Newbie needs tips for training beyond a 10K to a half-marathon
December 27, 2010 1:56 AM   Subscribe

My friend and I are in the middle of C25K and want to go all the way to a half-marathon. She would like to get to a full marathon. We are getting conflicting advice on how to do this. Do you have any ideas?

We are using this app to do the C25K and will be using this app to get to 10K. After that, methods to train up to a half-marathon vary widely. Some have us doing short runs six days a week, one even told us we should be able to run for 30 minutes for the last six months before even attempting. If we can go from 0 to 10K in about 16 weeks, can we double that distance in another? Is a marathon attainable by the end of summer and how should we get there? My goal is to run the Klondike Road Relay in 2011 but my friend is very serious about a marathon.
posted by Foam Pants to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
A marathon is definitely attainable by the end of summer, but it won't necessarily be the funnest thing in the world. I essentially did this in 2008 as part of a challenge, and while I was able to complete the marathon, in hindsight I would have done it differently - but sometimes it helps to have such a looming goal because it forces you to run everyday.

This is the guide I used: Hal Higdon's Marathon Guide.
posted by unexpected at 4:21 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your ability to do well at longer runs is, in part, predicated on how much of a base you have. That is, how many miles of training you have in prior to starting the training for the marathon. You can certainly go from 0 to 26.2 in a very short time. If you want it badly enough you can do a marathon off the couch. However, it will not be a quality run, or probably a fun run.

C25K does not really provide much in the way of training. It's a great way to get started running, and it will marginally improve your fitness, but for the most part it does not a trained runner make. I would recommend you take a look at the Runner's World site and the many marathon training programs they provide. After you've seen a couple of them, you should have a better idea of what marathon training requires. Keep in mind that each distance will be a new distance for you, so when you run 10 miles for the first time, you'll have both the physical stress of running 10 miles, and the mental stress of coping with the unknown. Then you'll have the same thing the next week when you run 12 miles.

I'm not trying to discourage you, I think you should go for it. It's only running, and if it's hard, so what? I'm a very firm believer that you can run anything you set your mind to, as long as speed is not one of your desires. I do think, however, that the purposeful coddling of C25K does not give you a good natural vantage point from which to assess what it takes to run a marathon.
posted by OmieWise at 5:46 AM on December 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Some of this you're gonna have to play by ear. Once you get to the 10k -- presumably, that'll be the hardest part, just getting going -- your weekly long run will be a good indicator of how you're doing. Log your miles and don't be afraid to experiment. I don't know if one training plan is better than another, the idea is that you'll just want to keep extending your range a little at a time. There's absolutely no reason your friend can't run a marathon at the end of summer if he or she can effectively train all winter.
posted by ph00dz at 5:47 AM on December 27, 2010

I started using that app earlier this year, and it was awesome. I signed up for a half marathon for April 2011.

After I finished the couch to 5k program, I used the same guy's bridge to 10k app and signed up for an 8k in September. After that I just signed up for a series of races, and put them on the calendar, like every 5k near me and one 10k in November. Throughout the winter, I signed up for a series of trail races, December 5k, January 5 Miles, February 5 miles and and 10k.

Anyhow, at the end of January, I'm going to try Hal Higdon's Half Marathon Training Plan to get me to April's run. I have heard some good reviews, and he has 3 dif plans depending what you feel your level is.

I'd like to do a marathon too, but I think I'll see how this half goes first. Good luck, I think you could totally do it.
posted by katinka-katinka at 6:01 AM on December 27, 2010

As an addendum, I'll elaborate some more:

If you look at elite runners, even the milers who race at a collegiate/olympic level put in 100 mile weeks.

Most marathon training guides have you run 40-60 miles a week. If you have a decent base of fitness, you COULD do it on 30 miles a week.

Since you are doing the half-marathon, I definitely think that is achievable. If I were in your shoes, and wanted to have an enjoyable half-marathon, I would actually do the full-marathon training program, and then when your half comes, you will be in FANTASTIC shape, and you will really enjoy your race. This will also let you keep the same training schedule as your partner.

Your partner is going to be in for a world of hurt, but I'm sure he'll be able to finish it, come hell or high water. When I did this, I was also coming from absolutely zero base (in April 08). I was able to do a half-marathon by November 08 in 2:10 - which was relatively enjoyable. My full marathon (December 08) hurt like hell. I had bleeding nipples by mile 5, and a stress fracture in my foot by mile 17. It didn't matter to me - I had told myself that I was going to finish the marathon or die trying. Five weeks in a boot later, I felt totally great. I also have not attempted a marathon since, even though I still casually run 3-6 miles 4x a week.

Looking back, even though I enjoyed the experience, I think what I did was foolish, but was tempered by my youth, and the awesomeness of completing a marathon. As an older "sage", however, I would recommend though that your friend spend this year running half marathons with you. If they truly want to do a marathon - there's always next year. Running is a sport that can last a lifetime, if you listen to your body and do it properly. It's also the easiest sport to over-exert yourself, and kill your body.

