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Are Half Marathons Bad For You?

It’s understandable that we wonder whether strapping up our running shoes to head out for a 13-mile run is always a good idea and safe. So, are half marathons bad for you?

Running a half-marathon is not bad for you provided that you adequately train for a half marathon and have no underlying medical conditions. Getting a nod of approval from a licensed medical professional is in your best interest before undertaking a long-distance race such as a half marathon.

It’s hard work. It can be painful, and it’s not silly to think that you might get an injury. Not to mention all the aches and pains that come with recovery. I have run 15 half marathons to date and remain injury-free. Combining 3-4 times a week of running with 1-2 times per week strength training plus adequate rest can provide you a great foundation to help you stay injury-free for the long term. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of running half marathons:

Are half marathons healthy?

First, let’s look at whether there is, in fact, any health risk. The New England Journal Of Medicine did a study on cardiac arrest during long-distance running races. First, they looked at whether heart issues and distance running were directly linked.

After focusing on specific cases, they concluded that those who suffered cardiac arrest had conditions unrelated to the marathon they had run.

The study concluded that marathons and half-marathons are associated with a low overall risk of cardiac arrest and sudden death. So, this busts the myth that people suffer from heart problems because they run.

The issues with having a bad heart and running are very rarely related. If you’re considering taking part in a marathon and wondering if you could damage your heart, you should perform a wellness check with a licensed medical professional to determine whether you suffer from any underlying health-related issues.

An article by Pit Journal suggests long-distance running may even be better than other forms of running like short-distance and sprinting.

This is because long-distance running strengthens bones and makes you less likely to suffer from any skeletal injuries in the future.

It might be rewarding and beneficial to run fast. But when it comes to your long term health and abilities, the half marathon game is the way to go.

As if this wasn’t enough, half marathons and marathons can do incredible things for your psychology.

Studies published in The National Library of Medicine looked at young male runners in Hong Kong. Not only did they feel motivated to run to improve their health, but they also did it for a feel of great emotional well being.

Are half marathons dangerous?

While we’ve already agreed that there is minimal risk to health aspects like cardiac arrests, running a half marathon comes with some risk factors.

Overtraining

Overtraining can be a big issue when preparing for a half marathon. Studies have noted that athletes who train for more than 10 hours a week show signs of change in their hearts after running a marathon. Putting the work in for a marathon or half marathon can be a huge deal. It can get enjoyable. And very addictive.

One day you’re not able to run a 5K, and the next, you finish at the 10-mile point. Understandably, you want to keep up the momentum and your motivation. But it’s important to pace your training. Give yourself plenty of time to build up the mileage, and don’t demand too much from your body.

Runner’s high

Sometimes the runner’s high can begin during race training and carry on well after the end. This is when runners’ fever becomes the most contagious. Unsurprisingly, many half marathon runners forget how difficult it was to get to where they are now and immediately decide to sign up for another race.

While there aren’t many studies that suggest that doing half marathons all year round is a bad thing, we’d imagine that going on an endless rampage might leave you feeling worse for wear (as well as looking like Forrest Gump!).

Running injuries

The third big issue that happens to runners during half marathons could be foot and leg injuries. When running, you’re putting your feet under a lot of stress. Painful joints are a regular occurrence. Calves feel the strain.

“Evidence suggests that running mileage and previous injury are important predictors of running injury.” (Running Injuries – Changing Trends and Demographics)

The study also pinpoints the most common running injuries, since the overall pool of runners is older, are:

  • Achilles/calf injuries
  • iliotibial band injury
  • meniscus injury
  • hamstrings and quadriceps muscles injuries

To help reduce injuries it is imperative to start training correctly by including weekly strength training at the very beginning. It’s easy for new runners to simply just want to run to train for races, but study after study now shows us that strength training might be the number 1 leading injury preventative. Also to help reduce injury always invest in a good pair of running shoes, perform dynamic stretches before your runs, and follow your doctor’s advice when it comes to looking after your legs.

Are you looking for a half marathon training schedule with strength training, if so check out:

Half Marathon Training With Weekly Strength workouts

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Why are half marathons better than marathons?

