Your custom road map to a successful marathon.
Running a marathon is an ambitious goal that attracts people from all walks of life. It is a challenging feat that is achieved by only 1% of the population.
The journey to the finish line requires focus and consistency.
While you may be eager to get started, do not go too fast too soon, since the biggest drawback in marathon running is the high risk of injury, reported to be up to 79% in some studies!
To cross the finish line injury-free, you need a specific action plan.
Everyone seems to have a different opinion about what the best marathon training plan is.
Since there is a lot of information available, it is hard to evaluate which advice is trustworthy and which plan is right for your skill level.
If you prefer evidence-based guidelines, you will love the training plans provided in this article.
The specific workouts and mileage contained in these plans are well-grounded in science.
What is the Best Training Plan for Me?
When choosing a running plan, you must first take into account your experience level.
Most athletes training for a marathon have been running for years and may have run several marathons in the past.
Others are new to the sport of running and need first to establish an endurance base.
If you are transitioning to running from a low-impact sport – like swimming or biking – you may be well-equipped aerobically, but you still need to allow your joints, muscles, and bones can get accustomed to pounding the pavement.
It is nearly impossible to have a one-plans fits all training program encompassing all people aiming to run a marathon.
After long consideration, these training plans were split into three large groups based upon measurable parameters: beginners – intermediate – advanced.
The following guidelines should give you a better idea of which design is right for you:
If you find yourself scattered between different programs, make sure to remain conservative and choose the easiest plan to minimize your risk of overtraining or injury.
Here are some examples:
- A 24-year-old competitive swimmer is trying to run her first marathon in under four hours (intermediate). The only “race” she ever ran was a 5k color run in 24 minutes, after which her shins hurt for a week. She has slowly built up her weekly mileage to 20 miles over the last 6 months (beginner).
➔ This runner should follow the beginner plan. Additionally, being careful not to run too fast while training considering her history of shin pain.
- A 38-year old runner who has been running for 10 years is training for his 3rd marathon. His fastest marathon finish time was 3:35, which he ran last year in the hills of Colorado. He would like to run 3:20 this year on a flat course at sea level (advanced). He has been consistently running 35 miles a week without any pain (intermediate). Upon reading this article, he ran a time trial 10k in 43 minutes (advanced).
➔ This runner should follow the intermediate plan, even though he has a good chance of running sub 3:30.
Please keep in mind that it is imperative to listen to your body and make adjustments accordingly.
You will (undoubtedly) feel tired and sore at times, which is to be anticipated.
However, do not just ignore pain! When you think there might be an injury budding, slow down or take a couple of days off.
12-week Training Plan | Beginner
This plan is meant for beginners who have maybe run a couple shorter races before and are trying to conquer their first marathon.
The primary goal is to get you to the finish line injury-free with only minimal attention paid to a time goal.
This plan consists of a lot of slow running in the beginning, and will implement some speed work as you progress.
If needed – especially in the first weeks – you can stop and walk, but this does not count towards jogging minutes.
Your rest days are just as crucial for your body as your running days, so be sure to relax and have nutritious meals on those days.
Jog = running at a pace where you can comfortably have a conversation, walk if needed.
Long run = long, slow run focusing on maintaining proper form with high cadence
K = kilometer
M = mile
MP = marathon pace (pace that you hope to maintain in the race)
Tempo run/Intervals = Velocity faster than MP closer to half marathon or 10k effort (make sure to warm up before!)
12-week Training Plan | Intermediate
This intermediate plan consists of five to six runs per week, including three key workouts:
1) Tempo run/hill strides: Straight tempo runs of 3-5 miles at a velocity faster than MP closer to 10K effort. Alternatively, on some days, these faster days will consist of increasing strength with some short (30-90 second) hill sprints.
2) MP (Marathon Pace): Make sure to start with an easy 10-minute warm-up followed by a run at a pace you hope to maintain in the race
3) Long Run: Working up to 18-20 miles at the highest volume weeks. Start these runs about one minute per mile slower than MP and gradually work down to a pace closer to MP at the end of your run.
Remember, your rest days are just as crucial for your body as your running days, so be sure to relax and have nutritious meals on those days.
12-week Training Plan | Advanced
This advanced plan consists of six to seven runs per week, including three key workouts:
- Tempo run: straight tempo runs of 4-6 miles at a velocity faster than MP, closer to half marathon effort.
- Long Run: Working up to 20-22 miles at the highest volume weeks. Start these runs at about a minute slower than MP and work down to a pace close to MP at the end of your run.
- Speed/VO2 max: Includes mile repeats / 1000m repeats with 4-5mins recovery at a velocity of your 5-10k race pace. This higher end speed training is great for getting the legs used to a higher turnover.
Your rest days are just as important for your body as your running days, so be sure to relax and have nutritious meals on those days.
Bonus Marathon Training: Respiratory Training
The respiratory muscles are often overlooked in athletic training plans, but are starting to get the recognition they deserve. These muscles can be trained like any other and contribute significantly to overall performance, especially at the far end of a tough endurance event like a full marathon!
Undertaking resistive respiratory training with a device like the Airofit can significantly impact your performance. Your ability to resist fatigue and make sure your muscles are getting delivered the oxygen they need for energy could be the difference in finishing your first marathon, or in achieving a new PB next race!
Let us know your best tip for marathon training below!