Best Marathon Training Schedule for Beginners: A Week-by-Week Plan

How to Train for Your First Marathon: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

Running a marathon has long been considered one of the greatest challenges an athlete can undertake. The grueling 26.2 mile distance requires months of diligent training, unwavering focus, and sheer determination.

While marathon running may seem daunting, thousands take the plunge every year. With proper preparation and commitment, completing a marathon is an achievable goal for motivated beginners.

This ultimate guide lays out everything a first-time marathoner needs to know. From developing a training plan, to must-have gear, to race day strategies, use this as your handbook to go from couch to 26.2.

Best Marathon Training Schedule for Beginners

Marathon training schedule for beginners

What is a Marathon?

Before lacing up, it helps to understand what you’re getting into. A marathon is a running race that spans 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers). Most major city marathons take place on roads and are open to anyone who can complete the distance within the event time limits.

Marathon running traces its origin back to the fabled run of Greek soldier Pheidippides. In 490 BC, Pheidippides was sent to run from the town of Marathon to Athens, Greece—a distance of around 25 miles—to announce the defeat of the Persians in the Battle of Marathon.

While the details are fuzzy, Pheidippides’ epic run laid the groundwork for the modern marathon. The official marathon distance of 26.2 miles wasn’t established until the 1908 London Olympics.

Today, over 1,100 marathons take place across the globe every year. The Abbott World Marathon Majors—Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York City—draw the top professional and amateur talent.

But you don’t have to be an elite to finish a marathon. Every year, hundreds of thousands of first-timers work up the courage to go the distance.

Why Run a Marathon?

Running 26.2 consecutive miles may seem crazy to some. Why put your body through the immense challenge? For marathoners, the pain is well worth the gain.

Here are some of the top reasons people run marathons:

Achieve a Huge Fitness Goal

Finishing a marathon is a massive achievement. It requires months of discipline and hard work. Being able to push yourself to accomplish something most never will is hugely rewarding.

Get Super Fit

Marathon training transforms your fitness. Long miles build immense endurance and torch calories. Expect to get into the best shape of your life after marathon prep.

Tour Scenic Cities

Marathons allow you to take in the sights of iconic cities. You’ll get a unique tour from Tokyo to New York while you tackle 26.2 miles on foot.

Enjoy the Competition

Running against fellow athletes pushes you. The energy at marathons is electric. If you’re competitive, you’ll thrive off racing for a new PR.

Fundraise for Charity

Many runners use marathons to raise money for great causes. You can dedicate your effort to a charity close to your heart.

Gain Confidence

Crossing the finish line does wonders for your confidence. The marathon teaches resilience and mental toughness that carries over off the road.

Check Off Your Bucket List

For many runners, competing in a marathon is a lifelong goal. It’s the ultimate item to check off your bucket list.

Who Can Run a Marathon?

From elite runners gunning for Olympic medals to 85-year-old grandparents, marathons attract all types. While training is tough, marathon running is accessible to anyone who puts in the work.

Running background doesn’t matter. First-timers with zero running experience can finish a marathon with proper preparation.

With smart training, healthy adults of all athletic backgrounds can tackle the 26.2 mile distance. The key is starting early and progressing sensibly.

Marathon training does take a toll on your body. Beginners should visit their doctor for a checkup before ramping up mileage.

Those with a healthy heart and bones/joints are generally cleared. Common advice is to already be able to run 3-5 miles comfortably before starting official marathon training.

While marathon running isn’t for everyone, most beginners who respect the distance and grind through a training cycle will successfully go the distance on race day.

Getting Started with Marathon Training

Running 26.2 miles requires proper planning. To avoid injury and burnout, beginners need to properly prepare their body before tackling long distances.

Here are some key tips on how to get started with marathon training:

Give Yourself Enough Time

You can’t fake your way through a marathon. Proper training takes consistency over several months. Beginners need around 4-6 months of prep to finish strong.

Sign up for a fall marathon in January or early spring. This gives ample time to build fitness. Rush your training and you’re likely to get hurt.

Choose a Training Plan

Training plans give your preparation structure. They methodically build weekly mileage and long runs.

Plans range from 16 weeks for skilled runners to 6 months for true beginners. Choose a plan suited for your experience level and available training time.

More on choosing a training plan coming in the next section.

Buy Proper Running Shoes

A quality pair designed for marathon training is essential. Visit a specialty running store for a gait analysis.

Replace shoes around 300-500 miles to avoid injury. Proper footwear keeps you pain-free as the miles add up.

Strengthen Your Body

Running long puts a huge strain on your muscles and joints. Counteract this with cross-training like yoga, swimming, cycling, or strength training.

Building overall fitness protects against injury during marathon training. Mixing up workouts is key.

