I’ve had a few readers ask me different questions about training for your first half marathon, including questions about how far should you run before a half marathon. Since this is a common question also for both beginner and experienced marathons and half marathoners alike, let’s look at what popular training plans recommend.
A half marathon (13.1 miles) and full marathon (26.2 miles) both require long runs as an essential part of your training. These are endurance events, so you need to build your endurance in order to successfully cross the finish line. The best way to build endurance is through long runs—runs that last 90 minutes or longer.
Almost every half marathon and marathon plan out there calls for one long run per week, usually on Saturday or Sunday. How far these long runs are depends on your level of fitness going into training, goals for the race, and which training philosophy you are following.
How far should you run before a half marathon?
- The Hansons Half-Marathon Method Beginner Plan calls for long runs up to 12 miles. For most of the plan, you alternate between a long run of 10 miles and a long run of 12 miles each week.
- The Hal Higdon Novice 1 Half Marathon Training Plan peaks at a 10 mile long run the week before the race. His Novice 2 Half Marathon plan includes a 12 mile long run the week before the race.
- The Jeff Galloway Run-Walk Half Marathon beginner plan brings runners up to 14 miles (with run/walk intervals) two weeks before the race.
- The First-Time Half Marathoners Plan on Runner’s World has you run 12 miles as your longest run before the race.
- As a certified running coach, I recommend 12 miles for new runners and up to 15 miles for experienced runners.
So most of these training plans take you to 12 miles before the half marathon. There’s only a 9% increase in distance from 12 miles to 13.1 miles; tapering and the adrenaline of race day will carry you for the final 1.1 miles.
If you are running your first half marathon with a time goal, you will probably want to run 13-14 miles before your race to get your body more comfortable with the distance. You will also benefit from doing several 10-12 mile long runs with fartlek intervals, tempo segments at goal pace, or progressions.
If you are running a half marathon as your first race or are a novice runner (less than a year of running), you want to give yourself adequate time to build up to your long runs. For example, if you are currently running 3-4 miles a few times a week, spend a few weeks before you start your training building up to 8 miles by adding a mile to one run each week (or find a plan that starts with long runs on the lower end).
There’s no need to run your long runs as fast as you want to run the race! Tapering and adrenaline will also help you run faster on race day. If you have a time goal, aim to run your long runs about 1 minute per mile slower than your goal race pace.
What about the marathon? Many runners say that the marathon is more than just twice the distance of the half marathon, so you can’t just double your training from the half marathon. Running a marathon requires that you train smart, since running 26.2 miles is a huge stress on the body. While you can run up to or even over 13 miles in half marathon training, you do not want to run up to or over 26 miles in marathon training, especially if you are training for your first marathon.
How far should you run before a marathon?
- The Hansons Marathon Method maxes out at 16 miles for the long run. Don’t be deceived; this plan has you running six days a week, you run 8-10 miles on the day before the long runs, and these 16 milers are done at a moderate pace instead of the traditional long slow distance easy pace.
- The Hal Higdon Novice 1 Marathon and Novice 2 plans both call for one 20 mile long run before the race.
- The Jeff Galloway Marathon Plan takes you all the way up to 26 miles, but all long runs are done using the run walk method.
- The First Timers Marathon Plan available on the Runner’s World website caps at 20 mile long runs.
- As a coach, I recommend 20 miles. It’s not just your aerobic endurance that you need to train; your mental strength, fatigue resistance, and stomach all need to be trained to handle the demands of the marathon.
At first, you may be tempted to run the whole 26 miles before the race, but that effort could exhaust you so much that the race itself is difficult to finish. Many coaches believe that running for longer than 3 hours has diminishing returns, which is why they cap the marathon long run at 20 miles for most runners (which is still longer than 3 hours for many beginners).
As with half marathon training, you want to choose a marathon training plan that begins at your current level of fitness or spend a few weeks before you begin training increasing your weekly long run.
Whether you are training for a half or full marathon, it is important to remember that long runs put a lot of stress on your body. If you push too fast in your long runs or take on too much distance too soon, you sharply increase your risk of injury and burnout. Be sure to safely increase your mileage as you train.
The famous running coach Jack Daniels advises that long runs comprise only about 20-30% of your weekly mileage, since the more miles you run, the more your body is used to the stress of running. This is why the Hansons Method only goes up to 16 miles in the middle of 60+ mile weeks. While some runners find that too high mileage leads to injury, just be mindful that you have a strong running base and most of your weekly miles aren’t coming from a single run.
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Questions of the Day:
New runners: What else would you like to know about half marathon and marathon training?
Experienced half and full marathoners: How far did you run before your first marathon or half marathon?