How to train for a marathon?
This can be a very overwhelming question for runners if they aren't sure where to start, how the journey is going to play out and what the end result will be.
But you want to train for a marathon!
I am so excited for you already!
Training and running a marathon can truly be life changing!
You are probably aware that just due to the distance of a marathon it is a lot of hard work!
Committing 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, without a doubt, "No!"
The rewards are more than worth any amount of training.
Sometimes 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.
We got a lot to cover in this Ultimate Guide on How to Train for a Marathon!
In a nutshell...everything you need to know on how to train for a marathon including:
Let's get started with all the steps on how to train for a marathon!
The first step in how to train for a marathon is to make sure that you are actually ready to commit to the challenges of training for a marathon.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to make sure that you are truly ready to begin marathon training:
If you have a goal to run a marathon, however you are a non/runner or have running background (and especially if you have no fitness background as well) here are some things to think about when considering how to train for a marathon:
1. If you are a female older than 55 or a male older than 50 it would be ideal to consider filling out this quick PAR-Q+ form.
It will help you determine if you are ready to begin running and training for a marathon or if you should see your health care provider first.
2. Depending on the marathon training schedule that you are choosing to use, will help you determine what kind of running background you will need before you begin training.
Getting very specific about what you want out of a marathon is KEY in choosing and sticking with a marathon training schedule.
It's also a key component in how to train for a marathon.
Without a goal you can easily become swayed by your current emotions which could mean dropping out of marathon training and not sticking with your goal.
Your goal should be written down and placed somewhere that is visible to you, where it can hold you accountable.
Ask yourself WHY you want to run a marathon.
Give it plenty of thought.
It should be strong enough to help be a motivating factor to get you out the door on your scheduled training runs even when you are not feeling it.
People with goals go places and accomplish what they set out to do so do not skip this step!
You are now faced with one of the most important tasks of how to train for a marathon: deciding which marathon training schedule is right for you.
However, this can be a difficult task but also one of the most important steps in how to train for a marathon.
Your training plan will largely determine your success or failure so it's imperative that you choose the right one for you.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a marathon training schedule:
As I mentioned previously, which plan you choose will be dependent on your goals and your why for this marathon.
So here are some questions to ask yourself:
Is this your first marathon?
You need a beginner plan that's not filled with fancy workouts, and high mileage weeks, unless perhaps you are a seasoned runner.
Do you want to reach a time goal?
You will need to find a training plan that allows your body to peak at your optimal goal at the appropriate time.
Have you run multiple marathons and simply want a guide to follow?
Perhaps you just need a plan to follow that you can customize to yourself and take from it what you need and what aligns with your goals.
There is no size fits all when it comes to training for a marathon.
How long do you have to train before your marathon race day?
Obviously this will play a big part in the plan you choose. Do you have 3 months, 6 months, or a year? Think about how much time you have to work with before your marathon race day.
What is your current running or fitness level?
Consider how far you can run now.
Are you able to run (comfortably!) the longest run that is scheduled during week 1 of that marathon training plan you are eyeing?
You should be able to. Always start with where you are at so that you can keep on building!
You probably are also already asking yourself how long you actually should train for a marathon? What's a healthy timeframe for you?
Let's talk about that next!
There are many different answers that one might receive to this question but really the answer is:
It depends on the runner!
Here are some things you will want to consider:
The sweet spot for most runners seems to be between 16 to 20 weeks.
Here's a more in-depth page that talks about how long you should train for a marathon. It will help you to more definitely answer the question for yourself.
Your goal should be to get across the finish line, happy and healthy!
Do not worry about time and fancy running workouts.
Focus on your long distance running form, building stamina, listening to your body, etc.
26 miles is a long way and for a first time marathoner you want to train yourself to think and feel as a long distance runner.
Therefore you will want to find a beginner level marathon training schedule.
And that is what I have for you next in this how to train for a marathon ultimate guide!
This is a great option for those who are new to the marathon and want to block off a quarter of a year to fulfill their marathon dream!
This is a complete training package that comes with 3 different marathon training schedules that you can use as you are guided through how to train for a marathon as a first time runner:
This is one of our most popular training schedules especially for:
If this is you, you are probably looking for a marathon schedule that is slightly more challenging.
Here are some intermediate marathon training plans and some time goal marathon plans that might fit what you are looking for.
These plans, unlike the beginner marathon training schedules listed above, contain 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 which running workout.
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!
This is a perfect option for those who want to train for a marathon in 3 months! There is a variety of running workouts included inside 3 different training blocks.
This 4 month marathon training plan will give intermediate runners a bit more time to train at a level where they can challenge themself!
Each of these time goal training plans are 4 months in length and combine several different types of running workouts to help you peak at exactly the right time!
Depending on your goals and your marathon training schedule, there are different running workouts that will be included in your training plan.
It's important part in how to train for a marathon to understand the purpose of each workout and how to perform them properly.
Most first time marathoners will focus on the long run, base runs, and cross training.
An intermediate or second time marathoner or marathoner with a time goal might incorporate many different running workouts.