Slowly Up Mileage

When starting out, increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent. This gradual buildup allows your body to adapt.

Too much, too soon is the biggest mistake of new runners. Patience in the early weeks prevents later issues.

Choosing a Marathon Training Plan

Marathon plans provide structure to your prep and build week-to-week endurance. They take the guesswork out of determining workout distances and paces.

Plans range from 16 weeks for experienced runners to 6+ months for true beginners. The right plan balances your experience level, available time, and comfort with higher mileage.

Here are factors to consider when choosing a marathon training plan:

Your Current Fitness Level

Plans are designed around current ability. Beginners need plans with lower starting mileage and longer buildup time. Advanced runners can jump into plans with peak weeks over 40+ miles.

Take an honest look at your base fitness. Then find a plan that gradually progresses from there.

Weekly Mileage

The plan’s peak mileage week should fit your ability range. Beginners topping out around 30 miles are better off than cramming in 50+ mile weeks.

Build up to higher mileage slowly over a couple training cycles as your body adapts.

Number of Run Days

Beginners should start with plans having 4-5 runs per week. More experienced runners can handle 6-7 run days during peak weeks.

Make sure you have the time and recovery capacity for the number of weekly workouts.

Types of Runs/Workouts

Look for a plan that mixes long runs, mid-distance runs, speedwork/tempo runs, and easy recovery days. Different run types stress the body in unique ways to build fitness.

Plans for beginners often focus more on just easy and long runs to simply build distance capacity and endurance.

Length of Plan

Give yourself ample leadup time for your ability level. Beginners need 16-24 week plans, while advanced runners can get by with 12-16 weeks.

Rushing into a marathon leads to injury or exhaustion. Slow and steady progress is key.

Once you’ve evaluated the above, browse training plans to find one that closely matches your needs. Trust the gradual progression of mileage and don’t skip ahead. Enjoy watching your fitness take off over the coming months.

Marathon training schedule for beginners

The following is a sample marathon training schedule for beginners:

Week 1-4

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Easy run for 30 minutes
  • Wednesday: Cross-training for 30 minutes
  • Thursday: Easy run for 30 minutes
  • Friday: Cross-training for 30 minutes
  • Saturday: Long run for 45 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 5-8

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Easy run for 35 minutes
  • Wednesday: Cross-training for 30 minutes
  • Thursday: Easy run for 40 minutes
  • Friday: Cross-training for 30 minutes
  • Saturday: Long run for 50 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 9-12

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Easy run for 40 minutes
  • Wednesday: Cross-training for 30 minutes
  • Thursday: Easy run for 45 minutes
  • Friday: Cross-training for 30 minutes
  • Saturday: Long run for 55 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 13-16

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Easy run for 45 minutes
  • Wednesday: Cross-training for 30 minutes
  • Thursday: Easy run for 50 minutes
  • Friday: Cross-training for 30 minutes
  • Saturday: Long run for 60 minutes
  • Sunday: Rest

Sample Beginner Marathon Training Schedule

To provide a glimpse into what marathon training entails, here’s a sample 16-week beginner’s plan:

Week 1-4

  • 3 runs per week
  • Total weekly mileage: 6-10 miles
  • Longest run: 4 miles

This mesocycle focuses on building an aerobic base via relatively short, easy runs. Runners with low experience should spend 4 weeks slowly progressing here before advancing.

Week 5-8

  • 4 runs per week
  • Total weekly mileage: 11-15 miles
  • Longest run: 6 miles

The mileage increases slightly as you tack on an additional weekly run. The long run creeps up toward 10K distance. Avoid the temptation to speed up or skip rest days.

Week 9-12

  • 5 runs per week
  • Total weekly mileage: 16-22 miles
  • Longest run: 8 miles.

Here’s where you flirt with 20 mile weeks. The long runs start approaching double digit territory. This section truly boosts endurance. Take extra rest and stick to slow paces.

Week 13-16

  • 5 runs per week
  • Total weekly mileage: 21-26 miles
  • Longest run: 12 miles

Now you’re hitting peak mileage weeks. Long runs of 12-15 miles help prepare for 26.2. Shift some focus to speedwork while running high mileage. Be diligent about recovery techniques.

Taper week

The taper week is the last week of your marathon training. During the taper week, you will gradually reduce your mileage to give your body a chance to rest and recover.

Sample taper week schedule:

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Easy run for 30 minutes
  • Wednesday: Cross-training for 20 minutes
  • Thursday: Easy run for 20 minutes
  • Friday: Cross-training for 10 minutes
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Marathon!

Taper Weeks

  • 3-4 runs per week
  • Total weekly mileage: 12-18 miles
  • Longest run: 10 miles

The taper lets the body rest, heal, and absorb training. Long runs drop to 10 miles or less. Keep exercising but reduce overall volume. Show up race-ready after the taper.

