness, take a day off.

Before you run your race, you'll need to be running at least 38 miles (61 km) per week for half-marathon training or 45 miles (73 km) per week for a full marathon training, and running 40 miles (64 km) or 50 miles (81 km) or more for the two distances is even better. This means you'll be increasing your distance by slowly increasing your runs and by choosing one of the days for your "long" run. Running a half-marathon or a marathon is very stressful, and you need to run a lot of miles to help your body handle the stress. How long will it take to work up to 38 miles (61 km) or 45 miles (73 km) per week? As long as you need. We're all different. Some of you will only need a few months, while some of you may need a year or more. For a half-marathon, part of the 38 miles (61 km) should be a long run of 13 - 15 miles (21 - 24 km). This distance helps you have the endurance to complete the half-marathon or marathon distance. If you're training for a half, you're finished with your training when you are comfortable with the long run of 13-15 miles ( 21 - 24 km).

Before you run your marathon, you'll need to have run your 45 miles (73 km) long enough that you feel comfortable with it and have no pain after any of the runs. One day I was in the middle of my 15-mile long run and saw a friend. I stopped to talk with him, and he was surprised that I wasn't breathing heavily. I was breathing faster than I would have been if I were walking, but I wasn't "panting". My body was comfortable with my distance even though I was running 7-minute miles during that run!

Once you've become comfortable with your long run, try to run it all year long, like the post office through "rain, sleet, or snow".

If you're training for a marathon, stretch your long run out to 20 miles (33 km), and do your 20 miler three weeks before your marathon. At about 20 miles (33 km), many runners "hit the wall", meaning they've used up their energy supply, and their body burns fat. It's good to do this as a heavy stress on your body, but you'll need the following three weeks to recover before you run the 26.2 miles (42.26 km). Use the 10% rule as you stretch your long run out to 20 miles.

After you've completed your first marathon and are training for subsequent marathons, you can run additional 20+ mile (33+ km) runs, but allow three or four weeks between each one. Your body will become stronger as you run training distances that approach the marathon distance. However, if you hit the wall in these longer runs, stop. Don't try and run through the wall. Focus on getting more energy into your cells and in increasing your VO2max. The effect of these longer runs is that your body stores more energy and "pushes" the legendary "wall" out farther and farther, and eventually you'll push the wall out past the 26.2 miles of a marathon, and you won't hit the wall during your marathons.

Don't do speed training while you're doing a lot of distance training. As I mentioned above, this page is for recreational runners who want to finish a half-marathon or a marathon without worrying about speed. Mixing speed and distance puts an awfully large stress on your body, with a resulting high risk of injury.

Drink water or a sports drink as you train, especially during your long run. In my younger days, I carried a water bottle in a fanny pack. I now use a Fuel Belt with six 8-ounce bottles.

During the last two weeks for half-marathon training or three weeks for marathon training before your race, don't do any long runs. Taper your distance and just run a few easy miles three or four times during the week at a slow pace so your body can rest. Doing long runs during the taper won't help your performance, and it will likely hurt your time because you may start the race with insufficient rest. Reductions in distance during the taper are typically 30-50%.

On the day before the race, put extra glycogen into your muscles. This will give you extra energy during the race. This is referred to as "carbo-loading". Be careful, though, that you don't overeat the night before your race. Use training runs before the race to help you determine how much you can eat the night before and not have problems the next day.

Since this is your first marathon, run slower than you did during your training runs, thereby saving your energy for the end of the race. As I mentioned above, I ran 7 minute miles during my long runs. However, during the marathon, I started with 8:30 miles and ended up with an average of 9 minute miles. After you hit the wall, you'll probably find yourself walking some of the distance. That's fine. Walk/jog to

finish the race if that is what your body is telling you it needs. I had read somewhere that bananas are a quick source of energy, so I carried four bananas during all of my marathons, and I ate one each hour. I don't know if they helped, but I didn't get cramps from eating them, and they didn't seem to be a problem. Some runners take gels during the race to get extra energy into their body. Gels are concentrated and need about 8 ounces of water per gel. Practice with them during your training runs before your race.

To keep your energy level up, you'll need to drink water during the race. You won't have to carry it, though, because there will be water stops along the route. In the picture I have a cup of water. The picture was taken during my third marathon in which I broke 4 hours with a time of 3:59:22.

If you've trained properly, after the half-marathon or the marathon is over, you shouldn't feel pain in your legs or feet. Rest during the first week or take a few slow, short jogs to let your body recover. Get plenty of sleep. My marathons were on Saturday. I rested Sunday and then jogged about 1/2 mile (1 km) on Monday. My body took about a month to fully recover from a marathon. During that time I slowly advanced to my normal pace and distance. Above all, enjoy your training, and enjoy your accomplishment! It's great to be a marathoner!

Click here for a half-marathon or a marathon training plan that uses the principles discussed in this page.

Here is an article about the stress of running a marathon.
Here is an article about hitting the infamous "wall".
Here are articles on sports nutrition and endurance training
Here is an article about the effects of marathons on your body
Here is an article about the feelings of being a marathoner.
Here are tips for running a marathon.


Mudrunner said...

Thanks for sharing this to us, looking forward always for more updates. Great job well done, Congratulations ! It gives us more ideas too.

king solomon said...

I have to agree with everything in this post. Thanks for the

useful information.
Improve Mileage