Marathon Training Guide For Beginners - 9 Simple Steps

by Cassia Roth June 27, 2018

How to train for a marathon

Pheidippides started the marathon craze in ancient Greece when he ran from Marathon to Sparta to ask for military assistance against the invading Persian army. In modern times, it has become part of many people's bucket list. If you've ever thought about running a marathon, you've come to the right place. Here's your go-to marathon training guide for beginners in just 9 simple steps.

Phase One – Gearing Up

So you think you're ready to cross running a marathon off your bucket list? When learning how to start training for a marathon for beginners, it's important to train smart and listen to your body from the very start. Check out our tips for preparing to train for a marathon.

1. Building Blocks

  • See your doctor. The 26.2 mile race is no neighborhood fun run. The risk for injury drastically increase when running this long of a distance. It's a good idea to speak with your primary care physician about your plans before you start training. If you have a history of injuries and have seen a sports medicine specialist or orthopedic doctor, check in with them as well.
  • Build base mileage.One of the main reasons first-time marathoners injure themselves is because they ramp up the mileage too quickly. You need a strong base before you even begin training for this specific race. You should be running between 20 and 30 miles consistently for a year before you begin your marathon program.
  • Try the half.During your "pre-training" period (when you are beginning to run consistently but not specifically training for a marathon), try running races at different distances. 5K and 10K races can be fast and fun. It's also important to try a half-marathon. We often don't think about where or what type of race as much as the distance. But it's smart to pick races that will be similar to your marathon. A hilly trail race is much difference than a fast-paced asphalt course.
  • Get good gear. Make sure you have running shoes that work with your specific stride and gait. Check that you're replacing your running shoes after the recommended amount of miles (it's just like getting an oil change). Wearing orthotics like Tread Labs is a good idea, especially if you overpronate. But don't switch up your gear right before you begin training. This can cause discomfort and even injury. Make sure you have been running with your shoe style and insoles for a couple of months to ensure maximum comfort and support during your training.


Phase Two – Marathon Training Plan

Most marathon training plans for beginners range from 12 to 20 weeks. It's important to map out your runs and follow your plan closely to avoid injuries or over-training. There are a variety of pre-made plans available. Take a look at some of the free plans and training options out there. There are also more advanced beginner marathon training guides with customizable options, but they come at a small fee.

If your goal is to just complete the marathon, that's great. However, if you want to run a certain time, try using a pace chart. This lets you know what your mile times should be on race day, and you can train accordingly.

2. Weekly Mileage

  • You need to build your mileage slowly and consistently, running between 3 and 5 times per week. You should not increase your mileage by more than 10% per week. And be careful not to run more than 5 days, which can take a toll on your lower body. If you do, you are at higher risk for injuries such as stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and achilles tendinitis.

3. The Long Run

  • Probably the most important run you do each week will be your long run. Every 7 days you need to up your mileage and probably slow down your pace on a longer run. Because you will already have built up a base mileage in your pre-training, you can start with about a 9-mile run. Increase your long run each week by a mile or two. Every 3-4 weeks shorten up the run to not over train. For example, you could run 12-miles, 13-miles, 14-miles, and then 10-miles over a 4-week period. This run should be at a comfortable pace, one with which you could have a conversation with a running buddy without too much problem.
  • Some training plans have you peaking at about 20 miles. Some bring you up to the full race length. Your longest run should not be less than 20 miles, or your body might not be prepared for actual race day.

4. Jump on the Speed Train

  • Slow and steady might win the race (or even just finish it!), but speed makes all the difference. While not necessary, it is a good idea to have one speed day per week. This increases your aerobic capacity and teaches your muscles to fire more rapidly. It will improve your endurance–and your time.
  • It's not hard to incorporate speed into a marathon training plan. We recommend interval training, fartleks, or a tempo run.
    • Intervals are the repetition of a set of short distances run at a faster pace than your long run with rest in between. Intervals can differ drastically in length, pace, and recovery. While often done on a track, it's not essential. Doing intervals between 800 meters and a mile are best for marathon training. An example of an interval day could be as follows: 1 mile jog warm-up; 4x1 mile intervals run at a fast pace with 5 minutes rest in between (jogging or walking); 1 mile jog cool-down. Try running your miles 30-seconds faster than your goal pace time for the marathon. Adjust according to how you feel. If you don't have a track nearby, map out a mile loop.
    • Fartleks (which is Swedish for "speed-play") can be fun to do in groups. During a medium-distance run, you alternate running at fast and slow paces. Here's an example of a 1-hour fartleck workout: 10 minutes jog warm-up; 5 x (5 minutes fast pace, 3 minutes jog), (for a total of 40 minutes); 10 minutes jog cool-down. If you run with other people, everyone can have a turn leading the fast-paced segments.
    • Tempo workouts are short- to medium-distance runs completed at a fast and sustained pace (but probably slower than your mile interval pace). Don't run your long run at a tempo pace--that run is to build endurance, not speed. To mix up your tempo workouts even more try the following: For a 5-mile run, you could run the first mile at normal pace, miles 2 and 3 at a faster pace, and miles 4 and 5 at an even faster pace.

5. Rest

  • You may have noticed that we recommend running no more than 5 times a week. You may be thinking, "don't I need to run everyday to be ready for a marathon?" The answer is no. You want to have quality training over quantity. Following a marathon training plan means resting, so your body can recover from all the pounding on the joints, bones, and muscles. Make sure you have at least 2 full rest days per week.
  • You will also want to taper your training plans about 3 weeks before your marathon. Begin slowly backing down on the mileage, so your body is rested before race day. Scientists have demonstrated that tapering eliminates accumulated fatigue without reducing your aerobic capacity. A taper of 3 weeks will make you stronger, not weaker.

Phase 3 – Important Training Tips For Beginners

As you follow this marathon training guide for beginners, remember to keep these key tips in mind:

6. Cross Train

  • Earlier we said that you need at least 2 days of complete rest per week. If you're running 5 days a week, this doesn't leave any wiggle room for cross training. But if you are running 3 or 4 days a week (which we recommend), you will have 1 or 2 days where you will need to cross train. We recommend non-impact aerobic activities like swimming or biking. This will work on your cardiovascular endurance without the impact of running. A day of weight training can also be helpful. This strengthens your bones and muscles, preventing injury.

7. Stretch

  • Stretching is key to preventing injuries. Have one of your cross-training days be a yoga or pilates class. And make sure you are stretching after your daily runs. There are great yoga sequences designed specifically for running. Allot 15 minutes post-run to stretching.

8. Walk Your Way to Success

  • If you are new to running, you might want to consider the run-walk approach towards finishing a marathon. This method has you alternating longer run periods with shorter walk breaks, for example running 5 minutes and walking 1. This can help you overcome fatigue, prevent injury, and work through mental blocks, all important for first-time marathoners.

9. Listen to Your Body

  • This one is easier said than done, but it might be the most important part of your training plan. If you become injured, you need to rest until you are completely better. Running through plantar fasciitis or even a a stress fracture will do nothing but cause more pain down the road. If the injury gets in the way of completing your training plan and you have to back out before race day, don't sweat it. Take the time to rest and recover and try again.

Completing a marathon can be one of the most invigorating experiences of your life. It is a great accomplishment, one of which you should be proud. As Oprah said, "People always said it would feel like this, and it was the greatest feeling, I believe I've ever had."

We hope this marathon training guide for beginners is helpful for you. Have you completed a marathon? How did running your first marathon make you feel? Let us know by leaving a comment.

If you don't think you're quite ready for a full marathon yet, that's okay too! Check our our post on preparing for your first half marathon!


Cassia Roth
Cassia Roth

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