Marathon Training Plan 101: Important Components, How to Make Your Own

don't give up

The marathon represents one of the greatest physical challenges a person can strive to conquer. Less than 2% of people will train for and complete a marathon in their lifetime. This number alone is enough to discourage some of us. But for the rest of us– those that are driven by the constant need to challenge ourselves– that statistic is precisely what makes us want to achieve it. Tip: See our marathon training plan for beginners, intermediate and advanced runners below.

Humans love doing things that we are not supposed to do. Running 26.2 miles (that’s 50,000 steps) in one go is certainly one of those things, but it is not impossible. In fact, thousands of people complete the grueling distance every year.

Training for the marathon is not easy. It requires hard work, discipline, dedication and sacrifice. But it is also a ton of fun, especially if you love running and other endurance activities. With the proper amount of time, a good training plan, and a lot of mental toughness, you can achieve running’s most sought-after goal.

General Aspects of the Marathon Training Plan

These categories will appear in each training plan, beginner to advanced. General explanations on how to perform each workout follow below. Remember that each workout is your own and you can and should tailor the plan to fit your individual needs, while keeping the general spirit of the progression and program in order to complete the marathon distance.

Rest

In this article, rest days are scheduled or assumed to be every Monday and Friday.

runner rest

Fridays will help you build energy for the long weekend runs and Mondays will serve to help you recover afterwards. Studies suggest that you build the most strength during recovery periods. Also, you can’t run hard unless you are well rested.

Do not underestimate the power of rest and recovery—it is just as important as your training.

Don’t skip these days. Listen to your body and take the rest you need. Over the full 20 weeks, consistency is the most important factor, so take extra rest if you need it, especially if you are very sore. Injuries occur most often when you are overtraining.

Do not let a short-term goal, such as making your workout today, hinder your longer-term goal of completing the marathon.

Slow Run

If you have a time goal in mind, do your long run 60-90 seconds or more per mile slower than your marathon pace. If you have never run a marathon before, we do not recommend setting a time goal. Just try to finish the distance and walk if you have to.

Famous running coach and marathon guru Hal Higdon says “there is no such thing as too slow”. Meaning cover the prescribed distance, no matter how fast or how slow. Especially if you are a beginner, do not stress the pace too much, just run at a comfortable pace that allows you to carry on a conversation with any running partners.

Walk Breaks

Walking is 100% acceptable in a marathon. Whether in training runs or in the actual event, do not be embarrassed to take a walking break. It’s not uncommon to see people walk 0.5km per 5-8kms run, depending on the person, but you’ll also see a 1 minute walk, 10 minute run ratio.

walking break

Do not be too rigid in your walking breaks, just take them as you need them. On the day of the race, you should walk when you come to a water station so that you can more easily drink if you need to and get started again when you have caught your breath.

Walking gives your body a chance to rest, and you’ll be able to continue running more comfortably. It’s best to walk when you want to, not when fatigue forces it, because then it will be more difficult to get started up again.

Cross Training

In this program, Sundays are devoted to doing other forms of aerobic exercise. You can choose any type of exercise you like, keeping in mind that the ideal activity will allow you to use different muscles so that you can utilize this as active rest after your long run.

For this purpose, we like swimming and cycling because it engages more of your hamstrings and glutes and helps to create a more balanced muscle development in your legs, which, in turn, helps to prevent injuries. You don’t have to train especially hard or cross-train the same each workout.

Strength Training

We recommend strength training for general health and fitness. However, if you have never lifted weights before, now is not the time to start. If you have an established weight-lifting routine, you can work-in a short full body session on Tuesdays and Thursdays after the short runs.

If you are new to strength training, you can still do some strength-building exercises, but focus on bodyweight movements and form. Squats, pushups, pullups triceps dips, lunges, and the different variations thereof can be wonderful for building strength in the muscles used for running.

We warn beginning marathoners against plyometric exercises, especially if you are not accustomed to performing these types of exercises in your general fitness routine. Too much strain on the joints can lead to injury and set you back in terms of running progress.

Long Runs

This is one of the most important aspects of the training program. The long runs start at 6 miles in week 1 up to 20 miles in the “peak” week, which is the middle week (week 17 in the 30-week plan). After this, you will taper for a few weeks to prepare for the race itself.

runners

Overall, the runs will get progressively longer, but every few weeks, you will have a slight decrease in distance of the long run to allow full recovery for the next milestone.

