From Half Marathon To Marathon, Our Complete Training Guide

Take the step up from half to full marathon with this expert coach-written guide.

For new runners, the notion of following a half marathon training plan and eventually running 13.1 miles can seem like a very lofty goal, but with consistency and a gradual build-up in weekly mileage, most runners can successfully cross the half marathon finish line.

Although finishing a half marathon as your longest distance run or race is certainly a veritable standalone goal, many runners decide they want to build up to a full marathon after finishing their first half marathon.

In this “from half marathon to marathon” training plan guide, we will discuss how to build up your endurance to finish your first full marathon by following a safe and effective half marathon to full marathon training program progression.

A person running.

How Do I Progress From Half Marathon To Marathon Training?

The best marathon training plans have many of the same elements that are found on half marathon training plans, though, of course, the weekly mileage and longest run distances are significantly greater for a full marathon.

Therefore, the build-up from a half marathon to a full marathon training plan will see a significant increase in total weekly mileage, the length of tempo runs, and the distance or duration of the weekly long run.

For first-time marathoners, marathon pace is generally slower than half marathon race pace.

Eventually, after several rounds of marathon training, you may be able to run a full marathon with a finishing time that is quite a bit faster than your best half marathon race pace before you transitioned to marathon training.

However, as a Certified Running Coach, I recommend when following a marathon training plan for the first time, or more specifically, a half marathon to marathon training program progression plan, you should worry less about your marathon finishing time and focus on getting through the training and across the finish line healthy and happy.

A person running on the road.

Although the run-walk method, also known as the Jeff Galloway Marathon Method, can be an effective marathon training plan approach, most runners who have gone through a half marathon training plan would prefer to run the full marathon distance without stopping.

Therefore, I generally recommend making that your goal rather than focusing on a specific marathon pace.

This isn’t to say that your marathon training plan should include projected marathon pace workouts, but rather that you should plan to run a more conservative marathon race pace for your first marathon rather than set a specific finishing time or hope to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Once you have finished a full marathon and gotten a feel for the weekly mileage, nutrition strategy, and marathon pacing, you can take on a marathon training plan that is geared towards a more aggressive finishing time.

The only caveat here would be for first-time marathon runners who have been running for years, done quite a bit of half marathon training, and potentially even finished an ultramarathon trail race or have done long runs that approach 20 miles or more.

In these scenarios, the runner typically has enough experience and is much more like an experienced marathoner than a new runner hoping to finish the marathon distance for the first time.

Here, setting a goal race pace or goal marathon time can be reasonable and actually a great way to help guide your workouts, training run pace, and shape the build-up in your half to full marathon training program.

A person running on the road.

How Long Does It Take To Go From a Half Marathon to a Marathon?

Generally, it takes a minimum of 8 weeks to progress from half marathon to marathon, but 12 weeks is preferable. You can view the half marathon as a 13 mile long run.

Then, you need to build up to 18-20 miles. This will take a minimum of 4-6 weeks. Then, there is usually a 3-week marathon taper.

Having 12 weeks gives you time to build up the long run so that you can do one or two 20 mile runs and then taper before race day.

If you only have an 8-week half marathon to marathon transition training plan, you will probably only have time for one 20-mile run, and there might just be a two-week taper before the full marathon.

What Is the Best Half Marathon to Marathon Transition Training Plan?

Marathon Handbook offers a whole library of free marathon training plans, including plans that will help you transition from the half marathon to the full marathon distance.

Here are the key elements that will go into a marathon training program, whether you are a new runner starting from square one or transitioning from the half marathon to full marathon distance:

A person running on the road.

#1: Long Runs

The biggest difference between a half marathon training plan and a full marathon training program is the distance of the longest run.

Because a full marathon distance is twice as far as the half marathon race distance, you will need to build up the length of your longest run relative to the distances you ran for your first half marathon training plan.

Most beginner half marathon training plans max out the long run at 10-12 miles, whereas beginner marathon training plans max out around 20 miles for the longest run distance.

The thinking here is that you will be running slower for your long runs than you will for your marathon race pace, so the total time on your feet will be similar.

Additionally, with the excitement of race day and the help of the crowd, you should be able to maintain your goal marathon pace for the additional 10k distance on race day, even if you have not run that far on your longer runs in training.

One of the key differences between half marathon vs marathon training plans is in the need and importance of fueling during long runs and on race day.

While faster runners may not even need to take in carbs for half marathon training and racing, running coaches advise all runners—even elite marathoners—to fuel with carbs during marathon long runs and the race to help prevent glycogen depletion.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) position stand, the recommendation for carb intake is to aim to ingest 30–60 grams of carbohydrate per hour during endurance exercise lasting 1-3 hours or more.1Jeukendrup, A. (2014). A Step Towards Personalized Sports Nutrition: Carbohydrate Intake During Exercise. Sports Medicine44(S1), 25–33. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-014-0148-z

‌You should use your longer training runs to practice the timing of nutrition strategy and to experiment with different energy gels and high-carb foods for runners to see what settles well and keeps your energy levels ideal on longer runs.

People running.

#2: Higher Mileage Balanced With Recovery

Another key difference between training for your first half marathon and training for your first marathon is that weekly mileage will be higher for marathon training.

You will have longer easy runs, longer tempo runs, longer marathon pace intervals, and overall longer training runs.

