Marathon Training Schedule: a step by step guide to running a marathon

Choosing to commit to a marathon training schedule takes a lot of faith.  Ask anyone though who's ever run a marathon if they regret it and the answer is almost always, invariably, "No!" Yes, it's a lot of hard training, but the rewards are more than worth any amount of training.

Some times you have to just jump in, sign up for the race and set the goal of finishing. Only at the end will you truly be aware of the benefits and how the race has changed you.

Keep reading to learn about how to plan out your marathon training!

STEP 1: Are you ready to run a marathon?

The first step in starting anything is to make sure that it is a realistic goal. Is your body up to the challenge? Can you mentally tackle the distance? Are you at a good point in your life to juggle all of the training? Answer these specific questions to determine if you are ready to run a marathon.

STEP 2: Are you wearing the right shoes?

One of the most beautiful things about running is that it can be done anytime, anywhere. All you need is a pair of shoes. Don't just settle for any pair though. Put some thought and research behind your choice and save yourself from pain and injury down the road. Increase your biomechanical ability and form, and read which running shoes I consider the best for your feet

STEP 3: Choose a marathon training schedule

BEGINNER PLANS

We offer a 16 week schedule or a 32 week schedule (one of our most popular marathon training schedules) for beginner runners. Choosing one will probably come down to how much time you have and at what rate you are comfortable with building up your long run mileage. The 32 week training plan builds mileage more slowly than the 16 week schedule but also more ideally.

You may also want to check out: Beginner Marathon Training for some more tips and guidelines to enhance your training.

INTERMEDIATE PLANS

The Intermediate training schedules are for runners who maybe has a marathon or 2 under his belt and is looking at breaking a time goal. These plans, unlike the beginner plans, contains speed training, hill workouts and cross-training. It's upping the level!

Each of these plans come with a layout of what days to run. Obviously you may want to modify the plan to meet your daily schedule. Just be sure you are putting in the miles, because that is what marathon training is all about: building endurance!

CUSTOM TRAINING PLANS

If you still have not found your perfect plan, give our Custom Marathon Training Program a try. We will design a personalized training plan that fits your goals, time period, running history, etc. that you will inform us through filling out our client profile. 

It's fast, cuts out the guess work and it will be tailored to fit you!


STEP 4: Get yourself a running log

Running a marathon will probably be one of the coolest things you will ever do! Document it. Here I talk about things you might want to record and some other suggestions when using a running log. 

STEP 5: Understand marathon nutrition

Eating a certain marathon diet and giving your body what it needs in order to train and run a marathon is critical to your success. It comes down to eating carbohydrates as they are the macronutrient that your body burns the fastest and most efficiently to sustain your high intensity running. Read more about what your marathon nutrition should look like and my #1 tip.

STEP 6: Tips for running the long run

The long run is the core of your marathon training schedule. It is the single most important part of your whole marathon training schedule. It may be daunting to be running so many miles especially if this is your first marathon but in order to succeed and be the proud owner of a marathon medal, they must done. Here's a guide and some tips on how to run your long runs. Preview: Tip #1: always run them s-l-o-w and steady!

Also here is your actionable long distance running recovery plan that you will want to utilize immediately after your run!

STEP 7: Learn how to pace yourself

Pacing is a huge part of marathon running. You will want to teach your body to have a certain stamina when running for hours on end and to be as efficient as possible in your form and in your fuel usage. See here for more information on how to pace yourself and a running pace chart that will tell you when you will finish the marathon at the pace per mile that you run at. 

Also, the  Train Faster + Smarter Runner's Pace Kit will tell you exactly what a good goal race pace is for you and what paces YOU personally, need to train at for your long runs, tempo runs, and speed workouts to meet that time goal. 

STEP 8: Are you taking advantage of cross training?

Cross training allows your body to workout other muscles that you don't use to run. It ultimately will help you to prevent injury by strengthening all of your muscles. Here's a guideline on cross-training, the best cross-training that will benefit your marathon training and the ones to avoid while in training.

STEP 9: How to stay motivated

Staying motivated throughout your training can be one of the biggest challenges throughout your training. Since a marathon training schedule takes so much time, it's normal to get frustrated at one time or another with your progress, running, possible injury or other setbacks. Here are my tips for staying motivated. 

Also, as a rule, marathoners tend to be overachievers (a good thing usually!) but that can lead to too much of a good thing. Read this if you think you might be overtraining and what you need to do about that.

STEP 10: Staying injury free

Another challenge you will run into while training for a marathon is avoiding injury. Since you are putting in so much time into your running, injuries can and will crop up from time to time and can range from minor to chronic. I talk about running injuries here, the most common types and what you need to do about them to prevent them and care for them. 

STEP 11: Want to become a stronger and more powerful runner?

Incorporating hill training into your marathon training schedule will allow you to become stronger and more powerful which in turn will make you a faster runner. Before you attempt to add any speed work such as intervals, reps, or threshold runs to your training, carve in time building strength in your legs. The best way for a runner to do this is by running hill reps. Read this guide on hill training. 

