Marathon training is a big undertaking; there is no question about that. But what if we told you marathon training did not have to be such a daunting idea? In fact, if you plan ahead, find a solid marathon training plan, and stick to that plan, gradual improvements will allow you to be ready by race day with minimal stress.
The first question many people ask is: “how long does it take to train for a marathon?” The magic answer is…well, it depends.
How to train for a marathon depends on your running experience and current base training. While it might take an elite runner a couple of weeks to refocus their training and get in tip-top shape for a marathon, it might take a couch to marathoner months.
Below, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about how to train for a marathon, whether you’re a complete beginner or a veteran of the sport.
In this article, we’re diving into how long it takes to train for a marathon given your running experience: from beginners to vets. Let’s dive in!
If you are brand new to running and to working out in general, a marathon is still completely doable. In fact, it’s a great goal to kickstart your fitness journey. Figuring out how to train for a marathon will be your first big hurdle. Luckily, we’ve got you covered.
As a general rule, beginning runners should give themselves at least 5-6 months to train for a full marathon. After all, you don’t just want to finish your first marathon.
You want to finish your race feeling strong and injury-free. If you are looking to make long-distance running a habit, you’ll want to create a good memory out of your first marathon.
This is why we suggest at least 5-6 months of training beforehand. And you will want to find a marathon training plan. Let your plan do the heavy lifting in your marathon training – all you should have to do is show up every day and do what the plan says. And don’t worry, at least once a week, the plan will say to rest.
If it is your first time running, find a plan that starts with short distances at a slow tempo, utilizing the run-walk method. This method allows you to combine running and walking in intervals.
Maybe for your first run you’ll run for 30 seconds, and walk for one minute, repeating that pattern for 20 minutes. From there, you can eventually bump that up to running for one minute, and walking for 30 seconds, or some variation of that. This way, you are learning proper running form while incrementally increasing your fitness level.
Over the next 5-6 months, your will gradually increase distance and speed. When searching for the proper marathon training plan, make sure your training plan has variety.
For many beginner runners, it helps to find a training partner, or to join a running group, either in person or online. Telling someone about your training helps you to stay accountable, as does having someone to train with. Consider asking a friend if they want to get fit and train with you!
Each week, you (and your partner) will incorporate a long distance run, some speed work, 1-2 days of strength training, and plenty of mobility every single day. If mobility is new to you, check out this video on foam rolling basics for beginners.
Hopefully, you’ll find the training plan that works perfectly for you. However, if you don’t, just remember that these plans can easily be modified and customized to your needs.
For example, if you are aiming for a particular marathon time, adjust your plan accordingly if necessary. Especially as you get closer to race day, adjust your training paces so that they reflect your desired race time.
For those who work out regularly or even semi-regularly, give yourself 3-4 months to train for a full marathon. Your overall fitness will certainly help you cross that finish line, but running requires a particular skillset that is best built gradually.
For this reason, give yourself about a month to get ready for your marathon distance run. Here at The Run Experience, we always recommend following a training plan, no matter your fitness level.
A training program will take care of determining things like weekly mileage, weekly number of training runs, when your rest days are, and other things like that.
The less planning and stressing you have to do, the easier your training will be. It’s that simple. So let your training plan take care of that and be your running coach; you just have to be the athlete.
The biggest challenge of your marathon training is going to be running on some of the days when you would normally do a different work out. Or perhaps, given your current workout schedule, your biggest challenge might be fewer rest days than you’re used to.
Again, this is why we recommend a training plan so that your runs are like any other calendared appointment.
If you are already working out regularly, you do not need to switch up your routine entirely. Find a marathon training program that incorporates cross-training, and use those days for your normal workout method.
Your marathon training requires you to build both the particular muscle memory associated with running, and the endurance a marathon requires. If you give yourself enough time to build these things gradually, your body will thank you on and after race day.
A major benefit of starting your marathon training early is that you will be less prone to injury. This is because you’ll have time to incorporate easy run days and recovery days. Not only will these minimize overall soreness during training, but they will make your tempo and long distance runs that much stronger.
The only difference between “marathoners” and “recreational runners” who have never done a marathon: marathon preparation. Longer distances simply require more preparation so that you can teach your body how to calm down and support you, even at mile 25.
If you are changing your race distance to become a marathoner, give yourself 2-3 months to get marathon-ready. Your run form is likely in good shape, but finding and maintaining marathon pace over such a long distance is a tall order.
Allow yourself enough time to properly train and comfortably switch your distance, so that your body doesn’t try to fight back against the sudden added mileage.
It is important to note that some of your training runs are going to be longer than anything you’ve done before. These longer runs beat the body up. In fact, when it comes to marathon training, one of the biggest hurdles is actually just making it to the starting line.
This means your mobility and recovery practices are even more important. If you already follow running training plans, just be sure you really stick to your marathon plan.
If training plans are a new concept for you, we cannot recommend them enough. Maybe you used to be able to get away with not using your foam roller, or with skipping your cool down, at shorter distances. When it comes to marathon distance training, that is no longer the case, and a training program will hold you accountable for things like that.
Like we just mentioned, training plans are where it’s at to reach your goal, no matter your experience level. New runners benefit from the guidance to train safely and efficiently, and experienced runners can use a training schedule to get out of a rut or to strive for a new distance.
There are also some things that every runner should do, no matter their level, such as strength training, speedwork, and mobility training. Finding a pair of shoes that you love and testing a fueling strategy for your long runs are other universal needs of marathon runners.
