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The Ultimate Marathon Training Plan For Beginners

How to safely & efficiently train for your first marathon, maximizing performance whilst staying injury free.

Whether you are training for your first or fiftieth marathon, trying to break five hours, or trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon, you need a great marathon training plan.

Even though it is important to follow a training plan no matter what running level you are at, if you are a first-time marathon runner then a marathon training plan for beginners is even more crucial to get you to your first marathon fully prepared and injury-free.

In this guide, we have created an 18-week marathon training plan for beginners to do just that.

A pair of running shoes, a water bottle a heart and a cell phone.

18-Week Marathon Training Plan For Beginners

We designed this 18-week marathon training plan for beginners to be approachable to new runners who have some endurance built up but have yet to take on any formal marathon training. 

You will need to be able to run 6 miles without stopping before taking on this program. If you are not yet up to that long distance, consider our Couch To Marathon, 6-Month Marathon Training Plan, or 20-Week Marathon Training Plan for beginners. Or, consider a half marathon training plan first.

The beginner marathon training schedule below is designed to be unintimidating. There are no track workouts. You will do some speed work, but it is in the form of fartlek runs.

These can be done on the road, trails, or even a treadmill, so if you do not want to have to go to a track or you feel anxious about timing yourself on a track, a fartlek run is a great way to work on your leg turnover in a more relaxed way.

Like most marathon training plans for beginners, you will gradually progress the distance of your long run, and you will do some tempo runs and a little bit of marathon pace work.

Cross-training workouts are also important to reduce the stress on your musculoskeletal system while still improving your aerobic fitness.

A runner running down the road.

Here are a few tips for the workouts you will find in this beginner marathon training plan:

  • Cross Training: Any form of non-running aerobic workout. Examples include cycling, swimming, rowing, elliptical, aqua jogging, and hiking.
  • Distance Run: Base-building run to improve your endurance. These should be run at a comfortable pace—something around a 7 out of 10 on a rate of perceived exertion scale or a heart rate around 70-75% of your maximum heart rate.
  • Fartlek Run: Distance run involving bursts of fast running (think 5k race pace or faster) without stopping. Take 30-60 seconds of easy running in between each interval based on how you feel.
  • Easy Run: Run at a conversational pace to aid recovery from harder workouts. These should be a 6-7 on an RPE scale.
  • Strides: Accelerations or sprints at an all-out effort after a run. Walk to recover.
  • Long Run: Long endurance workouts to improve physical and mental stamina.
  • Threshold Workout and Tempo Run: Run at a pace you can sustain all out for one hour.

Ready to take on your very own marathon training plan for beginners? Let’s go!

