fbpx

How To Train For a Marathon in 6 Months (+ Training Plan)

Our expert coach gives you his top tips on training for your first marathon.

Training for a full marathon is a huge undertaking, and generally, the longer you have to prepare and train, the better.  

If you are looking to train for a marathon in 6 months, you’ve come to the right place. With a six-month marathon training plan, you have a sufficient amount of time to gradually build up the volume of miles required to have a successful race.  

This means that you have less risk of injury, overtraining, or burn-out.

The plan proposes four days of running per week and one day of cross-training (although you can make some changes if needed—we’ll get to that in a bit!).

In this guide, we’ll explore in depth how to train for a marathon in 6 months, including the types of runs and workouts you’ll do, how fast you should be running, stretching, and injury; we go through it all.   

How To Train For a Marathon in 6 Months 2

How To Train For a Marathon in 6 Months

A variety of run sessions are included in our 24 week marathon training plan, each that works in a different area of your marathon preparation.

Your training runs have two (sometimes three) objectives:

#1: They condition your body for running

This means your kinetic chain (all the muscles contributing to your running motion) is improving.  We do this primarily through our regular mid-week short runs, which are the foundation of your training and add mileage to your plan. 

#2: They increase your distance running capacity

You will perform a long slow run once per week (most often on the weekends). This run aims to gradually increase the maximum distance your body can run. 

#3: They improve your speed

Typically, as you run more miles and your body becomes better conditioned for running, your level of fitness and speed will improve.

Some marathon training plans include speed-based workouts such as intervals, tempo runs, and track work, explicitly designed to improve speed. 

We haven’t included any speed-based workouts in the 6-month marathon training plan. This is because they greatly increase the risk of injury for inexperienced marathon runners.

However, if you have a decent base of running experience, you may want to add some speed in to your weekly mileage.

Here are the different types of training runs included in our training program:

Easy, Short Training Runs

Easy runs are a staple of marathon training. You should do two or three per week to condition your body and get the required miles in. They start at 2-3 miles each and, by the peak of your training, reach up to 7-8 miles.

I recommend performing these runs at a comfortable, sustainable, easy pace. Unless you have a time goal with a specific race pace, you should simply focus on completing these runs, preferably without stopping or walking, and don’t worry about your pace.

Long, Slow Runs

Do one long run every week. Most people squeeze them in on weekends when they have the most free time. 

They are designed to increase your maximum running distance – as the name suggests, they’re long and should be run slowly.

Run your long runs slower than any other training run ensuring you can complete the entire distance running. Often, these runs are run at a conversational pace. If you can speak while running, it ensures you are going easy enough to maintain that pace for the entirely of the distance.

Long, Slow Runs are all about getting those miles on your feet, and it doesn’t matter how long it takes!

Speed Work (Optional)

I’d only recommend speed work for anyone who has an existing running base fitness and is looking to complete their race within a specific finishing marathon time.

If that’s the case, you may wish to consider running your regular training runs at ‘close to your planned marathon pace.’

 You can also switch out one of those short training runs for some speed work – such as Yassos or Intervals.

How Many Days Per Week Should I Be Running?

Ideally, you should be running four days per week. I also recommend adding in one cross-training session per week.

This leaves two rest days every week.

The 6-month Marathon Training Plan is based on three short training runs and one long slow run per week.

If your schedule gets hectic or you need a break, I’d recommend dropping one of the easy short runs.  

How To Train For A Marathon In 6 Months 2

How Should I Do My Long, Slow Runs?

Most people get these in on the weekend, as it’s when they have the most time available.

They’re good to do with a friend if possible or while listening to an audiobook or podcast.

I also find them to be an excellent opportunity to run somewhere new. I sometimes hit the trails and explore a new area to avoid getting bored during my long runs.

Also, consider doing a tune-up race as race day approaches to iron out your racing strategies!

How Long Should My Longest Long Run Be?

20 miles is plenty for your longest run.

All of my training plans max out at between 20 and 22 miles for the peak week long distance run.

Why not go further?

The farther you push yourself in training, the more you run the risk of injury! There’s always a middle-ground between being sufficiently trained and sabotaging your marathon.

Trust me, 20 miles is sufficient for your training. That leaves 6.2 virgin miles for you to nail come marathon day!

