So you want to run a marathon and need a training plan. You came to the right place! Whether this is your first time training for the distance or you’re aiming for a shiny new PR, we compiled everything you need to know about marathon training.
There are countless training plan options available—some better than others. Keep reading to learn more about marathon training, including how long you need to train beforehand, how to pick the right race, nutrition, and more.
How Long Should I Train for a Marathon?
How long you should train beforehand depends on your experience level, current fitness, and the expert or authority you’re following. Generally speaking, most marathon training plans span from 12 to 20 weeks.
Each week will include different types of workouts such as intervals, speedwork, and hills, easy recovery runs, and a long run. A great plan makes sure you don’t overdo things either. You’ll gradually build-up to a long run that’s at least 20 miles, have plenty of rest and cross-training days, and a proper prerace taper.
Our Runner’s World Marathon Training Plans are designed to help you crush your first race or finally break that time-based goal. Scroll down for our five most popular plans. Sometimes, it helps to have a tune-up race on the calendar too. Just click here for some ideas.
Which Marathon Should I Run?
There are marathons scheduled all throughout the year, but which race you choose to train for will depend on a few key factors including timing, location, ability to travel, budget, and your goal (see more on that below).
We want to make it easy on you, so you can spend less time hunting down races and more time chasing PRs.
- For beginners, try local races first. You can train on some of the exact roads you’ll cover on race day and avoid the disruptions of travel before and after the event.
- As you become more experienced, look for some mid-major races within a few hour radius. If you’re on the east coast, the Philadelphia Marathon or Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC are great options. If you’re on the west coast, try the Carlsbad Marathon or the Napa Valley Marathon. If you’re in the midwest, Grandma’s Marathon is a fan favorite. If you’re somewhere else in the world, go down to your local running store and ask what races are out there.
- For more advanced runners, you might have a bucket list World Major Marathon in mind. From the famous hills of Boston to the urban jungle of New York, these races are the best known in the world. As such, they’re hard to get into. You’ll have to apply to lotteries or achieve a time qualifier.
Of course, these are only suggestions. But the easiest way to plan out your calendar is to pick a spring race and a fall race to be your main goals. Then, you can fill out other races on the way that fit into your training schedule.
What Are Your Marathon Goals?
Whether it’s your first or 50th marathon, each training cycle comes with a unique set of goals. Are you aiming to improve your health? Make it to the finish line? Or maybe you’re trying to hit a time goal?
Finish times will vary depending on your level of experience (beginner, intermediate, advanced), training cycle, and age. But for what it’s worth, the average marathon time in 2019 for men was 4:30:46 and 4:56:39 for women.
We have six training plans for runners of all levels with a variety of goals—all of these plans include cross-training and rest days, which are key to preventing injuries from popping up during your training. Here’s what they are and a little bit about them:
- Run your first marathon: You should be able to run at least 6 miles and be used to working out regularly at a moderate to hard effort.
- Break 4 hours: For a consistent runner used to regularly working out four to five times a week.
- Break 3:45: For the consistent runner looking to complete 26.2 miles at 8:33 pace.
- Break 3:30: For the consistent runner looking to complete 26.2 miles at 8:00 pace.
- Break 3:15: For a consistent runner who has completed at least one marathon and can already run at a hard effort for over an hour.
- Break 3 hours: For the marathoner with race experience that is aiming to run 26.2 miles at 6:52 pace per mile.
What Training Plan Should I Use?
If you’re overwhelmed when you Google “marathon training plans”, you’re not alone.
Not only do you need a plan that gets you to the finish line, you need one that’s going to get you to the starting line feeling strong, healthy, and confident. That will look different to every single runner. Some people respond well to logging high mileage six days a week; others prefer lower-intensity plans that allow for more cross-training.
No matter what any other runner tells you about the plan they swear by, the best marathon training program is one that works for you. That’s why we broke down everything you need to know about the most popular marathon training plans—including insider details from real people who’ve used these plans to cross the finish line. Click the link below to read that story.
What If I Miss Training Time or Suffer an Injury?
It’s important to stick to your training plan in order to run your best race. However, no one’s training is perfect. Niggles, injuries, or other unexpected life events (such as having to work late or care for a sick family member) can pop up, leading you to miss some training time. Take a deep breath. It’s okay!
No training plan is set in stone, and if you’re unable to complete a specific workout on the day your plan calls for it because something unexpected comes up, there’s nothing wrong with swapping it for a different day or simply taking a day off.
If you feel an injury coming on or getting worse, you should stop and take a rest day or cross-train, then reassess. It’s ultimately better to skip a few training days to allow your body to rest than to continue running and risk a more serious injury that leaves you unable to run your marathon.