This sample gives you an idea of the marathon training progression. If it seems too aggressive, find a plan with more gradual increases.

Tips for Marathon Training Success

Sticking to your marathon plan isn’t always easy, especially nearing peak mileage weeks. To help you stay consistent and motivated, here are some top marathon training tips:

Listen to Your Body

Your body feels cumulative fatigue during training. Don’t ignore nagging pains that could signal injury. Know the difference between general soreness and harmful pain. Missing days now prevents being sidelined for weeks.

Don’t Be Afraid to Take Rest Days

Rest is when your body adapts and gets stronger. Taking time off helps prevent burnout. Build recovery days and even weeks into your schedule. Be flexible and skip workouts when overly fatigued.

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration sabotages long runs. Carry water on any workout over 6 miles. Drink consistently throughout the day. Hydration is crucial when training high mileage.

Eat a Marathoner Diet

A healthy, performance-focused diet provides the fuel for training and recovery. Emphasize carbs for energy, protein for muscle repair, and micronutrients like iron. Avoid running on empty—eating well is key.


Supplementary exercise like swimming, cycling, or yoga complements running by building overall fitness. Cross-training boosts endurance while reducing injury risk from repetitive stress. Prioritize crosstraining during intense training periods.

Find a Running Partner

Sharing miles with others makes training more fun. Partners provide pacing help, motivation on tough days, and ensure safety on long runs. Try joining a running club to find those with similar goals.

Experiment with Speed Work

As you build an endurance base, work in occasional speed sessions like tempo runs, intervals, or hill repeats. Speedwork develops running efficiency and power. Introduce it gradually to complement high mileage.

Stretch and Foam Roll Daily

Tight muscles increase injury risk. Stretch thoroughly after each run. Use a foam roller to massage sore spots. This loosens the body and aids recovery between workouts.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Training tears down the body and sleep is when repair occurs. Without adequate rest, you’ll quickly burn out. Prioritize sleep, especially as mileage increases. If tired, don’t hesitate to nap.

Staying healthy and motivated during marathon prep is challenging. But stick with your plan, listen to your body, and you’ll be ready to conquer 26.2.

What to Expect On Marathon Race Day

After months of preparation, race week arrives. Here are some tips on what to expect at the marathon and strategies for a strong performance.

Carb Load the Days Before

Carbo load by increasing carb intake about 60 percent midweek while tapering runs. This saturates muscles with glycogen for ample race fuel. Avoid overloading early in the week or you may carry extra weight. Stick to familiar foods.

Eat a Light Pre-Race Meal

Fuel up 2-4 hours pre-race with a light meal of easily digestible carbs and protein like oatmeal, banana, yogurt, or toast. Avoid heavy fats that can cause GI distress. Hydrate well in the 24 hours pre-race.

Arrive Early

Plan to arrive at the start area 90 mins to 2 hours early. You’ll need time to park, get through security, use porta potties, check gear, warm up, and get in your corral. Missing gear check or your start wave leads to stress.

Dress for the Conditions

Check the race day weather to determine clothing. Often a light jacket and pants you can ditch mid-race are ideal for the early miles. Avoid heavy layers you don’t need. Use Body Glide to prevent chafing.

Expect Crowds and Traffic

Marathons attract thousands of participants. Expect packed trains, long bathroom lines, and crowds at the start. Be patient and allow extra travel time.

Have a Race Strategy

It’s easy to go out too fast in the excitement. Know your goal pace and how you plan to tackle the course. Often a smart strategy is slow the first half and negative split the second. Conserve energy with the masses early.

Take in Fluids and Fuel

Hydration matters on race day. Drink at each aid station in the early miles, then every other in the second half. Take in some carbs/electrolytes around 60 mins when your glycogen starts depleting. Practicing fueling on long runs helps find what your stomach can handle.

Soak up the Experience

So much hard work went into this day. Savor the atmosphere and enjoy the journey. Stay present early on when adrenaline is high. Thousands would love to trade places with you. Smile and take it all in!

With the right preparation, you’ll be ready to give your all over 26.2 miles on race day. Trust your training, focus on executing your plan, and get ready to celebrate a hard-earned accomplishment.


Running a marathon takes immense commitment, consistency, and perseverance. The training journey will be filled with highs and lows. But with smart preparation and dedication, any motivated beginner can successfully go the distance.

Take time to build up slowly and stay injury-free. Follow a plan that matches your experience level. Fuel properly, listen to your body, and incorporation recovery.

Trust in your training when race day arrives. With sound preparation, you’ll be ready to achieve something amazing when you cross that finish line after 26.2 miles.

So believe in yourself, embrace the challenge, and sign up for an unforgettable first marathon experience. Your body and mind will thank you for taking on this life-changing endurance endeavor.

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