Preparing for Your First Half or Full Marathon
You’ve dabbled in short-distance events and are thinking about going big for your next race. Here’s what you need to know when training for a half or full marathon:
Increase Your Training Volume
It may seem obvious, but as you increase your race distance, your training volume will need to go up. It’s important to understand that you need to make time to train more, which includes the all-important weekly long run. Long runs can start around eight miles and build to 12 miles or more for a half marathon. Marathons require long preparatory runs that build up from 10 miles to a few 20 or 22 milers.
As far as weekly miles, it’s common for novice runners to run 20–35 miles a week while training to finish a half marathon and 35–50 miles a week for a marathon. Build up to this mileage slowly to prevent injury; three to five runs a week is sufficient.
Allow Time for Your Body to Adapt to Training
Most running injuries occur from doing too much too soon. It’s essential to allow your body to adapt to the increased volume and intensity over time. For each athlete, this time may be different depending on your experience, but generally, less experienced runners need to build up miles over 6–8 months to do a marathon.
Even for intermediate runners who have experienced a few half marathons, I suggest at least 4–6 months to build up to a full marathon. Follow the 10% rule: increasing total weekly volume no more than 10% each week. If you’re a new runner who has done a few 5K or 10K events and want to do a half marathon, I suggest taking two to three months to allow your body to adapt. This adjustment period helps prevent injuries.
Be Committed and Allow Proper Recovery
During my time coaching, I’ve seen more success with athletes who understand and commit to the training, including recovery time. Training for extended events not only takes more time to run more miles, but also requires more sleep, more time to stretch and foam roll, and taking ice baths. You may need to discipline yourself to get up early to train and will be putting more miles on your shoes more quickly, requiring you to replace them more often. Running in good shoes will help you stay injury-free, but know that each pair will last 300–500 miles at the most.
Listen to Your Body
As your training volume goes up, so does the risk of injury. It’s important to listen to your body. If you’ve been running long enough, you’ve probably heard this phrase before, but what does it mean? Soreness and pain are part of training, but when is it too much? I teach my athletes to ask these questions to differentiate pain/soreness from injury:
- Is the pain on one side or both?
- Is the pain sharp or just a dull ache?
- Is it getting better or worse over time or during a run?
- Does the pain come and go?
Pain on one side can indicate a muscular imbalance or a potential injury. Often running on busy roads can lead to this and cause injuries, meaning a change of terrain could be needed. If the pain is sharp, sudden, or persists, go to a sports medicine doctor. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor about your plans before running or starting a training program. It’s not worth pushing through pain and ending up having a lingering injury that can put you out for months.
Common running injuries include: shin splints, IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, runners’ knee (Chondromalacia), and stress fractures. Most of these are overtraining injuries, so do some research and understand the signs and symptoms to avoid these pitfalls. Ease into training properly, and take time off for recovery to avoid most of these.
Find the Right Race
There are many things to consider when choosing a race: the location, cost, and terrain. The factor that impacts training the most is terrain. Most race websites have race route maps and elevation profiles to review. Over the years, I’ve been surprised by how many runners toe the line, knowing nothing about the race they plan to run. As a coach, the training I provide my athletes reflects conditions they’ll face on race day. If it’s mainly downhill, or hilly, your training should reflect that. If you’re running a trail race versus a road race, you’ll want to do the bulk of your training on trails.
If this is your first long-distance event, start with a milder road half or full marathon over a trail event. Generally, trail races are more challenging than road races, requiring different shoes and for you to bring fuel and hydration supplies along.
Hire a Coach
I’ve always preached, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” It’s valuable to have an outside perspective, especially for your first long event like a marathon. Sometimes it’s hard to see what you need in training when you’re fatigued or tired, which often happens as training volume increases. A coach can provide valuable insight, structure, advice, nutrition suggestions, and motivation for their athletes. Coached athletes usually experience less injury and are more likely to achieve their goals.