Realistically, life happens and not every workout will be as planned. You can skip the occasional workout over the 20 weeks– just make sure you do not cheat or skip out on your long runs, as they will form the basis of your endurance to make it through the race.

Training Progression

Throughout training, you should be running at a comfortable pace. Mileage will increase throughout the week as the long runs increase in length. You can see that you will run about the same number of miles throughout the week as you do on your weekend long run. There is a mid-distance run midweek that increases from 3 miles on the first week up to 10 miles at the longest.

As mentioned above, there will be a buildup up to week 15 then a taper down to recover your strength leading up to the race. Tuesdays and Thursdays are designated easy days and here is where you could take an extra rest day if you need it.

Races

If you are a first-time marathoner, we do not recommend too many races, because they can get in the way of recovery. Some racing is needed to get the racing experience, and will help you get to know body and how it responds to race-conditions.

marathon runners

Every runner is different. You will want to know how long it takes you to fully wake up, because most races are very early on weekend mornings. You will also want to see if you need to take nutrition during the run. Some runners report feeling much better after an energy gel or bar mid-race while others do best in a fasted state, as eating can make them very nauseated. Also, testing the type of meal you can eat the night before or the morning of the run for optimal performance is useful information for optimal performance on race day.

There are as many different recommendations out there as there are runners and only you can know for sure how your body responds. We suggest maybe doing a half marathon when you are about halfway through the program (such as during the 13-mile prescribed long run). You can slightly alter the training schedule as needed to coincide with local races.

Marathon Training Plan for Complete Beginners

The first program outlined is for those new to running. People who plan to get serious about long distance running should dedicate 6-8 months to training for their first marathon. Truth be told, it is not a distance we would recommend without trying several shorter distance races first, especially if you are new to running.

This program will prepare you to run the full 42.195 kilometers in a relatively gentle way, with plenty of practice races in between.

Marathon Training Plan For Beginners

WEEKMONTUEWEDTHUFRISATSUN
1Rest1.5-mile run3-mile run1.5-mile runRest3-mile run30 min walk
2Rest1.5-mile run3-mile run1.5-mile runRest3.5-mile runCross Train
3Rest1.5-mile run3-mile run1.5-mile runRest3-mile run40 min walk
4Rest2-mile run3-mile run1.5-mile runRest4-mile runCross Train
5Rest2-mile run3-mile run2-mile runRest3-mile run45 min walk
6Rest2-mile run3-mile run2-mile runRest4.5-mile runCross Train
7Rest2-mile run3-mile run2-mile runRest3-mile run50 min walk
8Rest2-mile run3-mile run2-mile runRest5-mile runCross Train
9Rest2-mile run3-mile run2.5-mile runRest3-mile run55 min walk
10Rest2-mile run3-mile run2.5-mile runRest5.5-mile runCross Train
11Rest3-mile run3-mile run3-mile runRest3-mile run60 min walk
12Rest3-mile run3-mile run3-mile runRest6-mile runCross Train
13Rest3-mile run3-mile run3-mile runRest6-mile run55 min walk
14Rest3-mile run3-mile run3-mile runRest7-mile runCross Train
15Rest3-mile run4-mile run3-mile runRest5-mile run50 min walk
16Rest3-mile run4-mile run3-mile runRest9-mile runCross Train
17Rest3-mile run5-mile run3-mile runRest10-mile run45 min walk
18Rest3-mile run5-mile run3-mile runRest7-mile runCross Train
19Rest3-mile run6-mile run3-mile runRest12-mile run50 min walk
20Rest3-mile run6-mile run3-mile runRest

13 mile run or


Half Marathon Race

Rest
21Rest3-mile run7-mile run4-mile runRest10-mile run45 min walk
22Rest3-mile run7-mile run4-mile runRest15-mile runCross Train
23Rest4-mile run8-mile run4-mile runRest16-mile run40 min walk
24Rest4-mile run8-mile run5-mile runRest12-mile runCross Train
25Rest4-mile run9-mile run5-mile runRest18-mile run35 min walk
26Rest5-mile run9-mile run5-mile runRest14-mile runCross Train
27Rest5-mile run10-mile run5-mile runRest20-mile run30 min walk
28Rest5-mile run8-mile run4-mile runRest12-mile runCross Train
29Rest4-mile run6-mile run3-mile runRest8-mile run60 min walk
30Rest3-mile run4-mile run2-mile runRestRestMarathon

Beginners Marathon Training Plan #2

This plan represents a slight nudge towards the intermediate marathoner. It is slightly more difficult than the complete beginner’s plan outlined above, but is designed with those who have run at least one marathon before or who have been running for 1-2 years, perhaps have raced in 10k or half-marathons and are ready for a bigger challenge.

