We’ve written a lot about marathon preparation and training, but I’m sure many readers aren’t interested in training for and running the marathon at this point in life. For those of you not planning for 26.2 this year, there are many benefits of running and training for the half marathon.
Physiology: One of the most important differences between the marathon and the half marathon is that the human body cannot store enough glycogen (the body’s favorite go-to energy source) to finish a marathon. The good news is the human body has plenty of glycogen to finish a half marathon. This means, for the half marathon, you won’t need to do all of the super-long training runs designed to teach your body to burn fat as a fuel for exercise. As a result, you’ll also find the half marathon long runs don’t take as much out of you and are easier to recover from than marathon long runs.
Time (per week): Given the distance difference between the half marathon and marathon, you’ll need to devote much less time to half marathon training. Your longest training run for the half marathon will likely be 12 miles or two hours. This is much less time-consuming than building up to a 20- or 21-mile training run as is necessary for the marathon.
Time (per year): Depending on your starting running fitness level, it will take much less calendar time to train for a half marathon as compared to the marathon. As an example, if you’re currently running 8-10 miles per week and have been doing so for two or more months, it will take you about 12 weeks to train for a half marathon. From this same starting point, it will likely take you about 24 weeks to prepare for the marathon.
Physical demands: The long runs and mileage demands of marathon training, along with the calendar time necessary to prepare for the marathon, take a toll on a runner. A runner training for the marathon needs to pay close attention to diet/nutrition, rest/sleep and stress levels in order to stay healthy through the marathon training process. The half marathon places much less demand on the body. Of course, it still makes sense to take good care of your body during half marathon training, but there is a lot more wiggle room. Added post-race bonus: You’ll recover more quickly from a half marathon and have less risk of injury due to less wear and tear on the body.
Psychological demands: Due to the difficulties of marathon training, there are a lot of psychological demands on the runner. The training can create a lot of stress and consume so much time and energy that it interferes with other aspects of your life. If you have a lot going on in your life, you may have trouble finding the time for marathon training. Half marathon training creates much less mental stress for you and your family.
Marathon transition: If you are a relatively new runner, you may eventually want to run a marathon. The half marathon is a great stepping stone and an excellent way to prepare your body for the rigors of marathon training. If you are a new runner, consider running the half marathon this year and the marathon next year!
Next: Training for the half marathon
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