Usually the core of a marathon plan, these typically take place every week or at most every other week.
Workouts such as hill repeats and hill sprints are the best strength exercises for runners to help you become stronger and ultimately faster.
There are specific times during a training plan where you will want to include one or the other so be careful about when you are performing hill repeats or hill sprints.
There many different types of speed workouts that might be scheduled on your marathon training plan.
Some of the best speed training workouts for marathon runners are:
All of which train your body to meet time goals and become faster!
Adding other exercises can be very important to your training and help to protect your body from injury while giving your running muscles a break.
Not all training plans include cross training though especially if you are working with a shorter time frame or have a more intense training goal.
There are many different running workouts that might be scheduled on your training plan.
For a full breakdown of all the different types of running workouts that might be included on your marathon training schedule see this guide on Running Workouts for Long Distance Runners.
Being prepared for everything that marathon training might throw at you is one of the biggest favors that you can do for yourself as once you begin, your time will be a bit more limited.
So let's talk just a bit about marathon running gear!
I like to create a "running stockpile" of everything that I might need to complete a run. It's actually two stockpiles: one for clothes and one for gear.
I highly recommend brainstorming your own list and then gathering all your needed items into one spot.
Here is my list of the top 10 pieces of essential marathon training gear that I think all marathoners should have.
I also have more extensive list of running gear here + what you might want to keep in your car if you drive to parks or trails to run.
And since your shoes are typically one of the most important pieces of running gear, here is my guide on finding the best running shoes for marathoners.
Eating a certain marathon diet and giving your body what it needs in order to train and run a marathon is absolutely critical to your success.
This is such a huge topic so I recommend starting with this page on what your marathon training diet should look like!
The Eat Like a Marathoner Nutrition Course will walk you through step by step on how to develop your own personalized marathon nutrition plan that will fuel and energize you all the way to the finish line!
The long run is the core of your marathon training schedule.
They take a lot of time and commitment. They are the test as to whether or not you are progressing with your training and will ultimately be able to handle the marathon.
Develop a system each week to prepare for your long runs so that they go smoothly.
Here's a guide on how to run your long runs. It will help you with planning, preparing, pacing, and set you up with everything you need to have the best long run possible!
Here is a full page of long distance running tips to help you crush your long runs!
There are 3 different types of long runs that most runners use during their marathon training schedules:
In general, beginner marathoners will mainly do easy long runs while intermediate runners who possibly have time goals will want to include goal pace and progressive long runs into their training.
If you aren't sure what pace you should be running during your long runs then hopefully this post on finding your ideal long run pace will help you to see exactly what pace and why you will want to train at.
Let me give you a hint though. You probably should be running much slower than you actually are.
Here are some other long run pacing tips you might want to utilize.
Recovery is also paramount to the continued success of your marathon training schedule.
I have an actionable long distance running recovery plan that you will want to utilize immediately (within the first 24 hours) after your run!
Be sure to download the free cheat sheet on that page!
Choosing the right energy drink can make or break your marathon game!
Because you are running such long distances when you are training and running a marathon, you will need to re-fuel along the way.
You must have adequate fuel to power your running at the pace you want and for the distance you need to go.
The best way to refuel during your longer runs is by using energy drinks.
Although you can eat solid foods to help you refuel, liquids provide energy to your body at faster rates and are easier on your digestive system.
They also usually are able to provide more energy to you than a solid food such as a banana.
This makes energy drinks a more popular form of re-fueling.
You may need to test different energy drinks out until you find the one that is right for you.
Here is my guide on finding the right energy drink + the recommendations on the best energy drinks that are out there for marathon runners!
I also have a free cheat sheet guide to the best energy drinks for runners that you can sign up to download on that page.
Pacing is another vital component of marathon running and the strategy involved in being able to run 26 miles.
You might be thinking, "I'm not training for a time goal" or "this is just my first marathon, I don't care what my pacing is like".
However, your marathon pace can translate into how much stamina you have to keep on going for hours on end.
In fact, pacing during your marathon is more about making sure you are not going too fast in the beginning stages of the race!
It's easier to get carried away on race day with the atmosphere and adrenaline but if you keep yourself in check you will find it much easier to sustain your running or (run/walking) during the later miles of the race instead of falling to pieces.
However, in order to pace yourself accurately during the marathon you must be practicing during your training runs!
Look at this marathon pace chart and finishing time calculator that will tell you when you will finish the marathon at the pace per mile that you run at.
If you have a big goal you want to meet this page will help you learn how to find and train for your marathon goal race pace.
...but only rely on discipline.
Staying motivated throughout your marathon training schedule can be one of the biggest challenges of your training.
It's best if you set the expectation up front that you will have days and runs that you just don't want to do.
The only thing that will truly get you through is self-discipline (and a good attitude!).
However, you can still try to find things that motivate you.
Here are a bunch more ways + tips for staying motivated as a runner. You will find lists of running books, movies, and quotes that might help to inspire you.
A lot of the battle during the marathon comes down to your mental will power.
