Our 16 Week Marathon Training Plan is for beginner to intermediate runners who are looking to get marathon-ready.
Perhaps you’re getting ready for your first marathon, or you’ve run a marathon or two in the past and are looking for a training program to get yourself back into shape: this 16-week marathon training plan is the one for you.
This plan is designed to get you to the finish line – if you have any pace-specific goals (such as beating 4hrs 30mins), I’ve included one day of pace training to focus on your speed.
If you’ve got more time to prepare, I’d suggest checking out my 20 week marathon training plan, or my How To Train For A Marathon In Six Months guide – both are written with 1st-time marathon runners in mind (or check out our complete Marathon Training Plan database)!
In this post, I’m going to explain the rationale and building blocks of a 16 week marathon schedule, share our free downloadable beginner marathon training plan (in PDF and Google Sheets / Excel spreadsheet format), and point you towards some additional resources for your marathon training!
Let’s jump in!
Can You Get Ready For A Marathon In 16 Weeks?
If you have some running experience and can complete a 5 mile run without stopping (regardless of your speed), then yes – it’s entirely within your abilities to be marathon-ready within a 16 week marathon training schedule.
This 16 week period includes 13 weeks of gradually increasing your weekly mileage until it peaks with your longest long run of 20 miles, before spending 3 weeks tapering – – – i.e. winding down your training so you get to the start line feeling relaxed and your body primed to do it’s best.
These 4 months will be fairly intense, but designed to increase your training volume gradually as not to overwhelm you.
6 Tips For Nailing Your 16 Week Marathon Training Period
1. The Long Run Is Your Most Important Run
Your weekly long run is all about increasing your endurance – your body’s ability to keep running for a long time without stopping. The long run increases your muscular and cardiovascular endurance, and trains your body to fuel itself during extended workouts.
The biggest mistake many rookies make with their long runs is they try to run them too fast – your long run should be performed at an easy, comfortable, conversational pace.
So the long run is the most important run in your marathon training plan – if at all possible, do every one. If you need to miss a workout, try not to make it the long run.
2. Strength Training Helps Keep Injuries At Bay (And Makes You a Better Runner)
My 16 week training program includes one day of cross training, or strength training, per week.
Many runners simply neglect any form of exercise that isn’t running, but for my money it’s the 2nd most important workout of the training schedule (following the long run).
Cross training means any form of exercise which complements your running, and strength training is without doubt the most effective way to cross train.
I’m not necessarily talking about lifting heavy weights (don’t start this if you haven’t done so previously, before your marathon training) but rather bodyweight exercises and lighter weight, high rep gym routines – it all counts as strength training.
By focusing on your upper legs, hips, core, and upper body during these sessions you’ll strengthen many of the areas left weakened by all your run training, and improve your running economy (essentially the miles per gallon you get from your body).
Don’t know where to start?
Here’s a short, 20-minute, no-equipment bodyweight workout you can follow at home.
(Youtube is stacked with strength training workouts you can do at home with minimal equipment!)
In fact, I usually recommend 2-3 short strength training sessions per week in a training plan to runners looking to improve their performance. However, when you’re in marathon training mode, we have to balance the cross training with an already busy week of run training, and make time for rest too. That’s why there’s only one session per week.
3. Speed Ain’t All That
I designed the 16 week marathon training program for runners who are not overly concerned about their race finishing time.
Often, when training for a marathon, it’s easy to get fixated on aiming for a specific finishing time.
For less experienced runners, especially if it’s your first marathon, I tend to recommend you focus simply on running a comfortable, even pace throughout your event, and have the goal of finishing your marathon.
Having said that, the training plan does include one ‘race pace run’ per week – the idea being that if you have a target marathon pace in mind, you should practice running it during this workout.
Not sure what your running pace should be for your target finishing time? Check out our Marathon Pace Charts here.
4. Recognise When To Take A Break
The 16 week marathon training program includes two rest days per week, but always remember that this plan is a guide – it shouldn’t be set in stone.
Every runner goes through ups and downs in terms of energy levels, motivation, and fatigue. And while you’re following a marathon training schedule, you’ve going through high-volume training – which is bound to affect you.
