Going the Distance


You do a 5k.

Maybe a 10k, maybe not.

Probably more 5k races are thrown in.

Then, there’s your first half marathon run.

This is the natural progression of things, for a runner. Next comes the marathon distance. For most runners, it is the top tier of running goals.

Among these, the largest jump is by far from 13.1 to 26.2 miles. Even if you’re training for a 5k, you’re probably completing runs of 10k or longer. Heck, even for a half marathon more advanced athletes will likely run the distance or at least the time the race should take them, during training.

This is not the case with the marathon.

When thinking about your first marathon, there are steps and considerations to be mindful of.

Are You Ready?

This is the most difficult question, but there are ways to work out the answer.

For a first marathon, the main struggle is the distance. In your half marathon training, did your long runs only get to 10-12 miles or were they at 13-15 miles? For a marathon training program, you should be ok with only a few runs over 20 miles, so if you’re running 13-15 in half marathon training, the marathon long runs should not be too much of a stretch.

If the distance of a half marathon or its training is still a limiter or struggle for you, I would suggest doing another training block for a half marathon. With the execution of a good 3-4 months of training for a second half marathon, you can likely be ready to go longer.

The Next Step

When you’ve decided a marathon is coming, what do you do next?

Signing up as soon as possible versus waiting is a big choice. Many find early registration saves money and gives them motivation.

Consider the location of your first marathon. A local one will likely be far less stressful, logistically, than a destination one. On the flip side, a larger marathon that needs more planning and travel will give you more spectators and fellow runners on the course to provide company and motivation.

The course is also a big player. Do you want something flat and faster? Maybe a super scenic race in the mountains? Read past race reports to learn how the event is organized, what the route looks like, etc.

Marathon Training Myths

You need to run long every weekend.
The long run gets all the attention, but doing it too often can hinder your training. For most marathon schedules, long runs in the 13-20 range are common for long periods of time. With athletes only doing 30-40 miles per week, that could be 50%+ of their weekly volume in a single run! The issue here is such a run may take too much time for the athlete to recover from and be prepared for the next hard run.

Biweekly long runs solve this. Doing a mid-week trackworkout and a weekend either mid-distance tempo run or a longer progression run is a fantastic weekly format for most marathoners. This will give you plenty of time between the quality sessions for rest and regeneration runs.

You need to run more.
Just because you are doubling the goal race distance, does not mean you need to double the amount you run.

Professional runners will train more for a marathon than a half, but they have endless time to put towards running and recovery. Amateur athletes have other commitments that limit both rest and running time. If you’re only able to devote six hours a week towards running, then that’s all you need to run. Period. No need to stress out about it.

The main modifications to training from a shorter race to a longer race goal are primarily the length of the long runs and the type of shorter track/speed repetitions you do.

You’ll hit the wall.
Hitting the wall or bonking during a marathon is most often the result of a few avoidable actions. Primarily, not fueling enough during the event, not pacing accordingly during the first half, or simply not being trained adequately for the distance.

This is a big step, and you must tread lightly. Going long too soon can potentially ruin running for you. But, going long at the right time can take you to places you never thought possible.

You May Also Like: 27 Reasons to Not Run a Marathon / How to Hit the Wall

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