Marathon Training Plan Mistakes: Don’t Make These 9 Errors

So, you want to join the 11 million or so people in the world running a marathon this year? Congrats! The first thing you need is a solid marathon training plan which is your roadmap to success. 

Selecting the right marathon training plan to go 26.2. miles is crucial: select the wrong marathon training plan, or follow it the wrong way, and you could never reach the finish line, or worse get injured and not be able to run!

We got you! 

In this article, we are going to cover:

  • What is a good marathon training plan
  • How to select the right marathon training plan for me
  • How long should your marathon training plan be
  • How long should your marathon long run be
  • How many miles should you run a week to train for a marathon
  • How many days a week should you run to train for a marathon
  • And, 9 mistakes to avoid with your marathon training plan

Let’s go!

Marathon Training Plans Dont Make These 9 Mistakes

What is a good marathon training plan?

Training for a marathon involves much more than just running. It involves a careful progression of volume and intensity to get you to the start line healthy and fit. 

When looking for a marathon training plan, you should find these ingredients:

  • An appropriate starting point for your current level of fitness
  • a stepback week, with no mileage increase, every 3-4 weeks
  • a base phase of easy mileage to start
  • a weekly long run, usually done on the weekends
  • a taper period in which you reduce your mileage about two – four weeks before race day.
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A caveat: if you are running just to finish, doing a beginner or couch to marathon plan, it is possible you may not have any speed workouts in your plan. That’s okay! After you get your first marathon under your belt, you can progress to doing doses of speed in your running. 

How do I select the right marathon training plan for me?

Your marathon training plan should meet you where you are at and fit within your life. 

Click here to browse our library of free, downloadable marathon training plans – there’s one for everyone!

When assessing a possible training plan for yourself, look at two main factors:

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1. It has an appropriate starting mileage

The starting mileage should be equal to or ten percent higher than your current weekly running volume. 

This is crucial. If you increase your mileage too quickly, you are most likely to get injured. Indeed, an increase in mileage is the most common cause of running injuries.

2. It will fit in your schedule

The running schedule should fit with your life. If your training plan has you running 6 days a week and you know your body can only do 5, or you only have time for 4 runs per week, then you will need to find a different schedule. 

Staying consistent with running and sticking to your running schedule as much as possible (life happens, so some changes are expected) is really important to achieving your goal of finishing a marathon. 

If you miss several training runs, you will need to scale your running and potentially change your goal race. If you have missed several days to a week of running, it is not advised to jump right back into the plan. You will need to reduce your mileage and work back up to get back on schedule. 

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How long should my marathon training plan be?

Most marathon training plans will be about 16-weeks or 4 months long. Some may be up to 6-months long, which include a solid base training phase.

There are some, like ours, that are 3-months long and are appropriate for runners who have three months of easy running to build from.

The length of your marathon training plan depends on your current running abilities and your marathon goals.

So, be honest with yourself on where you are starting from!

How long should I run before a marathon?

Most marathon training plans will include a long run of at least 18 miles. The length of your longest run, which is 2-4 weeks out from the race, will depend greatly on what your estimated marathon finish time is. 

  • If you plan to run your marathon in 4 hours or less, then you will likely have at least one long run over 20 miles. 
  • If your long run is under 5 hours, your long run will be capped at about 3:30 hours. 
  • If your predicted marathon finish time is more than 5 hours, long runs should be capped at 4 hours. 
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You should not run a 26.2-mile long run before your marathon because that taxes the body too much and increases the risk of getting hurt and not hitting your time goal. 

How many miles a week do I need to run to train for a marathon?

You should run at least 25 miles a week to train for a marathon. If you plan to finish in a faster time, of 4 hours or less, you should be running closer to 40-50 miles a week to train for a marathon. 

How many times a week should I run to train for a marathon?

Depending on your time goal, you should run at least 3, and typically 5 days a week to train for a marathon. 

9 mistakes to avoid with your marathon training plan

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1. Starting with too aggressive mileage.

If you pick a marathon training plan that has you running much more than what your body is used to running at the time, you put yourself at high risk of injury.

Pick a plan that meets you at your current level of fitness, or 10 percent above your current weekly volume.

If the plan you like has higher mileage than what you can currently run, work up to that mileage before beginning the plan. 

2. Picking too short of a plan.

You want to pick a training plan that gives you a solid base of running mileage that allows your body to physiologically adapt to running—including building endurance and musculoskeletal strength.

If your training plan is too short, you won’t have time to build your fitness to meet your marathon goal. 

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3. Choosing a marathon plan that doesn’t fit with schedule

Don’t pick a marathon training plan that doesn’t easily fit your lifestyle. If the long runs aren’t doable on the day, or the plan has too many running days than you can handle, find a different plan.

If the plan is too hard to follow, you won’t do it and set yourself up for failure!

4. Not being consistent

The most crucial way to get better at running is to be consistent with your training. If you pick up your marathon training here and there, you won’t be ready for race day. That’s a guarantee.

Training for a marathon is a commitment, so you need to jump in with both feet. 

5. Not adjusting your plan for off days

If you skip several runs, it’s risky to jump right back into your plan.

You will need to add some days of scaled runs to work back up to your plan. You also should never try to make up missed mileage. This will also predispose you to injury. 

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6. Skimping on recovery

The running equation for PRs is stress+rest=success.

Thus, you need to recover as hard as you run. Be sure to take your off days, get plenty of sleep, warm-up and cool-down, and eat well when training for a marathon. Otherwise, you guessed it, you may get hurt! 

7. Being inflexible

Most people pick a race and then pick a marathon training plan. This is risky.

Ideally, you would pick a training plan, and then when you feel secure with your training regimen, sign up for a marathon.

You should never ignore warning signs that you should push back the date of your marathon because your body needs more time. 

8. Tapering too much or too little

The taper period is where the magic happens.

It allows your body to build itself back up and can increase fitness by 4 per cent. It occurs two to three (or at most, four) weeks before your race and still includes some longer runs and workouts.

However, if you run too much or too little during your taper, you could arrive at the start line with flat legs. Make sure your plan includes reduced long runs and speed—but still has both ingredients. 

Related: What’s The Optimal Marathon Taper Length?

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9. Not having fun!

Marathon training is supposed to be FUN! But it can easily turn into a grind.

So, be sure to connect with your “why” for running this marathon.

Run with friends or find a training group. This can make the miles fly by and give you accountability. And, regularly review your training in a log to show how far you have come in your journey!

After the perfect Marathon training plan for you? Check ours out!

For the beginners:

This one is great for marathon first timers:

Looking to break 4 hours? This one’s for you!:

For experienced runners looking to smash the 3 hour barrier:

Photo of author
Whitney Heins is the founder of The Mother Runners and a VDOT-O2 certified running coach. She lives in Knoxville, TN with her two crazy, beautiful kids, pups, and husband. She is currently training to qualify for the US Olympic Trials marathon.

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