How Far Should You Run Before a Marathon or Half Marathon?

How Far Should You Run Before a Half Marathon or Marathon?

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 Marathon or Half Marathon?

 

How far should you run before a half marathon?

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. 

Want to work with a running coach for your next marathon or half marathon? Learn more about my coaching services here and schedule your initial consultation today! 

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?

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23 Responses

  1. I think I ran 9-10 before my first half. Its been a while since I trained for a half (I usually run them while training for a full) so I usually feel comfortable completing the distance. It will be interesting when I start to think about doing another half at some point and need to build back up to double digits!

    1. I bet running a half while training for a full makes the distance much easier! I’m considering running a half during my marathon training – is it something you’d recommend?

      1. Yes but you also need to run atleast 20 to 24 miles during training.it is crucial.the last 6 miles are all mental.ive run 7 marathons so good luck

        1. Agreed. I don’t think they really correlate that much, the marathon is all about those last 6-7 miles which can be brutal, esp for a more novice runner. The half feels more like an actual race and I’m not sure running a slower 18-22 miler pace 5-6 times would help. Would be better prepared for the half running more shorter distances at a faster pace and tempo. I ran a marathon first, then a half a few months later (with a 12 week training program). My half marathon pace was almost 2:00 minutes faster per mile than my marathon pace. Why? Well, of course you are going to run a bit slower, but also, those last 6-8 miles can be brutal mixed walking/hobbling and raise your total pace. They are different races really and I say this as just a novice runner. For more elite runners used to running it might not matter as much, but beware those last miles :D.

  2. I had a 22 miler last weekend and a 23 miler this weekend. That is definitely the furthest I’ve ever trained for a race. In past training cycles I was lucky if I ran 18. This training period has been much better!

  3. I’ve done one 11 mile run and my half marathon is 3 weeks away. I’m going to try for one 12-13 mile run before the race, just so I can feel confident enough on race day. Thanks for this advice.. it’s really helpful!! Racing a new distance is so scary… you have no idea what to expect.

    1. I’m glad you found it helpful! Even if you’re fitness is there, racing is so mental/emotional that extra confidence builders do help! New distances are scary – I’m already nervous/excited about my first marathon in October!

  4. Wish you had written this post before my first half back in 2013 😉 This is a great overview. I really loved working with my running coach up until my injury but I’m undecided what I’ll do in the future. The accountability really helped during the icy, cold, snowy winter months.

    Also, do I sense an announcement soon about becoming a running coach? Read through that “yet” in the disclaimer 🙂

    1. I do plan on signing up for an RRCA seminar once they announce their West Coast dates! It will probably be somewhere in the fall, but it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for almost a year now (once I decided PhD was not the path for me). 🙂

  5. I ran a 1/2 marathon at the end of may, and I will be running another one sept 20… in 4 days time. I have ran several long 2hour runs on the weekends during the summer along with 2or 3 weekday 10km runs.
    I did a 2hr run last weekend then a 45 mins slow run two days ago. I am just wondering what I should run in these remaining days before the race. Please let’s know.
    Thanks.

    1. Hi, Annie! In days before you’re race it’s wise to cut back a bit on your mileage as a taper. If you do 2-3 10KM runs per week, try cutting back to 2-3 6-8KM at an easy pace during the days leading up to the race, on the same days as you did them throughout training. I hope this helps!

  6. My first half marathon is next weekend. My training peaked at just under 12 miles, which was yesterday. Prior to that it has been one long run a week with 2-3 three to six mile runs mixed in depending on how my body reacted. I did have a 10 mile race a week ago, which did teach me a valuable lesson about pace and keeping to my plan in the hysteria. I have received mixed opinions about adding the 12 miles yesterday, however I feel it did raise my confidence.

    1. That’s good that the 12 miles raised your confidence! Some may not suggest doing that long of a run so close to your marathon, but how you build your pre-race confidence can make such a difference. I hope you half goes well!