I promise that if you and your friend spend this year training properly, you guys can do 2-3 halfs - easily. Next year, you'll be able to run a full slate of marathons, if you still love it.

Remember to listen to your body. I know this sounds extremely hypocritical, but I was kind of using running to figure out my life, and def pushed harder than I should have. Build a body for life, not just for one marathon!
posted by unexpected at 6:46 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I did couch to 10k, and went from no miles to a half marathon in six months. I was slow and undertrained, but I did it.

A marathon is a whole different ball game. You SHOULD have a few years of running in your legs before you start marathon training. Yes, you could definitely complete a marathon in a few months' time, if you are already fit and somewhat crazy, but take it slowly. Marathons are about SERIOUS endurance building.

Also, unless you regularly run in very warm weather, save your first marathon for cool weather. Summer marathons are great if you are very well acclimated to the weather, but you never know what surprises your body is going to pull on race day at ANY distance, and having to deal with extra heat and humidity isn't worth the trouble, especially at 26.2.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:04 AM on December 27, 2010

Seconding OmieWise -- for races under marathon distance, try the Runner's World Smart Coach program, which makes a customized training plan for you based on your current race times. This program has served me well through the half-marathon distance (I feel uneasy about this plan for the full marathon, however, because the longest "long run" is only half-marathon distance -- I think this is a bad plan for an aspiring marathoner. I don't feel comfortable running a half-marathon without at least two recent double-digit-mileage runs, and I wouldn't want to run a marathon without having run 20+ miles at least once. I feel a bit better about the Cool Runnings marathon training schedule, and I'm using a modified version of it for my marathon training.) The Cool Runnings plan is very similar to the Higdon plan, which has gotten thousands of people across the finish line.

But I don't know that it's a great idea to try to go couch-to-marathon in a single season. Unless you want to run a very slow, very uncomfortable marathon.

In late March of 2009, my husband and I started running. We did Couch to 5K, did a 5K on Mother's Day, a 10K on Father's Day, I finished a sprint triathlon in late August, and we ran a half-marathon in November. My husband finished the half-marathon in the middle of the pack, like he'd been running them forever. I got an overuse injury toward the end of training and had to drop out of the race at the relay point. So, to some extent, the ability to ramp up your training volume to finish longer-distance races will fluctuate from person to person. Some people's bodies can take a faster ramp up than others. My husband can just jump back into his regular routine after a month off without getting hurt. I have to be more conservative: even following the 10% rule can get me hurt.

If I were you, I'd shoot for a late-fall half-marathon. Klondike MIGHT be do-able, but personally I'd look for something in late October or early November. I would want at least a full year to build a strong base before gunning for the full marathon. (Plus, it's nice to work slowly towards a big goal like that -- if you were getting into mountain climbing, you'd probably climb a lot of smaller mountains and take in a lot of gorgeous views before setting up your base camp on Everest, yes?) I'd mix up my runs, doing some on asphalt but some on trails (running trails will increase your stability by strengthening accessory muscles, increase your overall strength because it's much harder to run on a soft surface, and decrease your chances of suffering an overuse injury.) I would make sure that I had good running shoes, properly fitted to my feet, purchased with input from the staff at a quality running store (NOT a big-box sporting goods store, preferably not an REI either! A Fleet Feet, or another local running store, where all the staff are trained to deal with runners!). I would also learn all I could about exercise physiology and sports nutrition -- you'll be tempted to cheat on your training plan now and then. Knowing why you're doing what you're doing will help you resist temptation. Also, whenever you're running for more than a couple hours, you need to learn how to re-fuel your body on the run. Just drinking water won't be enough -- you need to learn how and when to take in fluids, electrolytes, and calories to finish your race comfortably.

I'm running my first marathon, a trail marathon, in June 2011. (I love running trail races, I don't get hurt as much running the trails, and I'm a better trail runner than I am a road runner.) I have run lots of 5K's and 10K's, two half-marathons' worth of training (ended up missing the actual races -- grr!), a 5-mile trail race and a 10-mile trail race, and I currently have a pretty good aerobic base from 18 months of endurance training. I'm still a bit nervous about tackling the marathon distance, because I had planned on running a 30K first, but only now do I feel like I'm ready to increase my volume to marathon levels (peaking at nearly 50 miles per week under my plan). I have made a 6-month training plan, and it's going to be HARD. But I'm totally psyched. My point is that it's taken me 2 years of consistent training to feel comfortable shooting for the longer distances.