Running a marathon will take time and dedication, so let’s check out the best way to get started.
Our training week is more than just running. To stay strong enough to handle the miles and avoid overuse injuries, our week has 3-4 running days, two strength training days, and a daily dose of mobility work. It might seem like a lot to fit into a seven day period, but with smart planning, it’s not too overwhelming.
Keep in mind that this training week represents the intermediate level. If you’re just starting out, don’t skip that base-building phase to improve your fitness level. In that phase you could still follow the same structure within your week, just modify the miles and volume of the runs and strength workouts to what feels manageable for you.
Once you’ve got your schedule worked out, there are a few more things you’ll need to consider. Beyond just the training, you’ll also need to dial in your nutrition, your gear, and your race day prep.
Chances are you’ve already found a pair of running shoes that work for you if you’re ready to train for a marathon. But if that’s not you, then we’ve got you covered. There are endless models of shoes to choose from, but three main categories are stability shoes, highly cushioned shoes, or minimalist shoes. Each runner has to find what works best for them, and some runners even rotate between various styles and pairs depending on the day’s workout.
As your runs get longer and the weeks of training build-up, you’ll need to find what sort of nutrition and fueling works best for you. In this case, we aren’t talking about your daily eating habits, such as whether you start your day with peanut butter toast or just a cup of coffee.
Rather, once you start spending more than an hour at a time running, you have to start bringing calories on board to fuel your body throughout the run. Specifically, your body needs carbohydrates, aka glycogen, to go those longer distances. Some runners consistently reach for chews and energy gels, as they’re easily digestible and highly portable. Other runners prefer to stick with real food such as bananas, boiled potatoes, or dates. Still others stick to a sports drink in their water bottles to hit the right balance of fuel. Just like your shoes, it takes a lot of trial and error to figure out the right nutrition strategy for you. Heck, you might even be like some pro runners and rely on tubs of frosting to get the job done.
For even more fueling tips, check out this article How To Perfect Your Marathon Training Diet, and get suggestions on how to eat up for each run.
Being ready for the start line begins well before race day itself. The biggest part of your prep is of course your training plan. Figuring out how to tailor your schedule to fit around your lifestyle, how long your longest run will be, and when to start tapering are all hugely important. But, there are some other factors that you should also keep in mind.
For example, depending on the race you sign up for, make sure you’re able to train in a similar environment. If your race will be in the heat of summer, take advantage of warm days to get in a run. If you choose a speedy downhill course, strategic strength training will help prepare your quads and ankles for a beating. Sometimes you have to get creative to replicate your rae situation. Here’s how you can prep for a hilly race, even if you don’t live in a particularly hilly area: Marathon Running For Hill Lovers, Even When You Live In Flatland.
You can train mental toughness just like you train your legs. Using a mantra to get you through the tough workouts is great practice for race day when you’re striving to perform your best. Speed workouts are usually pretty uncomfortable, so they’re another great opportunity to practice keeping your cool when your brain and your heart rate is telling you to stop and take a break.
Oh, easy. Good one to start with. A marathon is 26.2 miles or 42.19 kilometers. Why? Well, that’s a longer story.
As soon as possible. Chances are, you’ve started training for a marathon without even realizing it. All the running and training you’ve ever done contributes to your base fitness—and this is the key component to your marathon training.
Training involves focused workouts, optimized training plans, and intentional rest days. In that sense, you should start training for a marathon now to give focus and structure to your running.
Commit. Anyone can run a marathon. You just need the commitment, training, and know-how. Marathon training isn’t just getting out and putting the miles on your legs. No, it involves:
Be slow and intentional about your training. If you’re planning on racing a marathon in a year, then build up your base fitness and focus on recovery—you have to show up on the start line to run a marathon.
You have 52 weeks to train, so take it nice and slow. Don’t be afraid to take consecutive rest days, and make cross-training a priority.
A month isn’t a lot of time to training for a marathon, especially if you’re training as a beginner from scratch. If you’re completely new to running, then there’s a chance you could training for a marathon in a month, but there’s no promise you’ll quickly recover from the new trauma on your body after finishing the race.
If you’ve already been running for some time, then it’s completely possible to get in marathon shape in just a month. First, don’t change anything. With just 4 weeks to go, you’re not going to gain any new incredible endurance.
Instead, the focus for how to train for a marathon in a month is just to show up healthy at the start line. Start tapering your training to give your legs more of a rest.
How long it takes to get used to running all depends on the individual. If you have a high amount of healthy base fitness, then it’ll take little-to-no time. If you have a higher fitness mountain to climb, it’s going to take longer.
Don’t set arbitrary deadlines for yourself. Enjoy the process. If you fell in love with running overnight, it would diminish the joy and accomplishment of overcoming the challenge.
Runners of all levels can successfully cross that marathon finish line.
It’s less about how long you take to train for a marathon and more about the nitty-gritty training plans and details.
Now that you know how to train for a marathon, it’s time to put your new-found knowledge to the test—sign up for a race! Target a race that’ll excite you, whether that’s 8 weeks, 16 weeks, or 52 weeks away. Next, sign up.
Now, it’s time to start training for a marathon.
If you’re ready to start, be sure to download our app and explore our full marathon training program. 16 weeks of training are all programmed for you with the perfect balance of miles, strength, run drills, and mobility to give you the prep you need to show up healthy and prepared on race day. If you need some base building training first, check out the 30 Day Challenge to get you ready.
You can do this! Just be sure to give yourself adequate prep time, stick to your training plan, and enjoy the ride!