From Half to Full: 10 Ways To Transition to Full Marathons

After you get the hang of long-distance running, transitioning from the half marathon to the full 26.2 miles is usually the next step. The sense of accomplishment that comes with completing your first full marathon is addictive, but it does require some careful preparation. Here’s how to go about transitioning from the half marathon to the full marathon – 10 keys to success!

1) Motivation

Signing up for a half-marathon means you’ll have to prepare to run 13.1 miles, whereas a full marathon is exactly double that at 26.2 miles.

The course length isn’t the only difference you’ll have to contend with when transitioning from half marathon to full; the training and fuel requirements will need to be adjusted too. You’ll also need a heck of a lot more motivation if you’re going to run a full marathon, so make sure you’ve done your homework before committing.

Here are some of the best ways to stay motivated while training for the full:

  • Tell everyone you know your doing it, so you follow through.
  • Share the training experience with someone else so you can keep each other motivated.
  • Run for a charity!
  • Make a training plan geared to your fitness level, and have reasonable expectations.

Looking for more reasons to run a marathon, check out these: 20 Reasons To Get Your Butt Up And Start Training For A Marathon

2) Pace

Don’t worry too much about your speed, especially if this will be your first marathon. What you should be focusing on during your training is time on your feet.

For those of you planning on walking a marathon check out these two posts: How Long Does It Take To Walk A Marathon and How Long Do Marathons Stay Open For Runners?

Although you need to put in a solid amount of running time (1-year minimum) before undertaking a full marathon, there are no recommended pace requirements to go from half to full marathon.

Pacing is vital for both half and full marathons but particularly important for the full. You’ll want first to learn how to run at a steady pace from start to finish, so you don’t flame out.

There are many good pace calculators out there to use as your guide, but the key idea is to control your need for speed (don’t worry about negative splits!), be consistent, and learn how to listen to your body and run by feel.

For your marathon, make sure you are running at a slow, consistent pace for the first third of the race, then you can incrementally pick up the speed as you get closer and closer to the finish line.

If it’s your first marathon or half marathon most new runners get confused about whether to include speed work during training? The short answer is NO. While speedwork is essential for becoming faster, you do not need to concentrate on becoming faster for your first half or full marathon. Most new runners should focus on simply completing their races and save competing for another race.

3) Training plan

While the training structure is similar for both, it takes much less time to train for half marathons than for a full.

If you’re running an average of ten miles per week currently, you can expect training to take between 12 and 14 weeks to prepare for the half marathon adequately.

On the other hand, full marathons will take between 12 and 20 weeks if you’ve got a good amount of running under your belt, but 18 to 24 weeks if you’re a first-timer.

Similarly, your weekly running volume for a half marathon will be smaller than the running volume for a full marathon.

For the half marathon, you should plan on running 3 times per week at the start of your training. Progress to 4 times per week as you near the end of your training. You’ll be looking at setting aside 8 hours a week during peak training, and if you’re fit, an 8-week training plan is not unreasonable.

For the full marathon, try to build to a weekly mileage of 40-50 miles (at peak week) by doing 3 to 5 runs per week over the first 3 or 4 months of training. You’ll be setting aside 12-14 hours per week for full marathon training.

And remember, for the full, it’s not so much about volume than it is about gradually building your weekly mileage. Do that too fast, and it’s a recipe for injury. That means recovery time and delayed marathon training.

You should be able to consistently and regularly run 20 or 30 miles a week (base building) before you decide to train for a marathon.

Here are some training plans that I have designed for the half marathon that are completely free:

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

4) Core strength

You’ll be on your feet for much longer for the full marathon than you will for the half. This means your core strength needs to be solid to maintain a prolonged upright running position. Good core strength not only keeps your torso upright and reduces ‘wobbling,’ but it also helps you expend less energy and recover from missteps more quickly.

Check out these 10 core exercises for runners that will have your core primed and functioning optimally in no time:

10 Best Core Exercises For Runners

5) Conditioning

It’s helpful to remember that training is more than just putting in the miles. Your body will need more conditioning for marathons than for the half. Conditioning happens through consistent training.

Our bodies need to be capable of supporting us during our runs. More than 5,000-foot strikes occur in just a 30-minute run, which is a lot of stress on your body. Conditioning your body gradually is the best way to avoid injury and keep your body from overloading.