Should I Be Worried About My Running Speed?

Only consider your running speed if you have a target finishing time in mind.

If that’s the case, figure out your target marathon pace and train towards that pace. As mentioned above, you may wish to include some speed training in your plan—swap out one of the easy training runs for a speed day.

But – only do a maximum of one speed session per week!

For everyone else, I highly recommend not getting too hung up on pace, especially if it’s your first marathon. 

Focus on completing the miles and having a great time!

how to train for a marathon in six months 3

Should I Include Cross Training in my Training Schedule?

Absolutely!

As a running coach, I highly recommend that everyone training for a marathon include some form of cross-training once per week in their training plan.

Why?

Running continuously for mile after mile puts a lot of strain on your muscles and joints.  

All that unilateral movement makes some parts tight, other parts weak, and basically makes your kinetic chain a little unbalanced. Those imbalances can quickly lead to injury, usually related to the hips, glutes, knees, and Achilles tendons.

One of the best ways to avoid these types of overuse injures is through some preventative maintenance in the form of cross-training.

Yoga, pilates, and strength training are very effective forms of cross-training. They can target weak and tight areas caused by your running, and tease them out. If you want to keep your heart rate up as an alternate form of cardio, look at indoor cycling, elliptical to the Ski Erg.

It’s the number one thing I recommend to runners; yet so many marathon runners ignore it!

There are also mental benefits – switching up your workout can help keep you mentally engaged and provide a break from all that running.

Do yourself a favor, and don’t skip the cross-training as it can help improve running performance.1Foster, C., Hector, L. L., Welsh, R., Schrager, M., Green, M. A., & Snyder, A. C. (1995). Effects of specific versus cross-training on running performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology70(4), 367–372. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf00865035

What About Stretching?

A warm-up and cool-down are important for each of your running sessions.

Stretch for five minutes before each run with dynamic stretches, and five to ten minutes afterwards with static stretches.

The five minutes of dynamic stretching before each run should be light and designed to loosen up your legs and get the blood flowing.

After each run, focus on stretching out your legs, especially the glutes and hips, and spend five minutes on the foam roller to release the built-up strain in those leg muscles.

What If I Get Injured?

Injuries are a common part of marathon training.

The trick is to address it as soon as possible and get back to training.

It can be tempting to try and run through injuries, but my advice is to stop running when you feel an injury and address it.

Usually, the most effective way is to go to a sports physiotherapist and get a professional opinion. 

Ensure that you explain that you’re in marathon training mode and are looking for a solution that doesn’t just involve sitting with your feet up for the next four weeks.

Often you can find temporary solutions by taping affected areas and can strengthen weak zones in the gym.

If you are out of training for less than three weeks, you should be able to resume the training plan as if you’d never stopped.

How To Train For A Marathon In Six Months

How Do I Get Started With My Marathon Training?

Go and grab a copy of my 6 Month Marathon Training Plan

Download it, print it out, and pin it to your wall or fridge.

Start the plan and see how you get on. Remember, you can always run/walk if you are struggling to run the complete mileage.

How Can I Learn More And Take My Marathon Training Further?

Looking for more information?

We offer a FREE 5-day Marathon Training Bootcamp.

(Note: If you download the training plan, you’ll automatically be enrolled.)

If you want the most in-depth, complete guide to marathon training, check out my Marathon Training Masterclass.

It includes 6hrs+ of exclusive video tutorials and downloadable guides for new runners, including modules on:

  • Defining your marathon goals and customizing your training plan around them
  • Researching your marathon
  • In-depth training runs guide
  • Nutrition and hydration
  • Running shoes and gear guide
  • How to overcome setbacks (injuries, illnesses, etc.)
  • The taper explained
  • Race day advice
  • and a mountain of more info (check out the curriculum!)

Let us help you run your best marathon and get you to that finish line!

Or, if you feel like you are a bit ahead of yourself, check out our half marathon training plans to start.

References

  • 1
    Foster, C., Hector, L. L., Welsh, R., Schrager, M., Green, M. A., & Snyder, A. C. (1995). Effects of specific versus cross-training on running performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology70(4), 367–372. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf00865035
Photo of author
Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.