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.
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.
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.