6) Hydration

There is some disagreement over whether you need to carry water for a half marathon. 13.1 miles is the borderline distance for there to be hydration benefits. It will really depend on your estimated finishing time and the race day weather conditions.

If your finishing time will be under 90 minutes, you likely won’t need to replenish beyond a few water stops. Over 90 minutes, and you might want to consider bringing some water with you in a pack.

During a full marathon, you should be drinking enough water so that you don’t lose any more than 2-3% of your body weight. For the average person, that’s between 24 and 28 fluid ounces (720-840 ml). If you have too much water sloshing around in your stomach, not only does it not provide any extra benefit, but it risks hyponatremia.

7) Fuel

Unless you’re taking longer than 90 minutes to finish, you likely won’t need to fuel with energy gels during the half marathon. But it’s something you’ll probably want to consider for a full.

Generally, energy gels contain between 80 and 150 carb calories. You’ll need fluid to wash them down and help your body absorb them. To keep glucose moving through your body, the general rule of thumb for the full marathon is to consume between 30 and 90 grams of carbs per hour. Another quick and easy way to remember how to fuel is to use the 15/15 rule. The 15/15 rule tells you to consume 15 grams every 15 minutes (60 grams an hour).  The upper 90 grams per hour is really used by ultra athletes. Stomaching 90 grams per hour can be way too much for the average athlete to handle. The only way to see if you need or can handle that much fuel is by experimenting.

Experiment during your training with what works best for you, and don’t try anything new on race day.

8) Injury

Training for a full marathon is more than twice as challenging as training for a half. Getting your body used to the stress of having to move for 26.2 miles is critical. A full marathon puts you at significantly more risk for injury than a half.

The most common injuries for marathoners include:

Proper training, pacing, and fueling during a marathon are all things that will help you avoid serious injury during your race. And as for the blisters… well, you’ll just have to get used to those.

9) Hitting the wall

Hitting the wall is one of the worst things a runner can experience. Every step will feel like your shoes are made out of concrete; fatigue and negativity often accompany it. Many runners hit this wall around the 18th or 20th-mile mark of a marathon.

What it means is that you’ve depleted the glycogen stored in your body. Glycogen is stored in your muscles and liver and used as a burnable fuel source while exercising. If you run out, your body and brain will want to shut down.

So how can you avoid it? Proper training allows your body to adapt to the fuel-burning needs of a marathon. Experiment with quick carbohydrate sources on your longer runs and learn how much fuel your body needs for these distances.

Check out my fueling guide for half marathons and marathons: How To Fuel For a Half Marathon Or Marathon

Aside from proper training and conditioning, there are a few things you can do if this happens to you out on the course.

  • 1) Find a distraction to focus on. This can be anything from the spectators’ cheers, a band, or the music coming from your headphones. Focusing on something other than the punishing sensations in your body may be just enough to distract you.
  • 2) Giving yourself a pep talk or visualizing yourself finishing the race can also give you an edge over the wall. Do this before the race or even during your training: imagine yourself hitting the wall, effectively dealing with it, and ultimately dominating it. Practice this so you can implement it if it happens to you on race day, and you’re more likely to cross the finish line.
  • 3) Drink a sports drink or pop some energy chews to give your body some extra carbohydrates. But please don’t overdo it. More than a few runners have ended up in the medical tent because they pushed too hard, became disoriented, and reached a point of no return. Sometimes it’s best to accept it. There will always be another race.

10) Recovery

The muscle recovery time for the half marathon is different than recovering from a full. Half marathoners can return to running much faster than those who run the full marathon. This goes for race-day, of course, but also during your training. After you run the full marathon, resting one day for every mile that you raced is recommended.

Recovery time also depends on your fitness level, so make sure you’re using a training plan appropriate for your fitness level. Straining yourself too much can lead to injury, which can lead to a longer recovery time. If you find you’re not hitting your paces and you feel like your overdoing it, then scale back on speed and duration until your more capable.

Coach Scott is a published author, RRCA certified running coach (Level 2), and an NASM CPT (Certified Personal Trainer). 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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From Half to Full: 10 Ways To Transition to Full Marathons
Coach Scott

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