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

How To Train for a Marathon

Are you looking for a marathon training schedule?

Yes?

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!

Here's what you will find on this page:

  • Questions to determine if you are ready for a marathon
  • Marathon training schedules, plans and programs (+ many are free!)
  • How to get started with training: things you need, what you should do before beginning
  • A list of marathon training plans
  • What you should do while you are in training for a marathon
  • Things you should do during the final two weeks before your race
  • What you should be doing the week before your race and on race day
  • How to recover from your marathon

Let's get started!


Things you should do Before you begin a marathon training schedule

 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.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to make sure that you are truly ready to begin a marathon training schedule:


 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, 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!

Use this Goals Sheet for Runners to help!


3: Choose a marathon training schedule

You are now faced with one of the most important tasks of training for a marathon: deciding which marathon training schedule is right for you.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Which plan you choose will be dependent on your goals. Is this your first marathon? Do you want to reach a time goal? Have you run multiple marathons and simply want a guide to follow? There is no size fits all.
  • Think about how much time you have to work with before your marathon race day.
  • Consider how far you can run now. Are you able to run the longest run that is scheduled during week 1 of that marathon training plan. You should be able to! Always start with where you are at!

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


Is this your first time running a marathon?

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. 


How long should you train for a marathon?

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:

  • What does your running history look like?
  • Have you ever run a marathon before? A half marathon? A 10K?
  • When was your last run?
  • When was your last race?
  • How does your body feel?
  • Is this a recreational marathon race or are do you want to break a time goal?

The sweet spot for most runners seems to be between 16 to 20 weeks. Here's a more in-depth page that will help to answer this question. 


beginner marathon training schedules:

I got you covered with 3 different training schedules for beginner marathon runners: 




Intermediate & time goal marathon training schedules

If you have run a couple of marathons then perhaps you are in more need of an intermediate training plan.  

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!


I have 2 intermediate marathon training schedules:


I also have 7 Finishing Time Goal Marathon Training Plans:


Custom marathon Training schedule Plans:

If you still have not found your perfect plan, I do 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 guesswork and it will be tailored to fit you, your calendar and your goals!


4: Understand all the workouts that are scheduled on your marathon training plan 

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 found on marathon training schedules are: 

  • Hill Training - Workouts such as hill repeats and hill sprints are the best strength exercises for runners to help you become stronger and ultimately faster. Here 
  • Speed Training-  There many different types of speed workouts that might be scheduled on your training plan. Some are intervals, tempo runs, and fartleks which all train your body to meet time goals and become faster.
  • Cross Training- 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. 

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


5: Gather your marathon training gear

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.

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. 

Some things that I include are:

  • a complete running outfit always ready to go
  • watch 
  • sunscreen
  • running hat
  • recovery items: body glide, bandaids, moleskin

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. 


6: strategize your marathon training 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.

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 before you begin, regarding training for a marathon and nutrition are:


Things to do once you begin training

 7: Always Be prepared for your long runs!

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:

  • Easy long run
  • Goal pace long run
  • Progressive long runs

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.

See this page for more information on each of these styles of long runs. 

Recovery is also paramount to the continued success of your marathon training schedule and I have  an actionable long distance running recovery plan that you will want to utilize immediately (within the first 24 hours) after your run!


8: Find a great energy drink that is made specifically for long distance runners 

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 this free cheat sheet guide to the best energy drinks for runners.


9: Practice your marathon pace

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 to 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.

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


10: Find things to keep yourself excited about training 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. 

Some of my favorite ways to get running motivation back are to:

  • Listen to a running podcast on my runs
  • Listen or read a running book
  • watch a movie about running (Spirit of the Marathon is awesome!)
  • Getting on Pinterest and scrolling through running related articles and photos (Hey, come follow me there!)
  • Completing a run. This might sound ironic but even just finishing a run is motivating to me.

Here are a bunch of ways + tips for staying motivated.  You will find lists of running books, movies, and quotes that might help to inspire you. 


12: do some form of mental training

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 Mental 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!


 13: be proactive against running injuries

Since you are putting in so much time into your running and marathon training schedule, 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!

Learn how to:

  • determine between an ache and a pain
  • combat soreness especially lingering soreness
  • address symptoms and pinpoint what's bothering you right from the onset
  • ask for advice
  • set up any appointments as soon as needed
  • be your own health advocate!

The biggest tip 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. 


things you should do in the final two weeks of your marathon training schedule:

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.

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. 

Here is my guide on why you should taper + how to do it properly.


15: Plan out your nutrition into your marathon training schedule 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.

This is another area that you need to be proactive in and not wing it on race day. 

A week to two weeks before your marathon race date, plan out your:

  • carbo-loading days
  • your pre-race meal
  • your race re-fuel plan 
  • and your nutritional recovery plan

so that  you will be primed to succeed and 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


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


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 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.

Here are some things you should consider doing during the week before a marathon:


17: Know what to expect on race day

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!

Here are some things you might want to do on race day:

Click here for a full list of things to consider doing on marathon race day before, during, and after your race! 


18: Give your body time to recover

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

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!

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 are some recovery measures you might want to consider including:

  • Check for swelling
  • Actively work towards reducing inflammation
  • Hydrate
  • Eat a good recovery meal
  • Do light workouts and jogs
  • Book a massage or chiropractor appointment

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. 


 19: Stay in shape in between races

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 or HIIT style workout on 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!


How to improve for your next marathon

Many runners who complete a marathon want to go on and run another one! What? Is it true?

Yes! 

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! 


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! 


Extra marathon training resources



Marathon nutrition resources:


Resources to help you run faster marathons


Marathon training Tips


How to mentally train for your marathon


Running workouts for marathoners


Marathon training gear


About the marathon


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