  7. I started to train for a half marathon and “fell of the wagon.” After four weeks of running four days a week and then month of not keeping up adequate runs (running once or twice a week with no long runs) I’m wondering if I could still do the half marathon in 9 days. My longest run was 10 miles. Definitely not ideal but wondering if its feasible.

    1. Several other factors play in: what is your general level of fitness? Were you doing cross-training during this time? To be honest, it may be in your best interest to not do the half – it may be feasible, but it will likely not be pleasant and you want to enjoy your first race! 4 weeks of training followed by 4 weeks of no long runs is not enough aerobic base – generally, 12-16 weeks of training is ideal for first-time half marathoners – and depending on how long you had been running before training for the half, you could place yourself at risk for injury. If you do chose to do the half, then I would encourage you to try run-walk intervals during the race to avoid hitting a wall. Best of luck on whatever you decide!

  8. More a question than a comment: I have been told that the distance you run in a week, you can pull together in a day. So e.g. if you run 10km a day for 3 days in a week, you could effectively run 30km in one day. How true is this?

  9. Hello, and thank you for this article. I’ve been training for The 2019 Disney World Marathon on January 13 th. for 6-months now. I have four 20-mile runs completed in training at about 9:50 minute miles. I’ve done these runs one every a week through December 2018, with the last one completed December 31, 2018. My weekly mileage at this point is at 40-miles per. My question is, do you think I’m ready? I’ve also recently purchased a Footpod Power Meter, and have considered using a power running plan instead of pace, to complete the marathon. What is your opinion on running with power, and can it help me finish the marathon without hitting that wall. Right now I feel a little bit of juice left after the 20-mile long run. Also, how much, if at all, should I reduce my mileage in the week before the race. I was planning on continuing the distances without anymore long runs till the race, with two complete days off for rest before.

  10. Hi Gerard,
    Without knowing much about your training, it is hard to say if you are ready or not for the marathon. Typically, if you can handle the mileage well and do well on the long runs, you can complete the marathon distance. I do not have any experience in training runners with power meters nor do I know much about using it to pace a race; my advice is to avoid using anything new on race day. If you have trained using pace, then use that for this race and try power meters for the next training cycle and race. Hitting the wall is a combination of many factors – pacing, fitness, and nutrition – so it is hard to predict whether one will hit it or not. Pacing yourself well, being prepared for the race distance, and properly fueling and hydrating will reduce your chances of hitting the wall. As for reducing mileage, typically running 50% of your normal mileage during race week works, but this will vary from runner to runner as everyone tapers differently. Good luck at your marathon!

  11. Hi
    I have the VLM in 6 weeks. Currently injured and haven’t run for a week (12 miles) and have to take another week of rest… what should my first run back be and What is an acceptable long run in the few weeks I have left in time for the marathon?

    1. Hi Maria! Without knowing too much about your training background and the type of injury you have, you want to start back with a long run likely similar to the last one you did before injury, if not shorter to test your injury. It is better to be cautious when returning from an injury. If you are injured, the best long run to do before the race is what you can safely manage. Ideally, before a marathon, you want to cover at least 3 hours of running in a long run, but you do not want to jump into this distance from injury if you have not done it before.

      1. Hi, I’m also running the London marathon but have injured my hamstring and glute. I am able to run, but not without pain. I ran 11 miles this week but was sore towards the end so am resting again now.
        I know you say you should run for 3 hours before a marathon, but when should you run this e.g. 2 or 3 weeks before? Also, if you’re not able to run this, what would be the least amount of miles needed to complete a marathon?

        1. Hi, without knowing what your training looked like in the months leading up, I cannot safely answer. You do not want to increase your volume too much in a short amount of time or you could be injured again. As for the least amount of miles to complete a marathon: it varies from runner to runner, but it is always better to be cautious when approaching a big race like a marathon when coming off of injury. You do want to speak to a PT if you are worried about running a full marathon on your injury.

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