Training for a Marathon as a Beginner

Author profile image of Rob Marshall
Author: Rob Marshall
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Training for a marathon as a beginner

So you have decided to run a marathon? Maybe you are a regular parkrun attendee; maybe you have never run a 5k before! 

Training for a marathon is hard! But if you create goals that suit you, and work towards them with an appropriate training schedule it is entirely doable.

This article should cover everything you need to know about training for a marathon. From setting a training schedule to avoiding common running injuries; all the way to how to stay motivated on the lead up to the day itself.

Set a Training Schedule

Training for a marathon is a challenging but rewarding endeavour. If you want to be successful it is important to create a training plan that includes regular runs and rest days.

How Long to Train for a Marathon

How long is a piece of string?… “it depends”. It depends on your current fitness levels and marathon goals. If you are a complete beginner it tends to take 6-months. If you’ve been running regularly for the past year, you could train for a marathon within 8-12 weeks. The old adage of “steady wins the race” feels like the right one.

With that in mind your average marathon beginner trains for between 16-20 weeks for that first one. This means that runners can progress at a comfortable pace without injuring themselves or getting overwhelmed and burning out.

How to Create a Training Schedule

Start by determining your current fitness level and how much time you have to train, and your goals for the marathon. This will help you determine how quickly you can progress and how long your SMART training schedule should last.

It is also important to adjust your training plan as needed based on your progress and goals. You should not look to create a solid unmoving training schedule, but rather a training schedule with goals that work to improve your performance and fitness. This will also ensure that you don’t set an under-achievable schedule. 

It can be helpful to use a marathon training app whilst training, to track your distance and help you progress.

Begin by scheduling regular runs, rest days and cross-training days. We recommend taking it easy every 4-weeks to help the body adapt to the mileage increase. For anyone that can run a 5km, you can start using our 16-week training schedule below: 

WeekMonTuesWedThursFriSatSunWeekly Miles
1STR4STR5 + STR821
2STR4STR65 + STR1025
3STR4STR43 + STR617
4STR4STR66 + STR1026
5STR4STR66 + STR1228
6STR4STR66 + STR1430
7STR4STR44 + STR1022
8STR4STR78 + STR1433
9STR4STR78 + STR16 35
10STR4STR78 + STR18 37
11STR4STR66 + STR1026
12STR5STR810 + STR1437
13STR5STR810 + STR1639
14STR5STR810 + STR1841
15STR4STR43 + STR1021
16STR3STR32 + STR26.234.2

The above schedule will require 4 run days and a couple of cross-training days – you can condense this to 3 if that balances better with the work-life balance. This plan will gradually progress to a weekly mileage of around 40-miles. Before tapering off one week before race day. 

For a full breakdown of how to create a training schedule, take a look at our training schedule guide.

Evaluate and Adjust Your Training Schedule

Taking moments to regularly evaluate your progress and adjust your training plan as needed is encouraged. If you are struggling to keep up with the plan, consider reducing the distance or intensity of your runs and adding additional rest days.

If you are making good progress and want to challenge yourself further, consider increasing the distance or intensity of your runs or adding additional training sessions.

What your body exerts in the form of distance is only one part of the process. An essential input to consider alongside the running is how you fuel your body to do more. Let’s start thinking about one of the fundamentals – nutrition. 

Fuelling Your Body with the Right Nutrition

To ensure that you have the energy and support your body needs for your training (and recovery), it is important to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and protein. Fuelling your body will require a weekly meal and snack plan that adjusts in relation to your volume of running.

Following a food and snack plan with a conscious level of flexibility will help you determine what works best for your body.

Different foods and drinks can affect your energy levels, digestion, and recovery in different ways, so it is important to try out different options and see what works best for you. It’s widely known that fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals that help to support your immune system and overall health; while protein can aid the repair and rebuild of your muscles after challenging runs.

What You Drink is Also Important

Alongside fuelling your body with food you will need to ensure adequate hydration while training for your marathon. Dehydration can impair your performance and increase your risk of injury. It is imperative to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your runs. You may also want to try out different sports drinks and gels to help replenish electrolytes and provide energy during the long-distance runs. These synthetic supplements will require a trial and error of use. For every single runner gels are notoriously unpredictable when taken for the first time. If you want to try these, start testing them out the moment you start completing those long runs.    

By fuelling your body with the right nutrition and hydration, you can support your training and ensure that you are ready to perform your best on race day.

Adjust and Evaluate Progress

If there’s one thing you take away from this is the idea that every runner is different and advice and support, like this article, needs to be considered based on your own experience. 

For a runner making good progress, you may want to challenge yourself further, and here is where you can consider increasing the distance and intensity of your runs. By getting into the habit of regularly evaluating your progress and adjusting your plan accordingly, you will ensure that your training is effective. 