So be sure to listen to your body carefully during the training plan – any signs of fatigue, the onset of a minor injury, or simply lack of energy are signals that you’re perhaps pushing a little hard and need to back off.
Never be afraid to take an extra rest day, or re-shuffle your training plan around your personal schedule.
Just try to preserve that long run, if you can.
5. Taper Well!
The Taper is the last 3 weeks of the 16 week marathon training plan, and is when you will gradually decrease your training volume.
The purpose of the taper is to allow your body to consolidate the gains it’s made in training, heal any micro-tears in your muscles, and build up glycogen stores – all of which help get you to the start line in optimal condition.
What’s interesting is that many runners really struggle with the taper!
You’d assume that after 13 weeks of intense run training, you’d be ready for a break. But many runners are left feeling restless and with pent-up energy after having to curb their training 3 weeks before their big event.
It’s tempting to try to sneak in a few longer / more intense runs during those final 3 weeks – especially if you’ve skipped a few earlier in the training.
However, beware! Any last-minute long runs will just leave you a little more beaten up come race day.
6. A Successful Marathon Is All In The Preparation
Up til now, all we’ve really discussed is marathon training.
But marathon preparation is a huge part of your overall strategy, and one you need to be thinking about as race day approaches.
It means studying your marathon route and knowing the terrain – the hills, the likely weather conditions, the aid station locations and what they’ll supply, the race registration procedures…everything.
Lastly, it means running through every detail of your race beforehand – any good athlete knows what each step of a good race day looks like days or weeks before the actual race. It’s a form of sports visualization, getting you mentally ready to run your best race!
Here’s Our 16 Week Beginner Marathon Training Plan
Who Is The Training Plan For?:
Beginner or intermediate runners looking to ready for their marathon!
Perhaps you’ve run a marathon before, or a half marathon or two.
Ideally you should have already been running for a few months, if not longer, and be able to run 5 miles without stopping.
Remember that speed is not important for this training plan – more important is your ability to keep running the distances necessary.
If in doubt, grab a copy of the plan and see if you can follow the first week – which includes 2 x 3 mile runs, one 5 mile run, and a long run of 8 miles at the weekend (which you can choose to run / walk).
How Long Is The Marathon Training Schedule?:
16 weeks // 4 months.
Training Schedule Description:
The training plan focusses on building your strong running base and adding mileage.
The ‘training runs’ should be done at a comfortable, sustainable pace – their purpose is to help you get the miles and time on your feet in.
The ‘race pace run’ is designed for those who have a specific target finish time in mind: during these runs, stick to your target marathon pace. If you don’t have a target marathon pace, maintain a comfortable, sustainable pace.
Long runs are there to increase your maximum mileage and time on your feet. The whole purpose of these is to run slowly – at a conversational pace – no faster. If you are struggling during these long runs, feel free to take walking breaks – no worries.
The marathon training schedule includes one day or cross training and two rest days.
The rest days are especially important for letting your body recover.
Feel free to download the training plan and change it up to suit your schedule.
Download The Training Plan Here
Enter your email and I’ll send you this free training plan now, in PDF and Google Sheets formats (completely customisable), in both miles and kilometers.
The most comprehensive plan you will find
I had run a couple of half marathons and was in reasonable shape coming into the plan and it was a good rise in intensity throughout. You need to want to do an event like this – I was getting up at 3am to get my long run in before kids weekend sport etc and this was hard. When you combine the plan with the online community through the Marathon Handbook FB page and website, you get complete support. Have used this plan with great success and now looking at upping the pace in the marathon space… GREAT JOB!
Got me round me Virtual London Marathon, great plan – I did 6hrs 56min
This is quite amazing. It will help me achieve my goal
Thanks for this – got me to the finish line of my marathon surprisingly comfortably!
I wasn’t sure if 3 months for a marathon was enough….I somehow scraped through in 4 hours and 20 minutes 😀
Thanks – got me my sub 4-hr marathon!
Proven Training Plans by a UESCA-certified Running Coach
Every one of our training plans has been developed by Thomas Watson, a UESCA-certified running coach.
Thomas is also a podium-finishing ultra-marathon runner, and has dozens of marathons under his belt.
Each training plan has been road-tested by hundred of runners, refined and improved – and are free to download and customise to suit your needs!