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Half Marathon to Marathon: Things to Know Before Taking the Plunge

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Did you just accomplish your goal to complete a half marathon? Are you now aiming for a full marathon and slightly clueless about it? Then you are on the right page. First thing first - a half marathon is way different from the full marathon. Right from speed, timing, training, recovery methods and of course the distance, there is a huge difference in both marathons. When you sign up for half marathon, you run 13.1 miles (21 kms) whereas a full marathon is 26.2 miles (42 kms). Now, coming to the major difference between half marathon and full marathon - runners face physiological challenges during a full marathon. A runner's body doesn't have the right glycogen stored in the body (the energy to run) and that's the biggest difference between half marathon to marathon. Let's find out the difference and the important factors that will help you take the plunge. 

Half vs. Full Marathon 

If you are planning to start marathon training after the half marathon, you should consider factors like the distance in each format, special physical and mental requirements, the pace to be maintained and your nutritional requirements. Let us look at each of these features one by one.

  • Distance to Be Covered

The biggest jump from half marathon to a full marathon for a runner will be regarding the distance. As the name suggests, the distance of half marathons is half the distance of full marathons. While a runner has to cover a distance of 13.1 miles in a half marathon i.e 21 kms, the distance increases by a factor of two for the full version. This means that a runner will have to train for covering a distance of 26.2 miles i.e. 42 kms in a full marathon. This increase is definitely not a small number.

Not only is the distance much longer in a full marathon, there are drastic differences in the terrain too. The transition from half marathon to marathon requires running through more varied course comprising of steep slopes and downhill terrains. 

 full marathon
Be prepared for 26.2 miles (source)
  • Ideal Pace of the Runner

Since you have to run a much longer distance in a full marathon, you should try to conserve as much energy as possible. The ideal pace of a runner for a full marathon should be adjusted after tracking his/her average pace in a half marathon.

Know all about the Average Human Running Speed: Broken Down Age-wise

Typically, runners aim at pacing their runs at 30 to 60 seconds extra per mile, when going from half marathon to marathon. This also gives them a fair idea about the time they will take to complete the marathon.

  • Body Reserves

When a typical runner tries to cover a distance of 26.2 miles, the body has almost no glycogen reserve left in the body. If glycogen stores in the body are depleted, serious problems like dehydration and muscle injury may follow. However, the body has enough stores of glycogen to run half this distance. This means that if trained properly for a half marathon, your body can recover much faster. This physiological fact is the essence of training for a marathon. And should never be ignored.

  • Recovery Time

Both the formats require a period of rest, where the runner is asked to go easy with the intensity of workouts. However, when going from half marathon to marathon, this recovery period is prolonged from a few days to about six weeks.

More on The Importance of Rest for Runners

  • Nutritional Requirements

In both the formats- half and full marathons, the runner should consume complex carbohydrates before the race. The nutrition requirements for full and half marathon will vary for every additional hour that the runner has to run to cover full marathon distance.

It is recommended that a runner training for full marathon consumes 30 to 60 grams of simple carbohydrates for every additional hour of running involved. This is because as the glycogen stores will be getting lesser after completing half marathon distance, the body will burn out carbohydrates faster.

Similarly, the hydration requirements are more stringent after making the leap from half marathon to marathon. A marathon runner should drink up to 12 ounces of water every 15 minutes. Also, it is important to maintain electrolyte levels and alternating between sports drinks with water for their hydration.

carb loading
Complex carbs are a must
  • Training Details

The fundamental basis of differential training between half marathon and marathon is the ability to run those extra miles. Understanding your fat metabolism is the key to unravel your training schedule.

When training for half marathon, you should aim for more speed because of the lesser number of miles in half marathon. You should try to beat your own personal best time and increase your pace accordingly.

For full marathon training, your main aim should be to increase your endurance. Only after your endurance training has been successfully completed, you should think of pace. This is the key difference between half marathon and marathon training schedule.

full marathon training plan
Full marathon training plan

Progression from Half to full marathon training plan necessitates that the runner trains the body to recover faster after running. This can be done by proper interval training and dietary control. For more details about intervals training, the reader is encouraged to refer our article on recovery intervals.

Tips to Make Half Marathon to Marathon Transition Easy

Now that you have understood the key differences when transitioning from half marathon to marathon, it is time to give you some quick tips to make this transition slightly easier. These will also prepare you mentally and physically to train for a marathon.

Tip #1 Check Your Fitness Level

Going from half marathon to marathon is a drastic and demanding shift. You must ensure that your body and mind are in the right frame to make this shift. If you are a new runner, then you must focus on training for half marathon before the plunge. Also, you can hire a running coach who will help you with your fitness level and running program. 

running coach
Hire a running coach

Tip #2 Choose a Reasonable First Race

For your first marathon, you should give your body the experience of running on a course that is more or less flat. As you train longer, you can choose more challenging marathons.

Tip #3 Find a Suitable Training Plan

There are hundreds of marathon training plans available online. While choosing a plan for yourself, remember to pick one that is most similar to your half marathon training plan. Most of the training plans for a marathon are 16-20 weeks and you would need to run 4 days a week. So make sure to be committed towards the training plan. 

Tip #4 Run Smartly

Running long distance can affect both mind and body. Hence, to get into the running pattern, it is important to opt for run-walk program which will reduce the stress and keep you on tracks for long. 

Livingit Tip-
Half marathoners, try the 7:1 run-walk ratio (7 minutes of run and 1-minute walk) this will train your body for the race day. 

walking to running
Train yourself with walk run program (source)

Tip #5 Take Baby Steps

Now that you know how many miles a full marathon is, you can feel overwhelmed to complete it. So, we suggest you take baby steps. Keep a note of your weekly progress and check how far have you progressed. Also, you can break down the long runs into a series of shorter runs and hydrate yourself. Run for 10 minutes and then walk and replenish yourself with fluids, drink 5-10 ounces of water. Then slowly switch your drink to sports drinks, electrolytes. Prep yourself for the race day and this way you will come out of the 26.2 miles fear. 

Tip #6 Join a Running Group

Running for such a long distance can get very boring. For your practice sessions, you could find running groups and become a part of it. Having some company while running makes it more fun and time will fly running long distance.

Tip #7 Stay Motivated

The mind plays a very important role in making your body respond to changes. If you are serious about making the transition from half marathon to marathon, then stay positive and keep telling yourself that you will do it. Positive reinforcement is very important for getting desired results from your training.

The distance between both marathons- half and full, is not easy to cover. Only those runners who have successfully covered half marathons should think of taking the leap to full marathons. It takes tremendous grit and determination, along with weeks of regular practice to make the transition from half marathon to full marathon. We are hopeful that this article will help you to make this transition.

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