This question might seem like a personal attack, especially if completing a full marathon is on your life bucket list. But hear us out.

Time – Marathons require more time to train for

First of all, running a marathon is hard and requires a higher weekly volume of mileage and training.

You’ve gone to all the trouble of spending months eating right, sleeping right, rising early on your weekends to run for 3 hours, and building up your weekly running volume throughout your training. All this, and you could still fail at finishing a marathon.

Before setting your eyes on a marathon, race at least one half marathon first. A half marathon is a much more comfortable and safer bet, especially if you’re starting out. If you’re strictly running for health reasons and could care less about what race your running, then stick to half marathons.  You can get the same health benefits by running a half marathon instead of a marathon. Be sure to check out my detailed posts with 102 half marathon race tips for beginners.

Half marathons require less recovery time

Marathons take roughly twice the amount of time to recover from when compared to half marathons. This is good news for runners who like to race because they will be able to compete in more half marathon races per year when compared to marathons. A rule to follow for half marathon and marathon recovery is to rest for 1 day for every 2 miles you run.  For a half marathon, 6 to 7 days of rest should be adequate. For Marathon anywhere from 10 days to 14 days of rest would be a good goal for recovery.

Hitting the Wall is less likely during a half marathon

There’s also less of a chance of hitting the wall if you run half marathons. Have you ever hit the wall? You started the race feeling great. You had your prepared playlist blazing. As you got to the starting line, you were excited to take off with everyone else. But somewhere along the way, your energy got zapped and you had a hard time progressing to the finish line. This is the feeling of the wall.

Hitting the wall happens because of a lack of energy (any time after 90 minutes of running) which can also occur in half marathon races (but rarely), especially if you take longer than average to complete the half marathon. Check out this article on whether or not you should fuel for a half marathon.

The tell-tell signs of hitting the wall are becoming “instant-hungry” and absolutely no more mental or physical push to run further. Just like your body, your mind also needs fuel to help suppress your inner critic to allow your inner coach to push you through to the finish line.

“Hitting the wall,” is a demoralizing event that happens exactly at the worst possible time during a long-endurance race. It’s mentally defeating and physically challenging to overcome. Although many runners see “hitting the wall” as a right of passage. Some runners don’t manage to get past it and end up adding insult to injury and finish with a DNF (did not finish). This can be disheartening.

Luckily, running a half marathon means a reduction in distance. Half marathons are half the distance and twice the fun when compared to marathon racing.

Effects of running a half marathon on the body

  • Runny nose- As you breathe more, your nose can become hyperactive.
  • Body Temperature- As you begin to move, your body temperature increases.
  • Damage to feet- As you put pressure on your feet, you might experience damage to your toenails (black toenails) and foot tissue.
  • You’ll burn calories- Your body will be using all of its stored energy (glycogen).
  • You’ll feel sleepy- The hard work can really wipe you out.
  • You’ll become sore- Especially after the run, DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) will set in the next few days after completing the race.

Benefits of running a half marathon

  • It strengthens the heart-This is a vital organ and allows you to pump blood around the body.
  • It strengthens your leg muscles-Half marathons will increase your endurance, allowing you to run for longer.
  • It helps you to lose weight– Lots of calories are burned through running.
  • It teaches you mental toughness-Your mind is tested just as much as your body.

Running a half marathon hopefully doesn’t sound so scary now, right? A half marathon can be a gateway to a better life by keeping you actively exercising during training. If your considering running or walking a half marathon check out my free half marathon training schedules below:

Are You Looking For A Half Marathon Training Schedule?

12-week/15-week beginner half marathon training plan (free sign up required)

8-week beginner half marathon training plan

8-week intermediate half marathon training plan (easily run a 5K)

4-week advanced half marathon training plan (already run 6+ mile long runs)

Half marathon walking training plans complete with pacing charts

Coach Scott is a published author and RRCA certified running coach (Level 2). He has published over 20 books including, Beginner's Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon International #1 bestseller. Scott specializes in helping new runners become injury-free race finishers. He recently completed his 14th half marathon race. 

 To sign up for a FREE half marathon training schedule, log sheet, and pace predictor CLICK HERE.

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12-Week Half Marathon Training Plan based on your current fitness level!