Half Marathons, Full Marathons – What’s the Difference? I’ll tell ya.

Last year, I had 7 half marathons and 1full on my schedule, along with a hand full of smaller races. Unfortunately, my race schedule was a bit jacked up and since I ran 5 of those half’s in 7 weeks I had to cancel a full that was scheduled within that same time frame. I knew when I planned everything out that it would be a stretch but I had hoped I could do it. I was wrong. It takes a lot of training and a huge time commitment to train for a full and since I haven’t run one in a few years, I didn’t want to go into it unprepared so I stuck with the half’s.

marathon training

There is a huge difference between half and full marathons. A full isn’t just twice as hard as a half, it’s a whole different beast.

The half marathon and the full marathon are completely different, both physically and mentally. In a half marathon, you can go in undertrained and probably push your way to the finish as long as you have a decent athletic base. Not so with a marathon, the truth will come out , and it will hit you like a ton of bricks, usually somewhere between mile 20- 23. I’ve heard people say that if you can do a half then a full is only twice as hard, but I’d say it’s more like 3 to 3 and half times harder.

From a physical standpoint if your body is fueled properly it can store enough glycogen to run about 20 miles. That’s plenty of fuel for a half marathon but not for a full. So if you go out too fast in a full marathon and you haven’t built the endurance to sustain your pace, you’ll get really tired and you won’t have enough fuel for your muscles and you will physically bonk and you won’t be able to continue.

I’ve physically bonked twice and thankfully both times were during training runs and both times were in the summer when it was in the mid 80’s and I wasn’t hydrated or fueled properly. I was also a newbie runner and I have learned from my mistakes.

Marathon training

From a mental standpoint, you have all the mental hurdles of running farther than you ever have before and it’s daunting. At the point when you become completely exhausted, your mind will start to give you doubts and that’s when you have to overcome them and press on, if you can.

But don’t be put off by the wall and don’t let it stop you from attempting to run a full marathon, if that’s what you want to do. As far as the wall goes, proper training, fueling, and realistic pacing during the race can help you to avoid hitting the wall, but it’s okay if you do. I hit the wall in my first and most people that I’ve spoken to did too, but I persevered and you will too.

Marathon Training

The most importance difference between a half and a full is the time commitment for training. Not only will you be running more, which is a given, you should also be cross training, learning how to fuel during the run, and focusing on your diet. It’s very important to make sure you rest, eat right and don’t over train.

There are many different training programs and you can find thousands of them online. I would suggest a 16 week plan. Try to get in at least two 20 mile runs before you taper.

It’s a huge commitment but if you put in the time and the training, you can do it. And as for time goals, I would suggest that you don’t set any. I would focus on finishing, there will be plenty more races to set time goals for, just focus on getting to the finish line and be prepared to walk a little if you have to. Make sure you do your homework and know the course, that will help you more than you know.

training to run a marathon

I give runners the same advice I got many years ago, run the first 10 miles with your head, the second 10 with your legs and the last 6.2 with your heart. Don’t go out too fast, if you think you are running at a fairly easy pace, slow down. You need to be prepared physically and mentally but you also need a good race strategy. Remember, if running a marathon was easy, everyone would run a marathon.

If you’ve run both a half and a full marathon, did I leave anything out you would like to add?

Are you running a full this year or sticking with halfs?

8 thoughts on “Half Marathons, Full Marathons – What’s the Difference? I’ll tell ya.

  1. I have done 3 half marathons and have yet to do a full marathon. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to do it next year! I’m still taking it easy after the stress fracture last year. The marathon seems to be its own beast…more than double the intensity for sure!

    • Definitely more than double. Take care of that stress fracture and before you know it you’ll be running a full, 🙂

  2. This was a great read. I’m running my first full this fall. I’ve got my 3rd half on the books for March and am thinking I’ll run several halfs this year. The best advice I got when training for my first half was “if you can run 10 miles, you can finish a half marathon” and it was so true! So I think your tip about getting in a couple 20 milers during training makes a lot of sense.

    • Congrats on your 3 half’s, that’s a big accomplishment as well and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Definitely get in those 20 milers and don’t forget to taper. I know there are a lot of people out there who run a ton of marathons and never taper, yada, yada but it’s very important to do so especially for your first full. Now, go train and rock that thing girl and come back and leave a link to the recap. I love race recaps 🙂

    • Thank you Sara and good luck to you both in 2014 and in Boston, if you’re only going to run one, that’s the only one as far as I’m concerned! I am sure you’ll do awesome and I can’t wait to read your recap. 🙂

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