Good luck with your training, and congratulations for starting running! It's the best thing ever, amirite?
posted by kataclysm at 7:11 AM on December 27, 2010

YMMV, but for me, running a 5K is purely cardio, and my legs don't get sore or tired. When I push it to 4 miles or a 10K, then I start to feel it a lot more in the muscles.
posted by smackfu at 8:36 AM on December 27, 2010

Taking smackfu's observation a bit further, this phenomenon occurs as you get up to 10, 12 miles, etc., especially if you don't spend enough time getting used to those distances.

Depending on your respective general fitness levels (and athleticism, genetics, etc), you could both probably achieve your goals, but the chances of injury and general misery are probably on the high side. I don't recommend trying to ramp up that fast (especially for the marathon).

Achieving a 5k from no running experience (couch) is great, but it really doesn't prepare you for training 4-8 times that distance. I'd wait (and by wait, I mean train - run 20-25 mpw) a year.
posted by Pax at 9:37 AM on December 27, 2010

Pax's advice is very good. If you want to enjoy it and avoid injury, stick to 10K and maybe Half for this year. Only do a Full if you want to hate life. (and a Half might result in much life-hating for you as well) Here is a little perspective on Half vs Full.

I was a runner in high school and a casual runner ever since (2 to 4 times a week). My training runs are usually about 4~7K, and I run a few 10K races every year. A few years back I ran a Half marathon. For 3 months, I did my normal 4~7K training runs 3~4 times a week, and added a 10K on the weekend. The 10Ks got progressively faster and more comfortable. One week before the race, I doubled that long one to a medium-paced 20K. With that, I was totally ready to run a Half at a good speed.

That was not a significant change from my normal routine and fit in fine with my work/leisure schedule. To run a Full marathon, everything would have to change. I would have to do way more than 5~7K in my training runs, and 3 to 4 times a week would have to become 4~5 times a week. Otherwise, my joints and muscles just wouldn't be ready.

I feel healthy, happy, and fast by sticking to 10Ks, and maybe someday I'll run another Half. But there's no way I'd get enough satisfaction from running a Full to outweigh the time I'd surrender to training.
posted by chickencoop at 10:48 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Similar to chickencoop, I'm not sure I'll ever run a full because of the training involved. Training for a half was fairly reasonable, but doing much more than that would mean surrendering parts of my life that I also enjoy. Why not aim for one goal at a time? Last January I started Couch to 5K in earnest, in spring I switched to Couch to 10K, in summer I started training for a Half that I ran in December. I probably didn't need 4-6 months to wrap up 10K training and train for the Half, but life and the weather got in the way a lot more than expected. That said, I really enjoyed running the Half this month and will probably do it again next year. But I'm not itching to do a Full yet and I'm glad I didn't sign up for one thinking I would do it because then I would have hated it for taking over my life. I know people who ran the Full at the same race where I ran the Half, and it was totally worth it for them. But I'm just not sure how realistic it is to set that goal for yourself now when you're not sure how you'll feel about things in a few months. Keep it in the back of your mind, but don't feel pressure to commit to a Half or a Full just because it would be such an achievement - commit to it if and when you feel prepared.
posted by Terriniski at 12:00 PM on December 27, 2010

Lots of great advice in this thread - and I'm with the consensus that it is much better to have a solid base before starting on marathon training. The half is great - and still a big achievement. In my experience it was very useful to get several under my belt before stepping up to the big miles. There's something to be said for taking time to understand how your body works, how you need to train, what you need as fuel, etc before committing to the full marathon.

I've used Hal Higdon in the past and I loved those programmes - very useful if you are on your own. If you want to do the full, or keep improving at the half, I really recommend joining a club, for the company on training runs as well as useful tips from more experienced runners.
posted by poissonrouge at 2:54 PM on December 27, 2010

Response by poster: This thread is full of great advice. Just what I was looking for. I was going to mark some as best answers but the advice is so consistently solid, I think it would be a disservice to do so.

I think my plan is to try for the Klondike this year, perhaps one of the easier lengths. When I get near the end of my 10K training, I'll probably pick one of the training plans outlined here. I'll let you know how it goes. My running partner will find this thread just as informative. Thanks!
posted by Foam Pants at 9:24 PM on December 27, 2010

I know you have a running buddy already, but I still find it beneficial to train with a group. In addition to the level of support you get from a bigger group (you'll have a backup group of running buddies if anything throws a wrench in your friend's training plans), I love that my group maps out our long runs every week (so that I don't get bored running the same trails over and over again) and sets out water stops for us so that I don't have to carry a ridiculous number of bottles on my Fuel Belt.

I've also run several 5Ks and 10Ks and some half marathons, and I'm definitely holding off on the full marathon for the foreseeable future. In my opinion, training for a half marathon isn't too bad, but a full marathon training program is a huge time commitment that I'm just not ready for. That, and I injured myself (stress fracture) the first time I trained for a half marathon, so I definitely recommend taking it slow and steady until you're sure your body is ready for your goal distance.
posted by snafu at 8:12 PM on December 28, 2010

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