Should You Race a Half Marathon Before a Marathon?

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.

More: 3 Long Run Principles to Remember

  • 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.

More: 3 Marathon Race-Day Tips

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