A group of runners training.
MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturdaySunday
Cross-training: 30-45 minutesFartlek Workout: 2-mile run (4 km) with 10 x 30 seconds hardDistance run: 3 miles (5 km) at an easy paceRestThreshold workout: Warm up and cool down 1 mile (2 km), 3 x 4 minutes at tempo pace with 90 sec recovery in betweenRestLong run at an easy pace: 6 miles (10 km)
Cross- training: 40-45 minutesFartlek Workout: 2-mile run (4 km) with 10 x 30 seconds hardDistance run: 3 miles (5 km) at an easy paceRestThreshold workout: Warm up and cool down 1 mile (2 km), 2 x 6 minutes at tempo pace with 90 sec recovery in betweenRestLong run at an easy pace: 7 miles (11 km) 
Cross- training: 45 minutes Fartlek Workout: 5-mile run (8 km) with 10 x 45 seconds hardDistance run: 3 miles (5 km) at an easy paceRestThreshold workout: Warm up and cool down 1 mile (2 km), 3 x 7 minutes at tempo pace with 90 sec recovery in betweenRest or 30-min cross trainingLong run at an easy pace: 8 miles (12-13 km)
Cross- training: 45 minutesFartlek Workout: 5-mile run (8 km) with 10 x 45 seconds hardDistance run: 4 miles (7 km) at an easy paceRestThreshold workout: Warm up and cool down 1 mile (2 km), 2 x 10 minutes at tempo pace with 90 sec recovery in betweenRest or 30-min cross trainingLong run at an easy pace: 9 miles (15 km)
Cross- training: 45 minutes Fartlek Workout: 4-mile run (7 km) with 10 x 60 seconds hardDistance run: 4 miles (7 km) at an easy paceRestThreshold workout: Warm up and cool down 1 mile (2 km), 1 x 15 minutes at tempo paceRest, 30-min cross training, or easy run: 4-5 miles (7-8 km) and 4 x 75m strides Long run at an easy pace: 6 miles (10 km) with the last 2 miles at goal marathon pace
Cross- training: 45-60 minutesFartlek Workout: 4-mile run (7 km) with 10 x 60 seconds hardDistance run: 4 miles (7 km) at an easy paceRestTempo run: Warm up and cool down 1 mile (2 km), 20 minutes at tempo paceRest, 30-min cross training, or easy run: 4-5 miles (7-8 km) Long run at an easy pace: 12 miles (19 km) 
Cross- training: 45-60 minutesFartlek Workout: 4-mile run (7 km) with 8 x 90 seconds hardDistance run: 5 miles (8 km) at an easy paceRestTempo run: Warm up and cool down 1 mile (2 km), 25 minutes at tempo paceRest, 30-min cross training, or easy run: 4-5 miles (7-8 km) and 4 x 75m strides Long run at an easy pace: 14 miles (22 km) 
Cross- training: 45-60 minutesFartlek Workout: 4-mile run (7 km) with 8 x 90 seconds hardDistance run: 5 miles (8 km) at an easy paceRestTempo run: Warm up and cool down 1 mile (2 km), 25 minutes at tempo paceRest, 30-min cross training, or easy run: 4-5 miles (7-8 km) and 4 x 75m stridesLong run at an easy pace: 15 miles (24 km) 
Cross- training: 45-60 minutesFartlek Workout: 5-mile run (8 km) with 12 x 60 seconds hardDistance run: 6 miles (10 km) at an easy paceRestTempo run: Warm up and cool down 1 mile (2 km), 20 minutes at tempo paceRest, 30-min cross training, or easy run: 4-5 miles (7-8 km) and 4 x 75m stridesLong run at an easy pace: 16 miles (25 km) 
Cross- training: 45-60 minutesFartlek Workout: 5-mile run (8 km) with 12 x 60 seconds hardDistance run: 6 miles (10 km) at an easy paceRestTempo run: Warm up and cool down 1 mile (2 km), 30 minutes at tempo paceRest or 30-min cross trainingLong run: 10 miles (16 km) with the last 5 miles at goal marathon pace
Cross-training: 60 minutesFartlek Workout: 5-mile run (8 km) with 20 x 45 seconds hardDistance run: 8 miles (12-13 km) at an easy paceRestTempo run: Warm up and cool down 1 mile (2 km), 30 minutes at tempo paceRest, 30-min cross training, or easy run: 4-5 miles (7-8 km) and 4 x 75m stridesLong run: 18 miles (29 km) 
Cross-training: 60 minutesFartlek Workout: 5-mile run (8 km) with 20 x 45 seconds hardDistance run: 8 miles (12-13 km) at an easy paceRestTempo run: Warm up and cool down 1 mile (2 km), 2 x 20 minutes at tempo pace with 90 seconds in between at easy paceRest, 30-min cross training, or easy run: 4-5 miles (7-8 km) and 4 x 75m stridesLong run: 20 miles (32 km) 
Cross-training: 60 minutesFartlek Workout: 5-mile run (8 km) with 10 x 90 seconds hardDistance run: 10 miles (16 km) at an easy paceRestTempo run: Warm up and cool down 1 mile (2 km), 2 x 20 minutes tempo pace with 90 seconds in between at easy paceRest, 30-min cross training, or easy run: 4-5 miles (7-8 km) and 4 x 75m stridesLong run: 15 miles (24 km) 
Cross-training: 60 minutesFartlek Workout: 6-mile run (10 km) with 10 x 90 seconds hardDistance run: 8 miles (12-13 km) at an easy paceRestTempo run: Warm up and cool down 1 mile (2 km), 40 minutes at tempo paceRest, 30-min cross training, or easy run: 4-5 miles (7-8 km) and 4 x 75m stridesLong run: 20-22 miles (32-35 km)
Cross-training: 60 minutesFartlek Workout: 6-mile run (10 km) with 18 x 60 seconds hardDistance run: 10 miles (16 km) at an easy paceRestTempo run: Warm up and cool down 1 mile (2 km), 40 minutes at tempo paceRest, 30-min cross training, or easy run: 4-5 miles (7-8 km) and 4 x 75m stridesLong run: 16 miles (25 km) 
Cross-training: 60 minutesFartlek Workout: 5-mile run (8 km) with 10 x 60 seconds hardDistance run: 8 miles (12-13 km) at an easy paceRestTempo run: Warm up and cool down 1 mile (2 km), 30 minutes at tempo paceRest, 30-min cross training, or easy run: 4-5 miles (7-8 km) and 4 x 75m stridesLong run: 10-12 miles (16-19 km)
Cross- training: 45-60 minutesFartlek Workout: 4-mile run (7 km) with 12 x 45 seconds hardDistance run: 5 miles (8 km) at an easy paceRestThreshold workout: Warm up and cool down 1 mile (2 km), 1 x 15 minutes at tempo paceRest or 30 minutes of cross-trainingLong run at an easy pace: 8 miles (12-13 km)
Cross-training: 30-40 minutesRestDistance run: 4 miles (7 km) at an easy pace and then 4 x 50m stridesRestEasy run to loosen up: 15-20 minutes and 4 x 75m stridesMarathon!Rest