1Rest3-mile runRest8 miles slowCross Train
2Rest3-mile runRest9 miles slowCross Train
3Rest3-mile runRest6 miles slowCross Train
4Rest3-mile runRest11 miles slowCross Train
5Rest3-mile runRest12 miles slowCross Train
6Rest3-mile runRest9 miles slowCross Train
7Rest4-mile runRest14 miles slowCross Train
8Rest4-mile runRest15 miles slowCross Train
9Rest4-mile runRestRest

13-mile run or


Half Marathon

10Rest4-mile runRest17 miles slowCross Train
11Rest5-mile runRest18 miles slowCross Train
12Rest5-mile runRest13 miles slowCross Train
13Rest5-mile runRest19 miles slowCross Train
14Rest5-mile runRest15 miles slowCross Train
15Rest5-mile runRest20 miles slowCross Train
16Rest5-mile runRest18 miles slowCross Train
17Rest4-mile runRest12 miles slowCross Train
18Rest5-mile runRest12 miles slowCross Train
19Rest4-mile runRest8 miles slowCross Train
20RestRestRestEasy 2 miles RACE DAY

Intermediate Marathon Training Plan

Added to the intermediate and advanced plans are speedwork, designed for those that want to improve their performance. Advanced marathoners will have even more opportunity to improve their speed by doing more speed sessions. These will consist of hill repeats; interval training and tempo runs in various combinations.

Hill Training

This is mainly done to provide some variety and can be alternated with interval training. You can skip this altogether if the marathon you have signed up for is a flat course, but we recommend hill training for all intermediate and advanced runners because running hills strengthens your muscles and helps you run faster on a flat course. There is also comparatively less impact running uphill versus running on a flat surface or at a decline.

hill runner

If your chosen marathon is a hilly course, you should do more hill repeats than prescribed (maybe for all the interval workouts and tempo runs). For best results, run up as hard as you would for a sprint then turn and jog back down, repeating until finished. Be careful not to overdo it and risk injury, especially on the downhill, as this can increase the impact on your knees and hips.

Intervals

To improve speed, the key is to train at a faster pace than the pace you are planning to run for most of the Marathon. A good rule of thumb is to use the pace you would assume for a 10km race. Run the prescribed distance hard, followed by a recovery walk of the same distance. Repeat as prescribed in the program.

Prior to beginning your workout, make sure to start with a thorough warm-up such as a brisk walk or light jog. Dynamic stretching and some foam rolling can also be incorporated.

Tempo Runs

This is a continuous run with an easy start, a buildup in the middle to near your ideal race pace, then slow back down to the finish. A typical tempo run would begin with easy running for the first 1/3 of the distance, continue with faster running for the middle third, and finish with a short jog for most the last third.

Finish by cooling down with a 5-8-minute walk. Listen to your body on this one and do not watch your pace on the treadmill or GPS watch.

Marathon Training Plan For Intermediate Runners

WEEKMONTUEWEDTHUFRISATSUN
13-mile run5-mile runCross Training3-mile runRest5 miles at projected race pace10-mile run
2Hill x35-mile runCross Training30 min tempoRest5 miles run11-mile run
33-mile run6-mile runCross Training4 x 800-meter sprintRest6 miles pace8-mile run
4Hill x46-mile runCross Training3-mile runRest6 miles pace13-mile run
53-mile run7-mile runCross Training35 min tempoRest7 miles easy14-mile run
63-mile run7-mile runCross Training8 x 400-meter sprintRest7 miles’ pace10-mile run
7Hill x58-mile runCross Training3-mle runRest8-mile pace16-mile run
83-mile run8-mile runCross Training40 min tempoRest8 miles easy17-mile run
93-mile run9-mile runCross Training6 x 800-meter sprintRestRest19-mile run
10Hill x69-mile runCross Training3-mle runRest9 miles pace10-mile run
114-mile run10-mile runCross Training45 min tempoRest10 miles easy20-mile run
124-mile run6-mile runCross Training8 x 800-meter sprintRest6 miles paceHalf Marathon
13Hill x710-mile runCross Training4-mile runRest10 miles pace20-mile run
145-mile run6-mile runCross Training45 min tempoRest6 miles easy12-mile run
155-mile run10-mile runCross Training8 x 800-meter sprintRest10 miles pace20-mile run
16Hill x68-mile runCross Training5-mile runRest4 miles pace18-mile run
175-mile run8-mile runCross TrainingHill x6Rest4 miles pace13-mile run
18Hill x88-mile runCross Training5mile runRest4 miles easy12-mile run
194-mile run6-mile runCross Training30 min tempoRest8 miles pace8-mile run
203-mile run4 x 400-meter sprintCross TrainingRestRest2 miles easyRACE DAY

