How to Train for a Full or Half Marathon: Advice from Collegiette Marathoners

“The crowds were lining the finish corral and the cheering and inspirational signs were everywhere,” says recent Bucknell University graduate Hilary, recalling the first marathon she ran. “As I was approaching the finish line, I remember thinking to myself that the pride and sense of accomplishment of running a marathon isn't something you feel every day, or really more than a few times in a lifetime, if that!”

Running a full marathon (26.2 miles) or a half marathon (13.1 miles) is a test of mental and physical strength. Running these races can give you unparalleled feelings of accomplishment and pride. But let’s face it – running a marathon can also be incredibly intimidating and scary! What is training and competing in one really like? We talked to real collegiettes who have participated in both full and half marathons to find out their stories, experiences, and struggles. If you’ve ever wanted to run a marathon, read on for these girls’ awesome advice.


Pick a Training Plan

Kathleen, a collegiette from James Madison University, ran five half marathons in high school and one full marathon in college. Her main piece of advice is to “follow some kind of training plan, even if it's not to a T.” She explains, “it gives you something to guide you towards your end result and that is incredibly helpful when you're trying to balance other things.”
Kelsey, a marathoner from Boston College, also emphasizes training plans because they “ensure that newer runners don't over-train,” which can lead to exhaustion and injury.
In order to start training for a half or a full marathon, many collegiettes recommend using Runner’s World or Hal Higdon’s website for training plans for people with different levels of running experience.

Whether you are a beginner or an advanced runner, most half marathon training plans are 12 weeks long, allowing you to slowly build up your stamina each week. Full marathon training plans vary in length depending on your initial running experience, with plans for beginning runners lasting about 30 weeks (a little over 4 months), and plans for advanced runners lasting about 18 weeks.

Add Cross-Training to Your Plan

Cross training, or training in ways other than running to improve your overall athletic performance, helps you to work muscle groups that aren’t usually worked during your runs so that your body can withstand the pressures of the race.

Common cross training activities include cycling, swimming, yoga and weight training.
Kelsey especially recommends weight training to “target any muscles that might be weak…this helps when it comes to post-running soreness and recovery.”

Cross training, in whatever form, can help you avoid injury because it prevents muscle imbalance, which gives your overused running muscles (like hamstrings and calves) time to repair and recover from high-impact running.

In addition to cross training, you can also prevent injury by wearing proper running attire (especially shoes) and running with proper form, so make a trip to a local running store early on in your training to get the right merchandise and advice.

Get Advice From Other Runners

While picking and sticking to a training plan is important, talking to seasoned runners can be equally as helpful for your psychological preparation.

Hilary explains that in addition to following a training plan, she always talked to a friend's mom who had just run the Boston Marathon. “The training plan was great because it outlined everything I physically needed to do to be ready, but talking to a person about running helps with the psychological and emotional preparation,” she says.

If you don’t know anyone who has run a marathon, running and training books are a great source of advice. Kelsey recommends Kara Goucher’s book “Running for Women.”