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How to Go From a Half Marathon to a Full Marathon

Amanda Wendorff

After completing a half marathon or two, many runners start to turn their attention to the full marathon. When deciding whether to step up to 26.2 miles and sign up for your first marathon, it's a good idea to consider the ways marathon training and racing will differ from what you've been doing.

This guide aims to smooth your transition from the half to full marathon, both in terms of training and racing. Here's what we'll explore:

  • A comparison of half marathon and full marathon training demands.
  • The importance of extended long runs when training to run a marathon
  • The increased need for focused recovery strategies in marathon training
  • Practical tips for finding a marathon training plan that suits your needs
  • The role of community and familial support in marathon preparation.
  • Assessing your readiness for marathon training.
MOTTIV app user Kurt Lundqvist crosses the finish line at a local race in Florida!

Differences Between Half Marathon Training and Marathon Training

Scaling up your running regimen from half marathon to full marathon training requires careful and strategic planning.

For the most part, training for a half marathon and training for a full marathon is not that different. Both require a base level of cardiovascular fitness that is built by running lots of miles at an easier effort. Marathon training, however, will challenge your body a bit more in terms of endurance and mental stamina, especially on the weekends when you do your longest runs.

The key difference between half marathon and marathon training lies in the overall weekly mileage. For a marathon, you'll need to incorporate more runs, especially longer runs.

Longer Long Runs

Long runs are the cornerstone of effective marathon training, crucial for developing both mental and physical endurance. For half marathon training, long runs typically extend up to 13 or 14 miles. Marathon training requires pushing beyond this, with most marathon training plans including at least one 20 mile run before race day.

These extended long runs not only condition your body to handle the full marathon distance but also teach you to manage fueling and hydration over several hours. They also allow you to experiment with different pacing strategies, which is crucial for successful race day execution.

Increased Overall Training Volume For the Full Marathon

Expect a notable increase in your weekly training volume when transitioning to full marathon training. This adjustment is essential for preparing your body to endure the demands of running 26.2 miles.

While some half-marathoners can race successfully with 3 to 4 days of training per week, a marathon plan typically involves more—up to five or six days a week, blending training runs, strength, and mobility work. Some runners also include cross-training activities, such as cycling or swimming.

This comprehensive approach prepares your body physically and ensures you develop the stamina and resilience required for a successful marathon performance, but it also requires more time to train.

More Focus on Recovery and Nutrition

With the increase in training volume and intensity, prioritizing recovery becomes even more critical when marathon training. Proper recovery allows your muscles to repair, rebuild, and strengthen.

Prioritizing recovery when training for your first full marathon will involve focusing on several components, including:

  • Good day-to-day nutrition that includes carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, and enough volume to support your training
  • Hydration before, during, and after your run to maintain cellular function and overall health
  • Getting enough high-quality, restorative sleep to allow your body to recover between training sessions
  • Post-run recovery practices, such as stretching, foam rolling, and perhaps even massage therapy

Tips for Making the Transition From Half Marathon to Full Marathon Training Easier

Transitioning from half to full marathon training is a significant step that requires thoughtful preparation and adaptation. Here are some strategies to make this transition smoother and more effective:

Find a Plan That Works for You

Choosing the right training plan is pivotal. Many free and paid plans are available online, offering structured guidance and training schedules.

A well-structured plan guides you in gradually increasing your mileage, incorporating rest days, and varying your training intensity. This gradual progression helps mitigate the risk of injuries and ensures continual improvement in your endurance and running efficiency.

The MOTTIV training app provides tailored plans created by experienced coaches for various skill levels, from beginners to advanced runners. These plans are designed to integrate seamlessly into your daily routine, ensuring you can train effectively without overwhelming your schedule.

Focus on Mileage and Easy Running

Accumulating a substantial amount of total mileage during marathon training is crucial, and much of this mileage should be at an easy (also known as Zone 2) pace. This pace is comfortable and sustainable, allowing you to converse easily without straining for breath. Training at this intensity is essential for developing your aerobic base, the cornerstone of endurance running.

Balancing these easy miles with some quality sessions, like tempo runs or intervals, is important, but the bulk of your running should focus on accumulating mileage safely.

Incorporate Training and Racing Nutrition

While some athletes can get through a 5k, 10k, or half marathon race with a limited intake of sports nutrition (eg: energy gels or sports drinks), when running a marathon, incorporating extra carbohydrates while running becomes essential.

When running long distances like a marathon, your body relies on a combination of fat and carbohydrates for fuel. While even the leanest runner has a near-endless supply of fat for fuel, you can only store a limited number of carbohydrates as glycogen in your liver and muscles. Most runners will burn through their glycogen stores well before the end of the marathon distance.

What happens when a marathon runner runs out of carbohydrates? That's when you experience the dreaded "bonk," also known as hitting the wall. When this happens, the legs start to give way, fatigue sets in, and moving forward becomes very difficult.

