Our Complete Marathon Training Guide: How To Train For a Marathon

Marathon training can be an extremely rewarding experience as you prepare to get yourself to the starting line.

However, it is also a huge commitment – which is why it’s so important to prepare for those 26.2 miles correctly.

Let us guide you through the process with our training tips, free marathon training plans, and expert advice.

If you’re wondering how to train for a marathon, we’ve squeezed all the essentials into this article – from getting started to when you cross the finish line!

Ready? Let’s jump in!

Getting Starting – Marathon Training Essentials

Here are some of the tried-and-true facts of marathon training:

How Long Does It Take To Train For a Marathon?

It typically takes between 4-6 months to train for a marathon, depending on your initial ability level and marathon goals.

The shortest marathon training program we recommend is 3 months, or 12 weeks.

How Fit Should I Be Before Beginning Marathon Training?

Ideally, you should have some recent running fitness – if you’ve run a half marathon in the past year or two you’re in good shape to progress to the full 26.2 miles (or 42.2 kilometers).

The less active you currently are, the more time you should spend easing yourself into running – if in doubt, we recommend aiming for a 10k or run a half marathon first!

How Long Should I Run Each Week?

Your weekly mileage will gradually build up throughout your marathon training – the starting mileage will be dictated by your ability level.

By the time your marathon training peaks, you’ll likely be running around 40 – 50 miles per week.

How Many Times Per Week Should I Run?

Most marathon training schedules have 4 or 5 running days per week, and one day for cross training. Some plans include only 3 running days per week.

Note that having a training partner or running with a group can really help your motivation!

Is Cross Training a Necessary Part of Marathon Training?

Yes – keeping the body strong and flexible helps counteract some of the negative effects of running, helps you avoid injury, and become a stronger and more economical runner.

Each of our marathon training programs features one day for cross training.

Setting Marathon Goals

We recommend that you choose a marathon goal early on in your training program – your goal can influence your training strategy.

Example marathon goals include ‘just finishing‘ , or finishing within a certain time i.e. running a sub 4-hr marathon.

Curious as to the average running mile pace required to achieve certain marathon finishing times? Check out our Marathon Pace Charts.

How Long Should My Longest Long Run Be?

Long runs are performed weekly to increase your endurance and maximum distance – we advise a longest long run of 20 – 22 miles, depending on your training schedule.

Rookie runners should peak at 20 miles.

Anything more than this risks burnout and injury more than it contributes to your fitness.

Is a Marathon Training Plan Necessary?

Yes!

Having a solid marathon training program to follow guides you through your training – it gradually increases your mileage, balances intensity with rest, and gets you race-ready as economically as possible!

(check out our library of free training plans here, or below)

marathon training plan

Marathon Training Run Types Explained

Many running rookies wrongly believe that training for a marathon simply means booking dozens of miles – but this isn’t the full picture.

Successful marathon runners mix up their training with different types of training runs:

Classic Training Runs

Regular training runs are those runs typically done 2-3 times per week of training, usually after work or early in the morning. They’re the most common form of training on a marathon training plan.

They’re medium-length runs of 3 – 8 miles, done at a regular pace (marathon pace or slower).

Long Runs

Long runs are done once per week, in order to build endurance and cover long distances.

Their mileage should very gradually increase until it peaks at 20 – 22 miles. They should normally be done at a slow, comfortable pace.

Speed Work

Speed work comes in many forms – interval training, hill repeats, fartleks, tempo runs – and help improve your base running speed.

Note that speed work is not necessary for beginner runners, only those trying to aim for a specific marathon time.

Cross Training

Cross-training is not essential, but is always recommended – it’s an awesome tool for improving running economy and power and avoiding injury.

Resistance training, stretching, foam rolling, yoga, and swimming are recommended forms of cross-training.

Marathon Nutrition and Hydration

Getting your nutrition and hydration right as you make the step up to marathons is an essential part of your training progress.

As you increase the distance you’re running, it’s important to fuel as you run – in other words, replenish those carbohydrate stores which you’re depleting. Otherwise, you could quite easily hit the wall, or bonk.

Remember to fuel 45-60 minutes before you go running, and continue to fuel for any run that is over an hour. Whether it’s a sports drink, energy gel, or trail mix – it’s better to consume small but regular portions.

The same goes for hydration – for any run of over 45 minutes, consider rehydrating during the run.

Take care not to overhydrate, however – simply drink enough to quench your thirst. Small and regular sips is the easiest way to go.

marathon training program

Get Good Marathon Running Shoes

Getting the right pair of shoes for your marathon training – and your marathon event – is a crucial element of marathon success.

Check out my guide on How To Choose Running Shoes (note: comfort is the most important variable).

Also browse our Best Marathon Running Shoes Recommendations (updated regularly) for some ideas.

Marathon Training Plans

We’ve developed UESCA coach-approved marathon training plans to suit every level of ability, and target marathon time – using periodization training to optimize your race preparation.

Each of our plans is free to download, and are available in PDF and Google Sheets / MS Excel formats.

Whether you’re training for the New York City Marathon, Boston Marathon, or something smaller – each training plan is designed to get you race day-ready!

Visit our marathon training plan library here for full descriptions of each plan, or browse the plans below!

Related: Here’s Why Running a Marathon Without Training Is a Bad Idea

Beginner and Novice Marathon Training Plans

couch to marathon training plan
6 Month Marathon Training Plan
20 Week Marathon Training Plan for beginners
16 Week Marathon Training Plan - 1st Marathon

Intermediate Marathon Training Plans

Sub 4-hr Marathon Training Plan
12 Week Marathon Training Plan

Advanced Marathon Training Plans

20 Week Advanced Marathon Training Plan
20 Week Intense Advanced Marathon Training Plan

Check out the full library of marathon training plans here!

marathon training schedule

Free Marathon Training Bootcamp

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson

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 good beer. More at his bio.

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