STEP 12: Want to get faster? 

Your speed will be limited to your training and ultimately to your genetics. You can train yourself though to reach your full potential and run your fastest by increasing your VO2max. Speed training is how you will become faster. Here is my guide on speed training and the best types for runners. 

STEP 13: How to taper

During the final week to two weeks of your marathon training schedule, you will want to include a tapering period. This will allow your body to rest and do recovery and repairs in order for it to reach its peak potential by rest day. Here is a guide on including tapering into your training. 

STEP 14: How to eat for a successful marathon race 

A successful marathon begins with training but it can end with your nutrition. Don't give your body the food and fuel that it needs and you will find yourself bonking and hitting that dreaded marathon wall during the race. To avoid that, you want to be sure you are giving your body the means to actually run a marathon.

Find out how much fuel you can store, burn, and will need before, during and after a marathon and at what mile YOU personally will hit the wall if you don't refuel and what you need to consume to make sure that doesn't happen with the Avoid the Wall Marathon Kit.

For more resources on getting nutritionally marathon ready read:

Racing Runners Nutrition

Carbo-loading Guide + a free downloadable list of high carbohydrate foods and menu planning

STEP 15: What you need to be doing the week before the marathon

The week leading up to a marathon can leave you anxious. Distract yourself with what you should be doing during the week before the marathon and you will reduce your tension. Be sure to download your packing checklist so you leave nothing important behind.

Also, read this page for running tips to use and prepare for before the marathon in case your race takes a turn for the worse!


As Benjamin Franklin says, "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail". There is a lot to think about before running a marathon so start ahead of time. I recommend packing and making a list of everything you will need the week before your marathon. This will give you time to actually prepare what you will need and fill in any gaps without stressing out at the last minute. 

STEP 16: Race day: How to tackle it and enjoy the process before and after the gun

Follow these tips for staying cool, calm, and collected before, during and after the marathon, how to put the race in the bag, how to deal with setbacks, and how to recover.  Nutrition and hydration are probably the most important aspects to keep at the front of your mind but also dealing with the heat, pain, mind block, and in general just having a good time!  Also, when can you race again? I'm sure you will be asking! 

STEP 17: Give your body time to recover

Treat your body well and it will be good to you. Let it recover properly! Follow these guidelines on what you should be doing during your first day, week, and month post marathon race (+ when you can race again) in order to properly allow your body to recover and heal.  



STEP 18: Stay in Shape in between Races!

If you are worried about gaining weight and how to stay in shape in between your races and training cycles then here is your plan of action!

The Components of a Marathon Training Schedule

For the First Timer:

A first time marathoner looking for a marathon training schedule should realize that their focus is to finish the marathon. Don't worry about time goals, building muscle, etc. just focus on enjoying the race and finishing it. 

To do this, the runner will build a base on which they will increase their mileage slowly but progressively. This will be done through the Long Run


The Intermediate Marathon Runner: 

After you have run a couple of marathons you might start to think about increasing your speed, adding some strength training in to your marathon training schedule and really focusing on how to get the most of your long runs.

At this point you may want to look at basing your marathon training schedule off of these three components:

Hill (Strength) Training

Speed Training

The Long Run

These are the three main components of a marathon training plan when your focus is a time goal. The guidelines and how to add them to your training are all laid out in each of the above pages. 


And We All Need...

Of course running long distances will necessitate a rest period before your actual race in order to allow you to reach your peak performance. To do this, your marathon plan must and should have a Taper Period


How Long Does it Take to Complete a Marathon Training Schedule?

The answer ultimately lies with you. Most marathon training plans dictate a set amount of time to complete the training but whether you draw it out longer or shorten it a tad is up to you and what your body can handle. 

A well structured training plan will be at least 12 weeks long. You don't want to demand too much out of your body in a short amount of time as you will reek havoc, damage and more than likely an injury. 12 weeks seems to give your body just enough time to adapt to the rigors of the marathon.

However, 12 weeks might be way too short if this is your first marathon or you have taken a break from running and want to get back into it. Allow yourself more time and more flexibility. Try to get at least 4 months of training behind you. 

We offer varying lengths of training programs as you see below. Our 32 week program is one of our most popular as it really helps you develop a base and very gradually increases you long run mileage. 


A final word...

Remember that this is a journey. You are going to experience ups and downs just as in any journey. Know that they will come, the good days and the bad, be prepared for it and you will get the best of it.

Work hard, train hard, put in the effort and the marathon will become yours. Remember: Failure to prepare is preparing to fail! 


Related Pages to Marathon Training Schedule Step by Step Guide:

Beginner Marathon Training

16 Week Beginner Marathon Program

32 Week Beginner Marathon Program

12 Week Marathon Program

16 Week Intermediate Marathon Program

How Long is the Marathon?

The Marathon Taper

Custom Marathon Training Program

The 7 Staples of a Marathon Training Diet 

Your actionable long distance running recovery plan






New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.