Half Marathon and Full Marathon Training Plans
A quick Google search for half or full marathon training plans will give you an endless list of free training plans and a lot of really great pointers on getting started. Most big races (by that I mean races with over a couple thousand participants) will even have decent training programs on the event website. Which makes sense since race directors generally prefer people have a good time and show up reasonably well trained for their event. So I’m not going to go to the trouble of prescribing you with your training plan here.
BUT I will tell you that some of my favourite tools and resources are ones that you probably already have at your disposal as well. Fitness brands like Garmin and Strava have training programs available that cater to runners of all levels. Garmin, which controls the lions share of the wearable fitness tech market, even provides consumers/runners with a training plan that can download workouts straight to your Garmin watch. This can be done through their Garmin Connect Training Platform. Want to learn more on how to do that? They break it down step by step right here.
Now, what should your training look like for a half or a full marathon? There are a whole lot of different opinions on this and the honest fact of the matter answer is that it depends. People respond differently to different training volumes. Some bodies start to hit a wall at 30km per week of training, others can run double that without aches and pains, and elite runners will run easily upwards of 125km per week whether they’re a 3000m specialist or a marathoner.
It goes without saying that the closer to the couch that you’re starting from, the less your starting training volume should be. From then on your volume should increase by approximately 10% per week tops otherwise you risk injury.
The Basics of a Training Week
Because you’ve read this much, I’ll give you a sense of what the basis should be for your training each week. I’m only speaking from the experience of what worked for me when I started running, and the assumption here is that you have SOME background in a team sport like soccer, hockey, football etc, or have run a 5km or 10km race at some point. If you’re starting totally from scratch, I’d suggest also checking out some other resources in addition to this post to get you up to this point.
Your first week of training may look a little like this
- Monday – 5km Easy Run – Registered Perceived Exertion – 5/10
- Wednesday – 5km Easy Run – Registered Perceived Exertion – 5/10
- Sunday – 8km Easy Run – Registered Perceived Exertion – 6/10
- TOTAL – 18km
As you progress and your body becomes accustomed to increasing training volumes and stress, your runs will get progressively longer in duration or harder in effort. After eight weeks, your half marathon training could look a little more like this
- Monday – 5km Easy/Recovery Run – Registered Perceived Exertion (RPE) – 5/10
- Wednesday – 7km Tempo Run – 2km warmup, 3km tempo (8/10 RPE), 2km cooldown
- Friday – Speed Intervals – Warmup, (3 minutes HARD (9/10 RPE), 2 Minutes walk recovery) x 5, Cooldown
- Sunday – 16km Long Slow Distance Run – Registered Perceived Exertion – 6/10
- TOTAL – 32km
The single biggest difference you’re going to have between the half marathon and full marathon training plans is going to be the volume of training, or total mileage, the bulk of which will be found in that long Sunday run. Where the half marathon training program will probably max out at about an 18km long run a few weeks before the race, the marathon LSD run will probably get up to 32km or even 36km a month or so out from race day.
Each workout of the week has a purpose and its important not to skip them. You’ll see a lot of words thrown around in articles, and training plans that describe the type of workout, or the intensity of each workout. Here are the four popular ones you’ll see a lot of, which I just so happened to reference above.
- Recovery or Easy Runs– Early in your program recovery runs will be “easy runs” meant to get the volume in and help your body adapt to running. As you progress into the program, you’ll be carrying fatigue from longer or harder sessions into these runs and what should otherwise be an “easy” pace may actually be challenging. Thats fine, because the purpose of these runs is to help engage slow twitch muscle fibres and support your training volume. They also help get you used to running while tired, which is what happens in races.
- Tempo Runs– At this pace you should be able to say a sentence to your running buddy, but not hold a conversation. Tempo pace is the effort level at which your body is able to clear as much lactate—a byproduct of burning carbohydrates—as it produces. Your body’s lactate clearance is at the same level as its lactate production, meaning the dreaded dead-leg sensation doesn’t set in. That’s the key difference between a race and a tempo run. In an all-out session, your body bypasses this limit, allowing for fatigue to develop rapidly. A tempo pace, on the other hand, can be held steadily (albeit not too comfortably) for at least 20 minutes and is defined as “comfortably hard”.
- Intervals– Interval training involves running hard for short periods followed by longer recovery periods where you jog or even walk. Not to belabour the point, but the hard periods really need to be hard for interval training to deliver the benefits, which include improving your running efficiency and your ability to maintain higher speeds for longer, as well as burning boatloads of calories very quickly. As a rule, if you get halfway through your recovery period and feel able to run hard again, the chances are you didn’t push yourself enough on the previous interval. These are intervals and they serve to improve the efficiency of the oxygen delivery system to your muscles. The result over time will be measurable improvements in speed, endurance, and efficiency.
- Long Slow Distance Runs – The purpose of long slow distance runs is to work well within your aerobic capacity and train your body to metabolize fat as a primary fuel source, build blood volume and increase muscular endurance. This is done by training your body to move oxygen to the muscles more efficiently. These runs are key for half and full marathon runners as they’re closer to the intensity you’ll be running for first half or full marathon in.
I touched on this for a moment earlier and I think its important to revisit this. Individuals adapt to training volumes differently from one another. Personally, I find that beyond 50km per week, my body simply can’t recover from the previous run fast enough to maintain quality from one workout to the next. Thats partly to do with the fact that my training volume is split between running and cycling, but I’ve found that even when my focus has almost wholly been running, I still can’t squeak past that volume, so my sweet spot for training volume is in that 40-50km per week zone.
On the other hand, some people tap out at 35km per week, while other can run double or quadruple a normal runner’s volume. The important thing to note here is how important it is to listen to your body. If you’re carrying fatigue from one run into the next and it just keeps on accumulating, look at where you can reduce the volume a little bit. Knee pain starting to flare up and get worse, reduce the volume or take a couple days off entirely. Hard runs feeling too easy? Increase your intensity. The point I’m trying to make is that listening to the positive or negative feedback your body is giving you about your training volume is key.