How to train for a marathon

Have you signed up for your first marathon and don’t have a clue where to start with training? Or perhaps you have already run a few marathons and you want your next race to be your fastest and strongest performance yet. Wherever you are on your journey to completing the 26.2 miles of a marathon, you’ll run your best by following a training plan.

Marathon runner lacing up his shoes to train

Training before you set your sights on the finish line of your 26.2 mile run is really important to help you build up your fitness level to run longer distances and also to avoid injury. For more experienced runners or athletes, a good training plan can really make the difference in shaving the seconds off your time too. Even if you are planning on walking the whole course in a gorilla suit for charity you should make sure you get plenty of training in to prepare for the exertion of travelling 26.2 miles by foot!

How long does it take to train for a Marathon?

The answer to this question will depend on a few things, such as your current fitness level, your goals and of course, how much time you actually have before race day to train, however the average training time for a marathon is between 16 and 20 weeks, with a minimum of 4 training days per week.

There are a range of training schedules that can guide runners of all levels, to take you from easy runs to higher intensity workouts as you build up to your race. For total beginners or those who don’t have much experience with long distance running, it is best to train with the goal of completing the course in mind, rather than aiming for a particular time. Those who have more running experience may want to take on more challenging training programmes that focus on improving speed and endurance.Training plans also give you more structure and stop training from becoming a bore.

Below, we explain some of the different marathon training programme lengths and what you can expect to achieve by following one.

Training for a Marathon in 8 weeks

Although 8 weeks might sound like a long time, in the world of marathon training it’s actually not that long at all! Generally, an 8 week training plan will assume that you already run around 20 miles a week or more, meaning it is best suited to experienced runners, and will aim to build your strength and endurance. A combination of varied run lengths and cross training sessions over the course of the 8 weeks will train your muscles and help you to improve how you pace yourself over the course of your event.

Training for a marathon in 12 weeks

If you have 12 weeks to go before your marathon, you have a more comfortable amount of time to train up and potentially make improvements to your running speed. As with the 8 week training programme, a 12 week programme will start out with easier runs and cross training sessions, and build up to longer distances, upwards of 20 miles, over the 12 week course. 

If you have a 10K or half marathon under your belt already, a 12 week programme will help you to gain confidence in running longer distances. Once you have crossed the finish line of your first marathon you may then want to start a more challenging training plan that includes sprints to increase your lung capacity. If you are an intermediate or more experienced runner, already running several times a week, following a 12 week plan should help you to focus your training and see improvement in the areas you are hoping to work on. That could include increasing the amount of longer runs you complete or improving your average speed.

Training for a marathon in 16 weeks

As we mentioned earlier, 16 weeks is recognised as a more typical length of time to train for a marathon. Being a slightly longer training plan that the 8 and 12 week plans mentioned previously, the 16 week plan is a better option for less experienced to intermediate runners. You will have more time to get to grips with long distance running and adding in more elements to your training such as cross training and strength training. Over the weeks you will build up to completing 3 to 5 runs per week, and of course, taking a few rest or low intensity days to allow your body time to recover.

Training for a marathon in 20 weeks

If you are more of a beginner when it comes to marathons, a 20 week programme will be the most sensible training option, provided you have the time before your big race. Although this plan, as with most marathon training plans, will assume that you are doing at least some running each week already (3 to 5 miles), it gives a much more gradual build up to the longer distances, with smaller increments of distance added over the weeks. Cross training and strength training will also become an important part of your programme, helping you to build up your overall fitness level. Typically you will complete 2 shorter runs and 1 endurance run each week, with strength training and rest days in between.

Round up

Generally, the more time you have to train for an event, the better – especially if this is your first marathon. That being said, runners of all abilities should make sure they consult a trained medical professional before undergoing any new training programme, and make sure you take adequate rest days to avoid injury.

By race day you’ll have put a lot of hard work into your training, so make it count by remembering to pace yourself throughout the course of the race (don’t use all your energy blasting out the first few miles!) and drink plenty of water.


If you are looking for your next marathon, take a look at our event listings to find the perfect event for you - Marathon Listings

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UK Marathons

A marathon is often seen as the ultimate challenge for long-distance runners. Covering 26.2 miles, a marathon will challenge your fitness, endurance, pace, and grit, but reward you with an amazing sense of accomplishment at the finish line! Marathons take place all over the world, with well-known events such as the London or New York marathons attracting thousands of entrants every year.

Why run a marathon?

