I love the half-marathon and have run more than I can count. It’s a great distance and the training is tough but, doable and very, very satisfying.
As every half-marathoner knows, there is nothing like crossing the finish line and receiving that finishers medal. Plus, there are so many great half-marathons with incredible courses like the NYC Half Marathon or the Covered Bridges Half Marathon in Hartford, VT.
That being said, the marathon is the crown jewel of road racing and if you’re a runner, I’m sure you’ve been asked more than a few times if you’ve run a marathon. If you’re considering the jump up to 26.2, here are my three signs that you’re ready.
#1 Training Readiness
You’re ready to move up to the marathon if you’re handling half-marathon training with “ease.” I put ease in quotations because this doesn’t mean that all your training runs are easy. It simply means that you’re finding you’re never overly tired after your key workouts and long runs, and you’re able to hit your training goals consistently, week to week, while training for a half.
Another sign you’re ready is if you have don’t have any nagging injuries and aren’t feeling fatigued for days on end when you are in the thick of your training.
In short, if you find that you’re challenging yourself in your half-marathon training, you recover, and then do it again with a flow and rhythm that suits you, you are ready to move up to the marathon. (See my tips below for how to advance your training to get marathon ready.)
#2 Life Wiggle Room
This is an important one. Marathon training won’t be double the amount of training you’ve done for the half-marathon, but it will require a little extra time, and you want to be sure your schedule can handle it. While all of us are busy, you’ll need to have 6-8 weeks before the marathon (the heaviest training segment) where you aren’t burning the candle at both ends. In other words, if you are an accountant, don’t plan your jump up to the marathon around April 15.
I call this the “wiggle room” factor. You’ll need to schedule your days so that one to two days per week (featuring a mid-week fitness-building workout and weekend long run), you aren’t squeezing in your runs. You need time to prepare for, perform and then recover from the marathon-specific training runs. This can’t happen with a fully booked schedule. And, it’s always good to build a little wiggle room into your schedule for when “life happens” (and it will!).
This, however, doesn’t mean you can’t do all the things you currently do. It just means you need to plan to have a couple of days per week where you aren’t overscheduled. Marathon training requires not just extra training, but extra recovery time as well.
Oh, and one more thing. It’s best to find a buddy or charity group to train with when taking on your first marathon. The power of accountability from a group can really help.
#3 Is the Thrill Gone?
Have your half-marathon performances hit a plateau? Do you find you just don’t get excited about the next race? If so, then it’s time to switch gears, and moving on to the marathon distance could be just the thing you need to get motivated. It’s also an opportunity to take your fitness to a new level. By really “hunkering down” and focusing for 8-10 weeks as you prepare to run 26.2 miles, you just might surprise yourself with the level of fitness you can reach.
There is no better motivation to get up and out the door than knowing you need to prepare for the marathon distance. I myself have used spring marathons, like Boston, as a way to stay motivated through the winter months, where I might typically slack off if I didn’t have a big goal in front of me.
Training Tweaks – Half-Marathon to Marathon Training
If the signs above fit you, then it’s time to get registered for an upcoming marathon like the Tacoma City Marathon, or the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. Because you are already in half-marathon shape, you’ll just need 2-4 months to get ready for 26.2. Here are some tweaks you’ll need to make to your half-marathon training to get marathon ready.
Longer long runs
For the half, you needed to get ready for 13.1. For the marathon, you need to get ready for 26.2. This will necessarily require that you extend your long runs. Do you need to run 20 milers every weekend? No, but you will need to build up your long runs to get the body and mind ready for race day. Check out my Marathon Long Run article for details on this type of run.
Longer fast finish runs
One key to feeling better in long races is to perform fast finish long runs (also broken down in my Marathon Long Run article). For the marathon, you’ll want to do 2-3 of these specialty runs so you get ready to up your intensity as your body and mind naturally fatigue in the marathon. A few of these workouts are all you need to be ready for the marathon home stretch.
Longer key workouts
For all marathoners (those training to finish and those training to finish faster), I recommend one workout per week that boosts one aspect of your fitness. These fun, yet challenging workouts help boost your leg speed, stamina and running power and take your overall fitness to a new level.
You probably remember how you fueled along the route for your half-marathon and you can imagine that you’ll need to be even more diligent with your nutrition for a marathon distance. In your long runs, you can use these, particularly the fast finish long runs, as dress rehearsals for race day. Eat the same breakfast and use the same nutrition plan as you will on race day and with a little trial and error, you can find the perfect plan for you. Check out my Long Run Fueling article to learn more about the right fueling plan for you.
Having coached thousands of marathoners over the last 20 years, I can tell you that it will be a life changing experience. The task, running 26.2 miles, may seem daunting, but with the fitness you’ve built in half-marathon training, I’m confident you will reach the finish line and bag your first marathon medal!
Greg McMillan has been called “One of the best and smartest distance running coaches in America” by Amby Burfoot of Runner’s World. He’s is National Champion runner and an exercise physiologist. Runners of all abilities, from new runners to age groupers to Olympians use his training and coaching to reach their goals. Visit his website to access all his training resources.