In fact, those who have run a marathon know all too well the saying that the marathon is 20% physical and 80% mental.
Our minds truly play a pivotal role in getting us to the finish line.
Unfortunately, many marathoners put so much effort into their physical runs yet completely neglect the mental aspect of it all.
They leave so much potential on the table and are ill-equipped for those later stages of the marathon by not utilizing mind tools!
To combat this, and give marathon runners an actionable guide to use to harness their mental power over their running, I created the 20 Week Mindset Training Plan for Marathoners to really help you learn how to use your mind to conquer the marathon! It can be used in conjunction with any marathon training schedule!
Since you are putting in so much time into your running and marathon training schedule, and taking in all there is to know about how to train for a marathon, the last thing you want is to be side railed by and injury.
Did you know that first time marathon runners are a high injury risk population?
This is due to the increase in weekly mileage and long run mileage!
The best thing you can do in this area is to be proactive against it!
The biggest tip though that I can give you is to never run when you are in pain.
We talk all about running injuries over here - the most common types that plague runners and what you need to do about them to prevent them and care for them.
During the final week to two weeks of your marathon training schedule, you will want to include a tapering period into your schedule.
Tapering is simply the reduction in training load (volume or amount of training and intensity) in order to achieve peak performance prior to a race.
In most cases your weekly mileage will be cut (sometimes dramatically) to help prime you for race day.
There is usually not much you need to do going into a taper, however it can be beneficial to know why exactly you are implementing a taper phase into your marathon training schedule.
A successful marathon begins with training but it can end with your nutrition.
If you don't give your body the food and fuel that it needs you will find yourself bonking and hitting that dreaded marathon wall during the race.
This is another area that you need to be proactive in and not wing it on race day.
Doing so will make you primed and ready to succeed at the marathon distanceand will be able to give your body what it needs to crush it on race day.
I have an ultimate strategy guide that helps you plan all of these marathon nutrition components out leading into race day in my nutrition course, EAT LIKE A MARATHONER.
As Benjamin Franklin says, "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail".
There is a lot to think about before running a marathon and doing this step well in advance will make sure that you have what you need going into race day and help reduce any overwhelm.
The week leading up to a marathon can leave you anxious.
Setting up a plan for yourself will do wonders in reducing your stress and anxiety.
Gather all the items you need before, during, and after your race day
Here's some tips on hydrating well for race day (and your long runs!)
Eat a solid pre-race meal
Here' a guide on what you should include in a pre-marathon race meal as a marathon runner.
Focus on your mental attitude throughout the week
Keep your outlook and thoughts positive. Stay aware of how you are talking to yourself. Trust in all the hard work and training that you have put in!
Get enough sleep the entire week before your race
This can definitely be hard to do but here are some things you can do that might help:
Pick up your registration packet.
Be sure to check the times that you are allowed to pick up your race packet so that you don't waste time or end up being in a time crunch because you failed to plan.
Here's a full timeline of things you won't want to miss doing during the week before the marathon!
It's a great idea to visualize what you race day might look like even if it doesn't actually play out that way.
Have a plan going into the day and implement!
After working so hard during your marathon training schedule to help you cover those 26 miles, give it grace and allow it to recover properly!
Treat your body well and it will be good to you.
Go into your marathon with an idea of how your recovery might look like.
Break it down into the first 24 hours, the first week and even up to that first month post race.
Also, be sure to have stocked up on some marathon recovery essentials (I have a list of 17 marathon recovery essentials right here) and bring them with you to the race!
Here's an extensive timeline of things you can do to speed your marathon recovery!
Also, here is a list of 10 foods and activities that you might want to include during that first week after a marathon to really jump start the recovery process.
Here is another detailed guide on how long it takes to recover from a marathon + tips on how to get back into running and long runs.
Take time off after your marathon but if you want to stay in shape devise a plan to keep pushing yoruself along the right path!
This will look different from runner to runner.
I personally like to stay in 10K shape year round so that I can jump into half marathon or even marathon training at a moment's notice.
I do this by trying to include a run 2-3x a week, and doing a strength trainingon my other workout days.
I also try to run a 6 mile run at least every couple of weeks or so to stay at that 10K level.
If you are worried about gaining weight and how to stay in shape in between your races and training cycles then I have a plan of action you can follow here to help you stay in shape during your off-season.
As a runner, it's beneficial and fun to stay in running shape in order to be able to sign up for any race at short notice!
Many runners who complete a marathon want to go on and run another one! What? Is it true?
If you think you might have another marathon or two inside you consider doing a reflection/assessment while your current marathon and training period is still fresh in your mind.
Reflection really helps you grow and learn as a runner. What went well, what could have gone better, what didn't work out at all.
These are all things you should ask yourself and record your thoughts so that when you are ready for your next marathon training schedule, you will be able to avoid similar mistakes and build off on what you did well!
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 know that you have done your best.
Work hard, train hard, put in the effort and you will be a marathon finisher!
I'll send you my free 24 Hour Timeline Checklist of Things You Should Do After a Long Run when you sign up!