For many runners, once they’ve trained up from completing a 5k, 10k or haIf marathon, completing a full marathon is the big race that will be in their sights. A marathon is no easy feat, but if you’ve already completed a few longer races such as 10k or half marathon distance, you should be able to increase your training and take on a marathon as the next natural progression in your running journey. That being said, even If you’ve never run competitively before, many beginners often choose to take on a marathon as a way to encourage a change in fitness and lifestyle and to have a real challenge to work towards. You’re sure to feel a great sense of achievement after running your first marathon, regardless of your time, and you might just catch the running bug too!

Aside from being a great form of cardiovascular exercise, there are plenty of other great benefits to running too. Firstly, if you’re thinking of taking up running as a way to lose some weight, running a marathon is a big commitment, and through your training, you’ll work on getting your heart rate up and burning calories.

Another reason to sign up for a marathon is that it’s a great way to raise money for charity. Marathons are really popular events for fundraising and there are hundreds of marathons in the UK every year. Some people even choose to so the whole race in fancy dress to make fundraising that bit more interesting!

Finally, running your first marathon is a great way to really challenge yourself and improve your long-distance running ability. Once you’ve finished one marathon you’ll be looking for your next race to beat your PB. If you’d rather start with a shorter distance to ease into running, why not check out a 5k or 10k race first?

Marathons near me

Whilst you’ll have no doubt heard of some of the most popular marathons out there such as the London Marathon, did you know that there are dozens of local marathon events that take place every year in the UK too? As marathons are popular events and great for fundraising, you’ll find that there are more and more marathons springing up across the UK all the time, meaning that there is bound to be one that is easy and convenient for you to get to. Another benefit of joining one of the smaller marathon events nearby is that you’re less likely to miss out on a place and joining fees are generally lower.

If you’re looking for ways to get more active, or even start exercising more with a friend or partner, training for a marathon together is a great way to introduce a little friendly competition and also support each other in reaching your fitness goals. We list lots of marathon events that take place all over the UK, so be sure to take a look for marathons near you using the search bar on the left. You can then find races based on location and other options using the filters to find the perfect event for you.

Marathons near me and fundraising

As we’ve mentioned, running a marathon is a great way to raise some money for a good cause, and with such a long race distance, you could even get people to sponsor you per mile. As well as the better-known events, such as the Virgin London Marathon and the Great Run series, there are plenty of smaller local events you can sign up to as well. In fact, many local charities organise their own events to raise money for specific causes.

Setting up funding for a marathon is easy too. Most charities will provide you with a sponsorship pack to get started you can also fundraise online and share your goals with your friends on social media. Running in a local marathon race is also an ideal way to raise money for charities that are based in your local community, and also a great way to get more familiar with your local area.

Charity marathon events are some of the most popular events out there, so if you want to get into running then these are a great place to start!

How can I find a charity marathons near me?

If you’ve decided to run a marathon for a charity, you may be wondering ‘where are the charity marathon events near me?’. Well, you’re in the right place! On the UK Fitness Events website, you’ll find pages of fitness events that are taking place all across the UK. Use the search bar on the left and once you’ve filtered down the type of race you’re looking to take part in, you can then further refine the results by selecting your location and then choosing from a range of charities that you are interested in supporting.

If you’d like to support a charity that isn’t listed, you’re welcome to do that too! Be sure to check the website of your chosen charity to find out more about getting started with fundraising.

Training for a marathon

Marathons are probably the biggest challenge a runner will ever face and will push you to all your limits. Marathons require a much longer training plan where you have to train both your body and mind to be able to stand up to the length of the race.

If your goal is to do a marathon or even half marathon then you’ll need to get lots of training done before you even look at the track! Start off similar to a 5K prep with smaller runs and sprints and then slowly build up the length of the runs you do. You’ll also want to get into the right diet regime too so that your body gets in the right shape, find out more by looking at our marathon training plan

What are the best UK marathons 2020?

The most famous marathon is the Virgin Money London Marathon, though there are many others dotted around the country too such as the Brighton or Edinburgh marathons which provide just as much challenge and give you multiple scenic routes to run on. For a little more adventure you can also look at something like the Midnight Marathon Run which will have you sprinting around a mountain in total darkness! Want to find more, take a look at our guide to the Best UK Marathons

Related posts

Are you looking for some more information on marathons? We have some great quick-read articles covering everything from pace, training and nutrition to top tips. See some of our related posts below:

Calories burnt running a Marathon

How long is a marathon?

How to train for a marathon

Top Marathon Running Tips

What are the Best UK Marathons?

What is the average marathon time?

How to run a marathon faster

What to eat before a marathon