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 how to plan out your marathon training step by step!

STEP 1: Ask yourself if you are 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 for 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: Ask yourself what your GOAL is in running a marathon. 

Getting very specific about what you want out of a marathon is KEY in choosing and sticking with a marathon training schedule.

Your goal should be written down and placed somewhere that is visible to you.

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! Use this Goals Sheet for Runners to help!

STEP 3: Choose a marathon training schedule

The marathon training schedule that you choose will be dependent on your goals.

Let's talk about how you will choose your training plan in relation to your finishing time goals. 

For first time marathon runners:

Your goal should be to complete a full marathon.

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. 

First Time Marathoners + Beginner Marathon Training Schedules:

We offer 3 different training schedules for beginner marathoners:

Choosing which one you will do will probably come down to how much time you have and at what rate you are comfortable with building up your long run mileage.

For example, the 32 week training plan builds mileage more slowly than the 16 week schedule and is great for those who don't have a strong running base yet while the 20 Week plan is entirely geared to runners running their very first marathon.

Intermediate & Time Goal Marathon Training Schedules: 

The Intermediate marathon training schedules are for runners who have a marathon or 2 under their belt and are looking at breaking a time goal.

I have 2 intermediate marathon training plans:

I also have 7 Finishing Time Goal Marathon Training Plans:

These plans, unlike the beginner marathon training schedules, 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 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!

Custom Training Plans:

If you still have not found your perfect plan, I also offer Custom Marathon Training Plans!

I will design a personalized training plan that fits your goals, time period, running history, etc. 

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

STEP 4: Do a running assessment and take a Vo2max test!

A running assessment will help tell you where you are on the running fitness scale and how you improve along the way. Here is a running health assessment that you can follow + a worksheet you can fill out and keep for your records.

Testing your Vo2max can give you so much incredible insight into your running fitness and where your running goals should be at.

I like to recommend to all runners who are starting a new training plan to test their Vo2max to see just where they are at on the running fitness scale. Click here to read all about Vo2max and take the test!

STEP 5: Understand the components that go into a marathon training schedule

Depending on your goals and your marathon training schedule, there are different running workouts that will be included in your training plan.

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.

The most common running workouts in your training plans are: 

  • Cross Training- protect your body from injury while giving your running muscles a break

For a full breakdown of all the different types of running workouts that might be included in your training plan see the guide on Running Workouts for Long Distance Runners

STEP 6: Do a running gear assessment!

Being prepared for everything that marathon training might throw at you is one of the biggest favors that you can do for yourself! 

Of course you only really need a pair of great running shoes but there are a couple of other things that will make your journey a little bit easier and much more enjoyable if you have them! Here is my list of the top 10 pieces of essential marathon training gear that I think all marathoners should have. 

STEP 7: Understand marathon nutrition + make it part of your marathon training schedule!

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.

This is such a huge topic so I recommend starting with this page on what your marathon training diet should look like! 

Some other important pages to read on marathon nutrition are:

STEP 8: Be prepared for your long runs!

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 on how to run your long runs. Also, failing to plan is planning to fail so here are some long distance running tips to help you crush your long runs!

Recovery is also paramount to your success so I put together an actionable long distance running recovery plan that you will want to utilize immediately (within the first 24 hours) after your run!

STEP 9: Find a great energy drink that is made specifically for runners! 

Choosing the right energy drink can make or break your marathon game!

Your energy drink will play a large role in the success of not only the marathon race but in your long training runs.

It is the easiest way to make sure that you have the energy to complete your training run and the marathon.

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 + recommendations on the best energy drinks that are out there for marathon runners!

STEP 10: Learn how to pace yourself

Pacing is a huge part of marathon running and the strategy involved in being able to run 26 miles.

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.

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.

Here are some more pacing tips that you will want to utilize!

STEP 11: Decide if you will include cross training into your marathon training schedule.

Cross training allows your body to workout other muscles that you don't use to run. It helps you to prevent injury by strengthening all of your muscle groups and by giving your running muscles a break. 

However, if you are training for a time goal or have a tight marathon training schedule then focus on your runs and skip the cross training. 

Your body will be putting in enough hard workouts during your training schedule to warrant rest more important than cross training. 

A lot of runners enjoy the mental break that cross training brings. If you are planning on cross training throughout your training then you might like these resources:

STEP 12: Learn how to stay disciplined and push yourself!

Staying motivated throughout your marathon training schedule can be one of the biggest challenges of your training.

Since a marathon training schedule takes so much time and effort, it's normal to become frustrated at one time or another with your progress, running, possible injury or other setbacks. Here are my tips for staying motivated. 

A lot of the battle comes down to your mental will power. In fact, those who have run a marathon know all to well the saying that the marathon is 20% physical and 80% mental. 

Our minds really do play such a pivotal role in getting us to the finish line. If this is an area you struggle with you might find something like my 20 Week Mental Training Plan for Marathoners Workbook to really help you overcome some of the mental hurdles! 

STEP 13: Prevent Running Injuries by educating yourself

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.

We talk all about running injuries over here, the most common types and what you need to do about them to prevent them and care for them. 

STEP 14: Properly taper before your marathon race day

During the final week to two weeks of your marathon training schedule, you will want to include a tapering period into your schedule.

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 15: Plan out your nutrition before race day!

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. To avoid that, you want to be sure you are giving your body the fuel it needs to actually run a marathon.

The ultimate guide that will get you completely marathon ready is the EAT LIKE A MARATHONER Nutrition course! 

Here are the other  important resources that you will want to use the week before your marathon race:

STEP 16: Make a checklist of what you need to do the week before the marathon

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.

The week leading up to a marathon can leave you anxious. Distract yourself with what you should actually 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.

STEP 17: Know what to expect on race day!

Follow these tips for staying cool, calm, and collected before, during and after the marathon. These tips will help you to put the race in the bag, help you deal with setbacks, and how to recover properly!  

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!  

STEP 18: Give your body time to recover

Treat your body well and it will be good to you. Allow it to 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.  

Also, here is a list of some of the foods and activities that you might want to include during that first week after a marathon to really jump start the recovery process. 

STEP 19: 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

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!

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 know that you have done your best.

Work hard, train hard, put in the effort and you will be a marathon finisher!

Related Pages to Your Marathon Training Schedule Step by Step Guide:

Extra Marathon Training Resources:

Marathon Nutrition Resources:

Resources to Run Faster Marathons:

Marathon Training Tips:

Marathon Mental Training:

Running Workouts for Marathoners:

Marathon Training Gear:

About the Marathon Race:

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