Running a half marathon during a marathon preparation is both a common and a logical stepping stone to the marathon. But will it help improve your running if running the marathon is your true goal?
Personally, I am running a half marathon in ten days which will feature in week 9 of my 14 week marathon preparation. Do I believe running the half marathon will help me run a better marathon? No and yes.
The reason I don’t believe the half marathon helps improve the marathon is because the marathon doesn’t really start to well after half way. When you run through halfway in a marathon you’ll need to be feeling pretty fresh if you plan to run a solid second half. This won’t be the case when you race a half marathon, as the pace should be faster and you’ll give your best effort over the half marathon distance. You shouldn’t get to the end of the half marathon and feel like you can run it again.
Having said that, racing a half marathon gives an opportunity to have a better then race pace effort and test your fitness. If you can run a hard half marathon and finish in good shape then training must be going well and confidence can be gained from this race performance.
On the flip side, running a hard half marathon may result in you needing to take a day or two off training post race that could be used to continue to train for the marathon. You could be better advised to skip the half marathon and put in a longer then half marathon distance long run on the weekend of the race.
Running a half marathon isn’t easy though and has it’s own set of challenges. It is not half as much effort or half as hard to run a half marathon to a marathon. Naturally you will run at a faster pace when running a half marathon and being able to hold this pace consistently becomes difficult. Arguably just as difficult as holding your pace at the end of a marathon. This is where the benefit of racing can help you improve for your next race.
Ultimately when holding your pace becomes difficult during the end of a race of any distance the mind is what needs the training. Running a half marathon and fighting off the mental thoughts to give up can certainly help you run better at the marathon. When self doubt creeps in it’s important to shut that door quickly and give your best effort. Really it’s only racing where you get to test this out, you can’t get this from training.
Whilst running a half marathon won’t physically improve you on the way to a marathon, racing gives the strength and confidence that you’ll need during a marathon. Racing gives a valuable experience in staying in the moment and not giving up, this is an ingredient that has to be present during a marathon.
In ten days time I’ll race a half marathon and while I’m not expecting to gain any physical benefit that will help in the marathon the practise of racing will help when the mental battles start in the marathon. And this is the reason why a race during a marathon preparation is valuable.
Let me know if you have any questions or feedback.