How to Level Up to the Half or Full Marathon Distance

So you have dabbled in the short distance events and you are ready to level up. What’s next? Are you ready to take on the half or full marathon for the first time? If so, here’s what you need to know.

by Coach Lora Erickson, BlondeRunner.comSo you have dabbled in the short distance events and you are ready to level up. What’s next? Are you ready to take on the half or full marathon for the first time? If so, here’s what you need to know.Be Prepared to Increase Your Training Volume This may seem obvious but as you increase your race distance your training volume will need to go up. It’s important to understand that you need to make time to train more. This includes making time for the all-important weekly long run. Often longer runs can start at 8 miles and build to 16 miles or more for a half marathon. Marathons require preparatory long runs that usually build up from 10 miles to a few 20 or 22 mile runs. As far as weekly miles, it is common for novice runners to run between 20-35 miles a week while training to finish a half marathon and 35-50 miles a week for a marathon. Be careful to build up to these miles slowly to prevent injury. Three to five runs a week is sufficient.Allow Time for Your Body to Adapt to Training Most running injuries occur from doing too much too soon. It is important to allow your body to adapt to the increased volume and intensity over time. For each athlete this time may be different depending on your experience, but generally less experienced runners need to build up miles over 6-8 months to do a marathon. Even with intermediate runners that have experienced a few half marathons I would suggest a least 4-6 months build up to a full marathon following the 10% rule (increasing total weekly volume no more than 10% each week). If you are a new runner having done a few 5K or 10K events wanting to do a half marathon I would suggest 2-3 months to allow your body to adapt. This time will help to prevent injuries.Be Committed and Allow Proper Recovery Over the years that I have coached I have seen more success with athletes that really understand and commit to the training including recovery time. Training for longer events not only takes more time to run more miles but requires more sleep, more time to stretch and foam roll, take ice baths and eat healthier etc. You may need to discipline yourself to get up early to train and will be putting more miles on your shoes more quickly requiring you to replace shoes more often and cost you more money. Each pair will get you between 300-500 miles at the most. Running in good shoes will help you stay injury free.Know how to Prevent Injury and Listen to your Body As the training volume goes up, so does the risk of injury. It’s important to “listen to your body.” If you’ve been running long enough you have probably heard this phrase before but what does it mean? Soreness and pain is part of training but when is it too much? Often I teach my athletes to ask these questions to differentiate pain/soreness from injury;Is the pain in one side or both?Is the pain sharp or just a dull ache?Is it getting better or worse over time or on a run?Does the pain come and go?Pain on one-side could indicate muscular imbalance or a potential injury. Often running on crowned roads can lead to this and can cause injuries; a terrain change may be needed. If the pain is sharp, sudden or persists, go to the doctor. I suggest a Sports Medicine doctor. It’s always a good idea to be cleared before running or starting a training program. It’s not worth pushing through pain and ending up having a lingering injury that can put you out for months. Common injuries include; Shin splits, IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, runners’ knee (Chondromalacia) and stress fractures. Most of these are overtraining injuries so do some research and understand the signs and symptoms to avoid these pitfalls. Easing into training properly and taking time off for recovery can help you avoid most of these.Finding the Right Race There are many things to consider when choosing a race; the location, cost and terrain. The one that impacts training the most would be terrain. Most race websites have race route maps and elevation profiles to review. Over the years I have been surprised by how many runners toe-the-line knowing nothing about the race course that they are about to run. As a coach, the training I provide my athlete reflects conditions they will face. If it’s mainly downhill, or hilly, the training should reflect that. Or if you are running a trail race verses a road race you’ll be training on the trails. If this is your first, I suggest starting with a milder road half or full marathon vs a trail. Generally trail races are harder than road races, require different shoes and you to take your own nutrition.Hire a coach I have always preached “you don’t know what you don’t know.” So I think it’s a really valuable to have an outside perspective especially for a long events like Marathons. Sometimes it’s hard to see what you need in training when you’re fatigued or tired which often happens as volume is increased. A coach can provide valuable insight, structure, advice, nutrition suggestions and motivation for their athletes. Coached athletes usually experience less injury and meet their goals better.About the author: Coach Lora Erickson aka “Blonde Runner” is a top level Ironman All-World athlete and passionate coach. She loves to inspire and motivate others to reach their goals with her positive “can-do” approach and individualized custom designed Running and Triathlon Training programs. To learn more about her coaching and health classes, contact her directly at or visit

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