Supplemental carbs, whether from gels, chews, or drinks, help maintain your energy levels and prevent the bonk on race day. For that reason, you should use your training runs to practice using sports nutrition. Experiment with different types of foods and hydration strategies during your long runs to discover what works best for your body.

Find a Community When Training for a Full Marathon

Finding a supportive community can significantly enhance your marathon training experience. Training for a marathon can be a long and sometimes lonely journey, but having a group of like-minded individuals can provide the motivation and encouragement needed to persevere through tough days.

Many running clubs and groups organize regular group runs, which can be particularly helpful for those long weekend runs. These groups not only provide social interaction but also a platform for sharing tips, experiences, and advice. Furthermore, running with others who are training for the same race can foster a sense of camaraderie and collective goal-setting, making the training process more enjoyable and less daunting.

MOTTIV app user Saul Wold crosses the finish line of the half-marathon portion of an IRONMAN race!

How To Know If You're Ready to Go From a Half Marathon to a Full Marathon

Before you commit to a full marathon training plan, take some time to really assess if you are ready to make the jump.  Here are a few things to consider:

Are You Motivated to Run a Full?

Assessing your internal motivation is crucial when deciding to pursue marathon training. Reflect on your previous running experiences; did you enjoy training for a half marathon and the race itself? Does the thought of pushing your limits further excite you? If running a full marathon motivates you, this enthusiasm will drive your training forward.

Are you eager to improve your endurance, push your limits, and conquer new goals? If you found the challenge of a half marathon rewarding and want to explore the world beyond 13.1 miles, your readiness level is high. Enthusiasm alone won't carry you through the entire journey, but it's a critical starting point that will help you stay consistent and positive throughout the training process.

Also, consider your approach to long-term goals and discipline. Marathon training requires a high level of dedication over several months, so if you're someone who thrives on structure and loves working toward a big goal, you'll likely find the process rewarding. This mindset, combined with a genuine excitement for the marathon challenge, will set you up for success.

Ensure You Have Time to Follow a Training Plan

Marathon training demands considerable time, especially for the long runs often scheduled on weekends. Evaluate your personal and professional commitments to ensure you can dedicate the necessary time to your training. Fitting these long sessions into your schedule without significantly impacting other aspects of your life is essential.

Typically, marathon training spans 16 to 20 weeks and includes multiple weekly runs, strength training sessions, and cross-training activities. The long weekend runs often take several hours, and total weekly mileage can peak at 30-40 miles for beginners and 60-80 miles for advanced runners. Ensure that your training fits into your schedule realistically, especially when considering work, family, and social commitments.

Identify the peak training weeks and confirm they don't coincide with significant life events like vacations or work projects. Creating a weekly plan or calendar that includes your training runs, rest days, and cross-training sessions can help keep you organized and accountable. If needed, discuss your schedule with your employer or colleagues to negotiate flexible working hours or rearrange commitments.

Get Your Loved Ones on Board

Gaining support from family and friends is invaluable when you undertake marathon training. Discuss your training plans with your loved ones to make sure they understand the time commitment involved and can provide the necessary support. Their encouragement can significantly impact you, especially during the peak phases of training when your schedule and demands intensify.

Talk to your partner, family, or friends about the training schedule and potential impact on shared responsibilities, social plans, and household duties. Let them know how they can help, whether it's taking on extra household chores, understanding the need for rest days, or simply offering words of encouragement. Having your "team" behind you will help you stay motivated and maintain a healthy work-life balance, and involving your loved ones in your marathon journey can also make it more enjoyable.


Transitioning from a half marathon to a full marathon is an admirable goal that brings with it an array of challenges and rewards. Here are some key takeaways to remember:

  • You will need to increase your weekly mileage and long runs when training for a full marathon.
  • Prioritizing recovery becomes more crucial than ever due to the increased training demands.
  • Finding the right training plan and community support can make the process more manageable and enjoyable.
  • Nutrition plays a critical role in your training and performance on race day.
  • Make sure you have the time, motivation, and support needed to take on this challenge.

With thoughtful preparation and dedication, you are well-equipped to make the leap to full marathon training. Embrace the journey and look forward to the incredible sense of accomplishment that comes with crossing the finish line at 26.2 miles. Happy running!

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Amanda Wendorff

| Author

Amanda Wendorff is a professional triathlete, focusing on the 70.3 and 140.6 Ironman distances. In the last several years she’s competed in multiple gravel bike races. Top Achievements: Top 3 Ironman Ireland and Ironman 70.3 Coquimbo, Multiple time top-5 finisher, 3rd Overall at Moran 166 Gravel Race in Michigan, Age group podium at Gravel Worlds, Big Sugar, and Ned Gravel in first year of gravel racing.

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