Many marathoners schedule a half marathon tune-up race three to five weeks before a marathon. It can be a valuable tool to help you estimate your marathon finish time and gauge how well your fitness has progressed since the beginning of your training.
But is a half marathon a good idea for every marathoner?
The short answer is no—it depends on your fitness level and marathon goals. But unlike a lot of bad marathon training advice that will give you one cookie-cutter way of preparing, let’s see if you should race a half before your marathon.
3 Vital Reasons to Skip a Half Marathon
If you're a first-time marathoner and your only goal is to finish the race, then it's wise to stick to your regular training program and forget about a half marathon. Since newer runners who only want to finish don't have specific time goals, the benefits of a half marathon tune-up race aren't as important. A half marathon will likely be shorter and run about the same pace as your scheduled long run, so it's much more important to get that long run in the books.
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- Racing also causes significant muscle damage, especially at the longer distance of a half marathon. Beginning runners don't heal as quickly as more advanced runners, who are protected by a base of higher mileage and experience. Taking time off to recover after your half will detract from your training—just the thing we want to avoid for your first marathon.
- New runners also aren’t practicing some of the more advanced parts of racing: complex fueling strategies, pacing, personal record attempts, etc. There's less to be learned and fewer strategic decisions to be made.
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But if you have a time goal for your marathon or you want to run faster than your last race, it can be advantageous to race a half to prepare your body for the marathon. Not only will you be able to estimate your marathon finish time, but you'll also familiarize yourself with racing, preparing your race-day routine, and executing a pacing strategy.
How to Schedule a Half Marathon Tune-up Race
If you decide to race a half before your marathon, you're in luck—it's the most common longer distance race, so you shouldn't have much trouble finding one near you.
More: Find a Half Marathon Near You