If you’re looking for an intermediate, advanced, or time goal-based marathon training plan, check out some of our other free online marathon training plans.

Runners in a marathon.

FAQs

How Long Is a Marathon?

A marathon is 26.2 miles or 42.195 km long.

How Long Does It Take To Train For A Marathon?

You should spend at least three months training for your marathon, although most good training plans are generally four to five months in length. This allows sufficient time to build up the required mileage base, without ramping up too quickly.

How Far Do You Need To Run During Marathon Training?

In terms of distance, most marathon training plans are unlikely to have you running much more than 20 miles (32.2 km) in a single run during your training. You will not usually run the full marathon race distance until race day.

In terms of weekly mileage, most plans start with between 10 to 20 miles (16-32 km) per week, depending on running ability. Beginner plans generally reach around 35-40 miles per week (56-64 km), but highly advanced runners may run 100+ miles a week during their training.

How Often Do You Need To Run To Train For A Marathon?

To effectively train for a marathon, your program should include four to five runs per week, although some plans may only include three runs per week. One of these runs should be a longer run that gradually increases in distance each week, and the others should be shorter training runs.

Most good schedules will also include an additional day of cross-training per week to help keep the body flexible, strong, and prevent injury.

Related: Marathon Time Calculator: Predict Your Marathon Finish Time

What Should I Do If I Get Injured When Training For A Marathon Race?

The most important point is to never run through your injury; you may worsen any damage done and then have to ditch your marathon goals.

The good news is that most common running injuries can be diagnosed quickly and easily by a specialist, and often a rehab plan can be put in place that has minimal impact on your actual training plan.

Cross-training is something we’re huge advocates of – both for injury avoidance and performance, as well as adding volume to your training. All of our plans come with at least one cross-training day (though if you can squeeze in 2, even better).

In short, most injuries shouldn’t derail your race altogether as long as they are addressed early on.

As always – prevention is better than cure. Therefore, try a gentle 5-minute warm-up before starting your running workouts to reduce the chance of injury. This is particularly important for speed work or higher-intensity workouts that have a higher risk of injury.

Make sure you’re taking your rest days to ensure you get to the start-line injury-free and without overtraining.

What Kind Of Strength Training Should I Be Doing On Cross Training Days?

Cross training – and specifically strength training, or resistance training, is a huge tool in your marathon training toolkit.

Not only does it help ward off weaknesses and imbalances that can lead to injury, but also makes you stronger, more powerful, and faster.

For the most bang for your buck, we recommend lifting weights. But, even if you just do bodyweight resistance workouts, you’ll notice a huge difference.

See Strength Training For Runners for our full guide on which specific muscles, exercises, and types of workout you should focus on.

What Shoes Should I Be Wearing?

Getting a good pair of running shoes is critical to marathon success.

You don’t need the latest, carbon-plated, $300 performance shoes.

But equally, those old worn trainers in your closet probably aren’t ideal.

Here’s our complete guide on how to choose running shoes and here are some recommended marathon running shoes to check out.

One thing to note is that we wouldn’t recommend buying a new pair of running shoes just before race day, as it can take a while to ‘wear in’ running shoes. In general, running shoes should be replaced after approximately every 300-500 miles of use.

How To Customize This Marathon Training Program?