To prevent injuries from derailing your training in the first place, build up your training mileage slowly so your body can safely adjust to your marathon goal. Try out the 10 percent rule: increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent. It ensures a safe, healthy buildup.
What If My Training Feels Too Difficult?
Marathon training is no easy feat—it requires a ton of dedication to long runs, tempo runs, speed workouts, and cross-training. At times, this can feel overbearing and difficult. You should be uncomfortable to some degree; that’s normal when growing in anything. But your training shouldn’t feel impossible.
If your marathon training feels too hard, consider factors like rest days, pain levels, and your mindset. Are you taking proper time to recover from your efforts? Are you ignoring aching muscles? Are you in the right headspace before and during your workouts?
Read on to learn more about the importance of rest days, managing pain, and developing a proper mindset—all of which can make a difference in how your training feels.
What Do I Eat During My Training?
Proper nutrition during marathon training is essential since you need to fuel your runs and eat for muscle recovery.
While what you eat before a run can vary depending on the specific workout you’re doing, carbs are key in providing your body enough energy to complete your run. Good options include a banana, oatmeal, a white bagel, a honey packet, or any combination of these foods, depending on how long or intense your workout is.
During your run, aim to fuel with 30 grams of carbs every 30 to 45 minutes after one hour with options such as gels, gummies, or easy-to-eat whole foods. Your stomach can absorb up to 60 grams of carbs per hour when diluted with water so be sure to also hydrate properly along the way.
To help you recover faster, eating foods that restore your muscles, strengthen your bones, and reduce inflammation is important. This includes foods that contain protein, healthy fats, carbs, antioxidants, and certain vitamins and minerals (such as vitamin D, calcium, and electrolytes).
Experiment with fuel during your training and not on race day, since everyone tolerates fuel differently. Get a good sense of what works best so you don’t have any unexpected stomach issues on race day that derail you from achieving your goal.
Read on to learn more about the breakdown of what nutrients—and how much of them—are necessary to help you run your best.
What Shoes Should I Buy For My Race?
Your shoes are the most important piece of gear for training and race day. After all, if your kicks aren’t comfortable and tailored to your needs as a runner, your training and your marathon won’t be nearly as enjoyable.
Since everyone is different, there’s no singular best shoe that fits the bill for everyone. It’s important to find a shoe that fits you well and has features that meet your specific needs. For instance, if you are an overpronator with a wide foot, the shoe that works best for you might be different from an underpronator with a narrow foot.
You also want to take into consideration the miles you put on your shoes. You generally can put about 300 to 500 miles on one pair of shoes before they wear out, so depending on how many miles you run during your training, you may want to invest in two pairs of shoes—one for training and one for race day.
Don’t run your marathon in shoes you’ve never tried before—that’s a one way ticket to blisters and plantar fasciitis. You’ll want to know how they feel before completing 26.2 miles in them. Read on for more on how to find out which types of shoes are right for you.
What Should I Wear to My Race?
While everyone’s preferences are different, there are a few general rules to take into account when deciding what you should wear on race day. First and foremost, consider your race’s start time and the weather. If your race starts early in the morning, it may be cold out at first but warm up as the day goes on. If it’s supposed to rain, wearing water-proof or water-resistant items is a good idea.
With that said, layering is key. If you wear multiple layers, you can take clothes off as the weather or temperature changes. Just make sure to wear clothing you’re not attached to. Once you throw it off, you likely won’t get it back—most races pick up these leftover layers and donate them.
Regardless of the weather, consider certain fabrics that are soft, stretchy, and wick away sweat, like a polyester-spandex blend. Stay away from others—like heavy, chafe-causing cotton—so that the material is breathable and doesn’t rub on your skin. Also—while not completely necessary—wearing a GPS watch helps keep track of your time and pace.
Read on to learn more about how to dress for a marathon.
How Should I Recover After a Marathon?
While everyone’s recovery time will look different, there are a few general strategies you can use to bounce back from your marathon. No one wants to limp around and avoid stairs in the days after a race.
Getting enough rest and sleep is necessary for your body to heal. But it’s still important to get your blood flowing by moving around (gently), as this will flush the lactic acid from your muscles. Try walking around, stretching, doing yoga, foam rolling, and icing your muscles.
Don’t return to running too soon after your race—your body has been through a lot of stress while training for and running your marathon. But if you do, take it easy. Your body needs time to heal, so maybe throw some cross training in there before you start logging miles again. Learn more about the marathon recovery process below.