Advanced Marathon Training Plan

Higdon-style 3/1 Training

Marathon running guru Hal Higdon pioneered this type of running coaching, and we find it to be the most beneficial for advanced runners.

If you are still feeling good toward the end of your long run, pick up the pace and finish faster than the rest of the run. This will convert your long run into what Higdon calls a 3/1 Run. That means you run the first 3/4 of your long run at an easy pace (60-90 seconds per mile slower than your target pace, as described above), then do the final quarter of the run at a faster pace that is still not quite race pace.

woman marathon

This strategy is only for the most experienced runners and even then, should only be done once every 3 -4 weeks on the day of the long run. Many coaches will say that it’s better to run too slow during long runs, than too fast and we wholeheartedly agree with this assertion. It is more important that you cover the distance than the pace you cover it in.

This plan is designed for people who have been running for years, are looking to improve their marathon time and enjoy participating in multiple races as part of their training.

Marathon Training Plan For Advanced Runners

WEEKMONTUEWEDTHUFRISATSUN
1RestHill x33-mile run30 mins tempoRest10miles 3/1Cross Train 60 minutes
2Rest30 mins tempo3-mile run 3 miles paceRest11 miles 3/1Cross Train 60 minutes
3Rest4 x 800-meter sprint3-mile run30 mins tempoRest8 miles easyCross Train 60 minutes
4RestHill x43-mile run35 mins tempo13miles 3/1Rest5-K RACE
5Rest35 mins tempo3-mile run3-mile paceRest14 miles 3/1Cross Train 65 minutes
6Rest5 x 800-meter sprint3-mile run35 mins tempoRest10 miles easyCross Train 65 minutes
7RestHill x5 4 m run40 mins tempoRest16 miles 3/1Cross Train 70 minutes
8Rest40 tempo4 m run3-mile pace17 miles 3/1Rest10-K RACE
9Rest8 x 600-meter sprint3-mile runHill x6 Rest18 miles easyCross Train 70 minutes
10Rest6 x 800-meter sprint4 m run40 tempoRestRestHalf Marathon
11RestHill x 65-mile run4 miles paceRest18 miles 3/1Cross Train 75 minutes
12RestHill x 64-mile run45 mins tempoRest19 miles 3/1Cross Train 75 minutes
13Rest45 mins tempo5-mile run4 miles paceRest20 miles 3/1Cross Train 75 minutes
14Rest7 x 800-meter sprint5-mile run45 mins tempoRest12 miles easyCross Train 80 minutes
15RestHill x75-mile run50 mins tempo20 miles easyRest10K RACE
16Rest45 mins tempo5-mile run5 miles paceRest12 miles 3/1Cross Train 80 minutes
17Rest8 x 8005-mile run40 mins tempoRest20 miles 3/1Cross Train 85 minutes
18RestHill x65-mile run30 mins tempoRest12 miles easyCross Train 85 minutes
19Rest30 mins tempo4-mile run4 miles paceRest8 miles easyCross Train 90 minutes
20Rest4 x 400-meter sprint3-mile runRestRest2 mile easyMarathon

Schedule Notes

The schedules provided are only a guide. If you work weekends and prefer to do long runs in the middle of the week, simply flip-flop the workouts for those two days. If you have an important appointment on a day when you have a hard workout planned, do a similar switch with a rest day.

Feel free to make minor modifications to suit your personal schedule. What you do over the full training period is more important than any single workout.