At Marathon Handbook, we aim to help you to run far.  

With that in mind, all our plans are completely free and fully customizable.  

Do other commitments mean that you can only train on certain days?  

Need to trim a couple of weeks off the schedule?

No problem, edit the plan as you see fit.  

Our training plans come in Google SheetsPDF, and Printable formats; feel free to grab a copy of the Google Sheet, edit it, download it to Excel, print it – do whatever you want!

Who Has Designed This Training Plan?

Hi!

I’m Thomas, a UESCA-certified running coach and ultra-runner. 

I’ve worked with hundreds of runners and developed these training plans through ongoing research, my work with other marathon runners, and personal experience.

We’ve shared our training plans online for free since 2016.

We’re big believers in marginal gains and constantly improving what we do, so over the years we have continually revisited and refined each marathon training plan as our knowledge – and feedback from our runners – has improved.

These plans have now been used by over 100,000 runners – we share their success stories and testimonials on Instagram.

We also have a dedicated Facebook group where runners discuss our plans, their challenges, and share their finish-line photos!

An image of Thomas from Marathon Handbook
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How Does This Plan Compare With Other Marathon Run Plans Available Online?

Alright, so you’ve probably googled ‘marathon training plan‘ and seen there are many sites offering plans.

We’re big fans, and friends, with many of these coaches . . . for years before I became a coach, I followed Hal Higdon‘s training plans for each of my marathons, and credit the Hal Higdon training plan for getting me through my first couple of marathons.

You’ll also find awesome plans from the likes of Runner’s World, Nike, Jeff Galloway, and major race organizers – I’d encourage you to check them out and compare them to our free plans before you commit to a specific plan. Always choose the plan that looks right for you.

Our plans differ from other plans you’ll find online in that they are:

#1. Customizable / Free To Edit

We’re big believers that there’s no one-size-fits-all training plan. You can grab a free copy of any plan and move things around to suit you using either Google Sheets, Excel, or similar software.

Want to cut off the first couple of weeks and jump in at week 3?

Need to move a weekly session to suit your existing commitments or family?

Need to adjust things because of an illness, injury, or just feeling the need for a break?

That’s why a customizable, dynamic training plan is so important – your training plan should work for you, not the other way around.

#2. Include Extensive Guidance Notes

Each plan includes a page of notes that walk you through the rationale of the plan, and how to perform every single workout.

We tell you how hard to push it (either in terms of a specific pace or RPE), your long run pace, give you tips for how to do every workout, and walk you through how to train towards your race pace.

#3. We Follow Up With More Helpful Material (All Free)

We’ve been helping runners get through their marathon training for many years now, so we know all the main sticking points and common problems that are faced.

So when anyone signs up for one of our plans, we stay in touch – after you get your plan, we’ll pepper your inbox every couple of days with tips and training strategies specific to your marathon journey. Not interested in extra material? Just unsubscribe at any time.

#4. We Want To Keep Getting Better

We’re constantly getting feedback from runners on our plans – everything from the exercise frequency to the clarity of information to the suitability of the runner’s experience level. We also work hard on the plan format to ensure it’s clear, easy to follow / edit / print off, and is best suited to the runner.

That’s why we’re constantly revisiting our plans; we did a major overhaul in 2024 and are constantly making small tweaks to improve them.

#5. We Are A Support Community

Through our in-house coaches and runners, our Facebook group of over 20,000 runners, and our Instagram community, we want to make sure you’ve got the support you need for the long run as you take on your marathon training journey.

Don’t You Have A Marathon Training App?

Actually, we do!

We’ve partnered with TrainingPeaks to offer all of our training plans through their app, where you get more in-depth information about each session, follow along with target pace/exertion levels in real time, and log your training directly in the app itself.

We do charge for these premium training schedules – but it’s less than half the price of a pair of running shoes, so if you’re interested, check out our TrainingPeaks Marathon Training Plans.

marathon training plans trainingpeaks

If All This Is Really Free, How Do You Folks Make Money?

We keep ourselves going by charging for a couple of premium products we’ve put out there: our TrainingPeaks Training Plans and our Marathon Training Masterclass.

The Masterclass is designed for any runner who really wants to dive deep into their marathon training: it includes over 6 hours of video tutorials on everything from injury prevention, nutrition, race day strategies, and more.

But – feel free to just grab a free training plan and be on your way!

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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