A higher weekly mileage means that recovery and rest days become all the more important with your first marathon training plan.

You should be taking at least 1 to 2 rest days per week and one cross-training workout per week.

Doing cross-training workouts will help improve your fitness level and still get your heart rate up while giving you a relative break from running every day.

This can prevent overuse running injuries2de Jonge, J., Balk, Y., & Taris, T. (2020). Mental Recovery and Running-Related Injuries in Recreational Runners: The Moderating Role of Passion for Running. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health17(3), 1044. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17031044 with higher mileage half to full marathon training and can be a great strategy to build endurance while reducing the risk of injury3NILSSON, J., & THORSTENSSON, A. (1989). Ground reaction forces at different speeds of human walking and running. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica136(2), 217–227. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1716.1989.tb08655.x

‌Strength training is also vital to help prevent overuse injuries, improve running economy, correct muscle imbalances, and generally reduce the risk of injury.4Saunders, P. U., Pyne, D. B., Telford, R. D., & Hawley, J. A. (2004). Factors Affecting Running Economy in Trained Distance Runners. Sports Medicine34(7), 465–485.

‌Other recovery modalities such as sleep, proper hydration, eating enough carbs and calories in general, getting adequate protein spaced throughout the day, and fueling well during and after your training runs are imperative when you are following a marathon training program.

Your body will be devoting a lot of physical resources towards your workouts, so you need to take care of your body through nutrition, sleep, and hydration, and, of course, balance rest days with the intensity and volume of training days.

People running on a track.

#3: Tempo Runs

Even when the goal is just to finish the marathon race distance rather than worrying about a specific marathon time or marathon pace, including speed workouts such as tempo runs and intervals is still important.

Tempo runs help improve your lactate threshold so you can hold a faster run pace before fatiguing.

Longer tempo runs will help your body conserve glycogen stores so that you can burn fewer carbs and rely a bit more on oxidizing fats for fuel during long runs.

#4: Easy Runs 

One of the key training tips for first time marathon runners is to truly take your easy days easy.

You should be running at a conversational pace so that your body can fully recover from harder workouts. Easy runs build your aerobic base and give you time on your feet, but they should not tax your body or cause soreness.

Training by heart rate or rate of perceived exertion on easy days is often a better strategy than trying to use a GPS running watch to hit a certain run pace.

A person swimming.

#5: Cross-Training

Cross training workouts reduce the impact stresses on your body while still allowing you to build up stamina and improve your fitness level for the full marathon distance.

Unless you are specifically trying to do speed work during your cross training workouts because you are injured your cross-training workout on your training schedule should be on easy days that facilitate recovery from speed workouts, tempo runs, and marathon long runs. 

This doesn’t mean you should skip cross training on your training schedule, but rather that you should make sure you are not overdoing your exertion level on cross-training workouts.

Listen to your body or use your heart rate to guide your exertion level.

#6: Speed Work

Marathon training plans for beginners do not always include interval workouts on the track or hill repeats as you might when training for your first half marathon, when trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon, or hit a specific faster marathon time.

However, speed work can still be really helpful for boosting your overall fitness level and varying the stresses on your musculoskeletal system.

VO2 max intervals, hills, fartlek runs, and marathon pace or half marathon race pace workouts add variety to your training schedule, efficiently improve your fitness level, use different metabolic systems, and challenge your muscles and cardiovascular system differently.

However, for new runners or those training for a marathon for the first time, most running coaches recommend that you should not be doing more than one speed workout and possibly one additional tempo run per week. 

A person running on a track.

These types of workouts are more stressful for your body and the focus generally needs to be on building up the longest run distance and recovering from higher weekly mileage to prevent injuries rather than building speed to hit a certain time goal.

Make sure that for speed work, you do a thorough warm up and cool down before and after the speed work.

Overall, you should try to enjoy race day. 

Not everything will necessarily go exactly to plan for your first marathon, but if you work hard on your training days, follow sensible marathon training tips, dial in a workable fueling and hydration strategy for race day, and follow a good marathon training guide for beginners, you should be able to cross the finish line triumphantly.

We encourage everyone to join the Marathon Handbook Facebook group to start learning more about how to become a marathon runner.

After you finish your first marathon, you can work on setting an appropriate marathon time goal and ironing out the kinks in your marathon training plan for an even better second go-round at the marathon distance. 

Check out our marathon plan database here.

Enjoy the journey!

People running a road race.

References

  • 1
    Jeukendrup, A. (2014). A Step Towards Personalized Sports Nutrition: Carbohydrate Intake During Exercise. Sports Medicine44(S1), 25–33. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-014-0148-z
  • 2
    de Jonge, J., Balk, Y., & Taris, T. (2020). Mental Recovery and Running-Related Injuries in Recreational Runners: The Moderating Role of Passion for Running. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health17(3), 1044. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17031044
  • 3
    NILSSON, J., & THORSTENSSON, A. (1989). Ground reaction forces at different speeds of human walking and running. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica136(2), 217–227. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1716.1989.tb08655.x
  • 4
    Saunders, P. U., Pyne, D. B., Telford, R. D., & Hawley, J. A. (2004). Factors Affecting Running Economy in Trained Distance Runners. Sports Medicine34(7), 465–485.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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