If you’re ready to tackle that first marathon, I’m supremely happy you’re learning to transition from the half marathon to marathon. It’s a massive win to have that training under your belt for preventing injuries, burn out and just having more fun with all the milestones.
Marathon training for beginners focuses on how to transition from running half marathons to 26.2. There is SO MUCH that I want to share with you, you’ll find links to more details on most of these tips. That way you can find the one’s where you need to work the most and go deeper.
Is a marathon simply twice as hard as a half marathon?
The best estimate I’ve seen is that the marathon is roughly 3.5 times as hard.
Being a coach for 12+ years, has helped ensure I remember all the little things that go in to making the jump from running 13.1 to 26.2 and the right beginner marathon training.
If you’ve already been running half marathons, then here’s what you need to know about how to train for a marathon. Since I know many of you are considering this leap, I wanted to pull out a few key lessons and hope they help you understand how to train for a marathon when you’re ready.
Honestly, I could fill a book with tips and plans…and I did. So consider this your primer!
1. Focus Less On Pace
Worry less about speed and more about time on your feet. This remains true for most runners even as they progress to wanting to PR the marathon. There is a benefit to volume and to learning to run easy.
During the middle to peak phase of training, you are helping your body get used to the stress of moving for extended periods of time and turning on your fat burners so you won’t need to rely on too many gels.
- You don’t need to be a certain pace to go from the half to the full
- You do need to have a sold amount of running under your belt; rule of thumb is at least a year
- Recognize the value of walking as part of training
- Learn how to pace yourself while running outside
2. Break Up the Training Plan
How long do you need to train for a marathon?
A first time marathon plan can easily be 18 to 24 weeks, which is a VERY long time to stay motivated for something in the distant future.
This makes it far too easy to skip runs here and there. Instead focus the first part of your training on a half marathon around the mid-way point, this will allow you to increase miles and still enjoy some speed work for a new goal.
I didn’t dive in to any specific marathon training plan here because I’ve outlined all the major one’s to help you decide which method is going to best work with your life, goals and running preferences.
— >> How to pick the right marathon plan
3. Test Out On the Run Fuel
Technically the body can store enough glycogen to get you through a 20 mile run, which is why you’re far less likely to bonk in a half marathon. BUT that’s not to say you shouldn’t be fueling during your runs!
The marathon represents a new challenge of maintaining steady energy throughout to beat the dreaded wall, which is a result of your body switching from fat burning to carbohydrates and well…because it’s a big task you’re asking of your body.
Without the right fueling you are likely to:
- Increase injury risk
- Feel worse during the workout
- Recover much slower, making the rest of your workouts harder
- Be ravenous later in the day or on rest days
Practice Better Fueling
One of the biggest issues for most first time marathon runners is being able to take in enough fuel.
This only gets better by being consistent with practicing fueling during your long runs and eve testing it out on speed work days.
Ideally we want to be taking in 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour.
It’s time to figure out which kind of fuel works for you. Many runners find a specific brand doesn’t upset their stomach, while others lead straight to the nearest porta-potty. You must test and don’t be afraid to use whole foods!
Hydrate Beyond Water
Figure out how you’ll carry water on your long runs and then practice sipping it along the way, not guzzling.
Putting electrolytes in your water while running will provide the immediate taste of sweetness in the mouth which can trick the body in to believing it’s received carbs. Plus the salt is going to encourage you to drink enough.
Getting dehydrated is going to ruin your run and your day!
Fueling Around Workouts
Remember what you eat around workouts is also important for energy and reducing inflammation. Trust me it can be a massive game changer when you learn how to fuel before and after these runs!! It’s worth working on.
4. Don’t Neglect Long Runs
Don’t look too far ahead in the training plan or work with a coach who only gives you a few weeks at a time. When your longest run ever has been 13.1 miles it can and should be mildly terrifying to realize that many weeks your long run will be longer!
- Just deal with the current long run, not next week
- Do NOT skip your long runs – they take the most time and thus are often the first to be ditched when life gets busy…but that will hurt you in the end (injury, race day DNF and so much more)
- Celebrate every new personal distance record, it makes those miles more exciting
- Remember this is a mental game and that pain might be all in your head (seriously your body is going to find ways to trick you in to stopping because this is hard)
- Learn the difference between discomfort and pain — it’s a big difference between injury and quittin
If you want to know how long it takes to run a marathon, you’ll get a much better idea of that answer as you keep doing the long runs.
Many of us are surprised to find that 17 miles feels not so bad and then 20 suddenly feels like we need to slow way down to keep going.
I love this shirt! “My name is Debbie, but most people call me on your left.”
5. Try Sharing the Experience
While I do love the benefits of solo long runs, having someone at your side during those new personal distance records training runs. That’s right suddenly your weekend long run is longer than your previous race distance…it’s mentally scary to realize that!
If you can’t find some one crazy enough to also train for a marathon, ask friends to meet you for portions of the run or get a friend to bike along with you.
Scared to join a running group? I’ve got you covered with all the tips you need >>
6. Remember It’s a Journey
After a particularly difficult or disappointing run, which happens to everyone, it can feel like the end of the world/your running life at the time.
Remember one bad run doesn’t meant you’re going up in flames! In fact, maybe that bad run was actually your body saying it needed a rest day or jet lag or a cold coming on. Checkout my tips on dealing with bad runs.
And more importantly, remember to ENJOY the run and to focus on why you choose to tackle a marathon to begin with. Let go of all your mental expectations about how you should be doing or how it should feel and just embrace the entire journey!
This is an incredible journey and you are achieving insane things every single week of training!!
Other questions about marathon training, let me know in the comments!
Looking for more first marathon tips?
There’s SOOOOO much to learn in this process that I created a complete training series:
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