The major difference between a marathon and a half-marathon is 13.1 miles. A marathon covers 26.2 miles, usually around a city either in a big loop with the start and finish close together or with a start in one area and a finish in another. A half-marathon is 13.1 miles and often is run as just that -- half of a marathon race. There are, however, major differences in training for and running these events.
Some marathons are separate races, while others are paired with half-marathons. The two races may start at the same place and follow the same course, but have a turnaround point at which half-marathoners turn back to the finish line while marathoners keep running. Sometimes the two races start at the same time; other events have separate starts so runners don't mingle.
Training for a full marathon requires more time and more running distance. Typical marathon training programs cover from 18 to 32 weeks, while half-marathon training is about eight to 12 weeks. Marathon workouts include more long runs, working up to 20 to 26 miles in the weeks immediately preceding the race. Half-marathoners rarely run more than 10 or 12 miles in training.
Which to Choose?
Many runners try a half-marathon to see if they want to try or are up to the longer distance. You shouldn't consider either event unless you can run 15 to 20 miles a week comfortably. Intermediate runners should expect to train 25 or more miles a week for a marathon, including weekly long runs up to 20 or 26 miles. Half-marathons require similar weekly mileage but with fewer long runs. Marathons require more cardiovascular endurance and more "tapering" in training in the final pre-race days.
Major marathons are huge races, with thousands of participants. The Chicago Marathon, for instance, registers about 45,000 runners. You'll run in a crowd the entire 26.2 miles. Half-marathons usually are much smaller, especially if they are not paired with a marathon. A marathon may take three and a half hours or more for an intermediate runner to complete, a half usually two hours or so for a comparable runner.
Bob Haring has been a news writer and editor for more than 50 years, mostly with the Associated Press and then as executive editor of the Tulsa, Okla. "World." Since retiring he has written freelance stories and a weekly computer security column. Haring holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri.