Top 3 Beginner Marathon Training Plans + FAQs & Guidance

As a beginner, it can be hard to know which is the right training plan for you.

This is because for some, being a beginner might mean being completely new to running, whereas for others it might mean having some running experience but being new to the marathon distance.

That’s why we’ve created this page of our top three plans for marathon first-timers, all of which are designed by a professionally qualified and highly experienced running coach, and vary in terms of length and starting ability.

The plans have been refined and road-tested by tens of thousands of runners, and each is free to access in various formats (including printable file, PDF, and Google Sheets/Excel) with accompanying guidance notes. Additionally, they are all easily editable and customizable.

To help you along, we’ve also included a section of FAQs, guidance, and top tips for marathon newbies below the plans.

text saying 'top 3 marathon training plans for beginners' with a yellow tinted image of runner's feet in the background

Top 3 Beginner And Novice Marathon Training Plans

Click on the plan title or the image of the plan to access it and download it for free.

#1: Couch To Marathon Training Plan (24-Week)

Who’s It For?: Beginners who are completely new to running

Assuming you’re already an active person, you can go from couch to marathon in as little as six months.

The Couch to Marathon program is split into 4 distinct sections; 5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon. Each of these is a separate stage and should be treated as such. Feel free to pause between training plans.

This plan is the best beginner marathon training plan for someone with no running experience.

Length: 24 Weeks / 6 Months

Weekly Schedule: 3 comfortable mid-week runs, 1 long slow weekend run, 1 strength training session, and 2 rest days

couch to marathon training plan Printable

#2: 20 Week (5 Month) Marathon Training Plan

Who’s It For?: Newbie runners, or runners who are used to shorter distances

Designed for people who are new to marathons – beginners and novice runners who don’t have a long history of running. Perhaps if you’ve picked up running in the past year then this is the plan for you.

Again, ideally, you should be able to run 2-3 miles without stopping before you begin this plan, but you can choose to adopt a run/walk strategy too!

This marathon training schedule doesn’t have a time-goal or pace focus at all – the objective is to get the required mileage in and get comfortably to the finish line.

The 20-week marathon program includes gradual mileage increases designed to not overwhelm you and get you marathon-ready in a structured, injury-free way.

Length: 20 weeks / 5 months

Weekly Schedule: 2 mid-week easy runs, 1 slightly faster mid-week pace run, 1 long slow weekend run, 1 strength training session, and 2 rest days

20 Week Beginner Marathon Training Plan Printable

#3: Sub 4-Hour Marathon Training Plan

Who’s It For?: Our Sub Four Hour Training Plan has been reverse-engineered from the goal of crossing the finish line in less than four hours, with 20 weeks to get there.

Great for runners who have established an initial running base, or have an existing good fitness level and want to beat the 4hr time.

The plan includes one interval speed workout per week to help improve your running speed.

Length: 20 weeks / 5 months

Weekly Schedule: 2 comfortable training runs, 1 interval run, 1 strength training session, 1 long slow weekend run, and 2 rest days

Sub 4 Hour Marathon Training Plan Printable

Marathon Training FAQs And Guidance

How Long Is a Marathon?

A marathon is 26.2 miles or 42.195 kilometers.

How Long Should It Take For A Beginner To Train For A Marathon?

As a beginner, it’s recommended that you spend around 5 to 6 months training for your marathon. This allows sufficient time to build up the required mileage base, without ramping up too quickly.

This is particularly important for first-time marathon runners with a lower fitness level.

What Is The Best Beginner Marathon Training Plan For Someone With No Running Experience?

We would recommend our Couch To Marathon Beginners Training Plan. This plan is suitable for those who have no running experience at all.

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.

A lady running along a jungle trail

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 running days 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.

All of our plans come with accompanying guidance notes, as well as links to many more of the marathon resources that we’ve got on the site!

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, as well as a similar post-workout cool down. This is particularly important for speed work or higher-intensity workouts that have a higher risk of injury.

If you feel your training plan is pushing you too hard, don’t be afraid to take a day off, or consider switching to a different plan.

What Should I Do If I Miss Some Of My Marathon Training Schedule?

It’s ok to take an extra rest day here and there if you need it.

However, if you’ve missed a few weeks or more of your training you might want to consider postponing your marathon or starting again from a few weeks earlier in your training schedule if you have the time.

What If My Training Feels Too Difficult?

Training for a marathon is certainly not always an easy feat.

Of course, as a beginner, it is naturally going to feel quite difficult at times.

If you started out well, but the training feels like it’s ramping up too quickly, it’s OK to repeat weeks of your training if you have the time.

Again, it is also acceptable to take an extra rest day here and there if it feels like your body needs it.

Try to consider whether you are struggling because your body physically cannot cope with the training, or because mentally you are struggling to adjust to the new routine.

Remember, it is OK to adopt a run/walk strategy if you are finding it too difficult to run the full distance of each training run.

The run/walk technique involves taking short walking breaks during each run. You can read more about the run/walk strategy here.

runner's feet at the start line of a race

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

Cross-training – 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 Pace Should I Be Running At?

Rather than aiming for a specific pace, we would recommend thinking about your running effort in terms of Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). The recommended RPE for each of your runs is included within each plan.

What Is RPE?

Rate of Perceived Exertion (often shortened to RPE) is a simple tool that can help you tune into your body more and still reach your fitness and running goals.

At its simplest, RPE is a scale of 1 to 10, measuring the intensity of your effort – 1 being extremely light activity like a slow stroll, 10 being an all-out sprint that you can only maintain for a few seconds.

You can read our full guide on RPE here, or check out the chart below.

RPE Chart:

RPE chart

What Shoes Should I Be Wearing?

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

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 Do I Choose A Marathon Training Plan?

Deciding which marathon program is right for you is a personal choice – it depends on what your current running ability is, how long you have until your marathon, and what your marathon goals are.  

Check out the notes alongside each plan above to help you choose.

What Is The Best Training Plan for Beginners?

If you have plenty of time, we would highly recommend the 6 month marathon training plan. It’s designed to very gradually build up the mileage volume, so you shouldn’t get overwhelmed by the crazy workload.

a yellow and blue filtered image of runners running on a road

Why Is There No Speed Work in the Beginner/Novice Plans?

Speed-based sessions (interval training, repeats, Yassos, etc.) are excellent for improving your marathon pace, but they add a lot of intensity to an already busy marathon agenda. 

For novice runners, adding speedy sessions exponentially increases the risk of injury – so we don’t include it in our novice training plans.

How To Customize Our Marathon Training Programs?

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 Sheets, PDF, 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!

runners' midriffs as they run their race

Who Has Designed These Training Plans?

Our training plans are all designed by Thomas, the Marathon Handbook founder and editor-in-chief, a UESCA-certified running coach, and a highly-seasoned ultra-runner. 

He’s worked with hundreds of runners and developed these training plans through ongoing research, his work with other marathon runners, and personal experience.

We’ve shared these 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 Do These Plans 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 Thomas became a coach, he followed Hal Higdon‘s training plans for each of his marathons and credits the Hal Higdon training plan for getting him through his 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, and give you tips for how to do every workout.

#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.

a man and woman running up stairs

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!

Training Plan Elements Explained:

Training Runs

These are standard runs, typically of 3 – 6 miles in length. They are used to build running form and time-on-your-feet. They should be performed at close-to your target race pace, or at a conversational pace if you have no target speed. 

Long Runs

These are longer-distance runs, designed to increase your stamina. They are purely about building up the length of time you can continue long-distance running – don’t worry about your pace, keep it at an easy conversational level (more info). They’re the most important run of your week, whether you’re training for the New York Marathon or the London Marathon.

Pace Runs

Pace runs should be done at your target race pace if you have one, or slightly harder than your regular training runs – a 5 out of 10 RPE.

Cross Training

Any form of exercise that does not involve running, and preferably one which is low impact (avoid contact sports). Good forms of cross-training include yoga, swimming, and strength training.

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Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community, she is known for her ear-to-ear smile, even under the toughest racing conditions. She is a UESCA-certified running coach and loves sharing her knowledge and experience to help people reach their goals and become the best runners they can be. Her biggest passion is to motivate others to hit the trails or road alongside her, have a blast, and run for fun!

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