Yet, with all this goal setting you might start to feel a little robotic. You are only human after all, and some of the best made plans can change. If you’re struggling to keep up with the plan, consider reducing the distance and intensity of your runs. And be kind to yourself and add an extra rest day if you need it. It’s all about being SMART!

What are SMART Goals? How to Set Them?

SMART goals are a widely-used method for setting and achieving specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound objectives. Considering your resources and capabilities, this method will ensure that your goals are well-defined, quantifiable, and realistic.

Using SMART goals can help you set and achieve your goals in a more effective and efficient way, and can make your progress towards your goals more enjoyable and rewarding.

The acronym stands for:

  • Specific: Your goal should be clear and well-defined, with specific details about what you want to accomplish.
  • Measurable: Your goal should be quantifiable, so you can track your progress and measure your success.
  • Achievable: Your goal should be realistic and attainable, given your current resources and constraints.
  • Relevant: Your goal should be aligned with your values, interests, and long-term objectives.
  • Time-bound: Your goal should have a specific deadline or time frame, to help you stay focused and motivated.

When setting your goal, there are several factors to consider, such as the number of runs, distance, elevation, and time. Having a specific finale (such as a marathon) in mind can be a great motivator as you work towards your goal. Using the SMART method can help you effectively plan and achieve your running goals.

Can You Run a Marathon Without Training?

While it is possible to complete a marathon without training, it is not a wise or safe decision. Running a marathon requires a significant amount of physical and mental endurance, and attempting to do so without properly preparing your body and mind can lead to injury and a negative experience. 

It is recommended to follow a structured training program that gradually builds up distance, strength and stamina in a SMART way. This allows your body to adapt to the demands of the marathon and reduces the risk of injury. While it may be tempting to try and tackle a marathon without training, the reality is that it is unlikely to be a comfortable or successful endeavour. In short, proper training is crucial for a successful marathon experience.

How to Build Endurance Through Long-Distance Runs

How do people run long distances without getting tired?

The best strategy to build endurance through long-distance runs is to gradually increase the distance over time. Consistently running at a pace suitable for you is the gear we’re going for from the off. By following this you will avoid burning out too quickly; keeping enough energy back to complete your training runs. To maintain a consistent pace it can be helpful to use a running watch or other tracking device to monitor your speed. Or find similar ability runners who want to run together in a group. Hill running is another great way to build endurance. Research has shown that hill training increases the overall strength-speed-endurance in distance runners – aka anyone running a minimum of a couple of kilometres. 

We put together an article to help beginner runners build endurance for long distance running, definitely worth a look if you want to dig into this!

With a 16-week schedule ready to go it’s now time to test it out. Follow the first couple of weeks with that flexible mindset. This will help you build up your endurance and strength gradually, allowing your body to adapt to the demands of running longer distances. As you progress, gradually increase the distance of these runs until you are completing ‘long runs’ – the marker (or goal!) that you’re nearly ready to run the full marathon distance. Every 26.2 miles of it! 

Incorporate Strength Training Into Your Routine

Incorporating strength training into your routine can help you build strength and improve your performance as a marathon runner. To incorporate strength training effectively, it is important to identify key muscle groups to target. Such as the legs, core, and upper body. Specific exercises such as squats, lunges, and calf raises will target these muscle groups. 

With the overarching training schedule in mind, it is recommended to factor in strength training on non-running days. This will give your muscles time to recover and adapt to the demands of the exercises, allowing you to get the most benefit from your strength training. The results should generally equate to an improvement in your running performance.

Incorporating Cross-Training Into Your Routine

Incorporating cross-training into your routine can help to improve your overall fitness and endurance as a marathon runner. 

Activities like cycling and swimming can help develop the muscles and cardiovascular system in a different way than running. This provides a welcome change of pace and can help prevent burnout.

By incorporating cross-training, you can reduce the risk of injury and improve your overall fitness and endurance. And you’ll keep training interesting and unpredictable!

Staying Motivated During Training

Staying motivated during training is a fundamental part of preparing for a marathon. To stay motivated, it can be helpful to set achievable goals and track your progress; vary your training routine to avoid over-predictability; seek support and accountability from friends, family, or a coach; and treat yourself to rewards for meeting those all important SMART training milestones!

Vary Your Training

Varying your training routine can also help to keep you engaged and motivated. This can include trying out different running routes [internal route finder link], joining a running group or club, or incorporating other forms of exercise, such as strength training or yoga, into your routine. By adding variety to your training, you can keep yourself motivated and prevent boredom or burnout.

Be Held Accountable

Seeking support and accountability from friends, family, or a coach can keep you motivated during your training. By sharing your goals and progress with others, you are inviting advice and encouragement back. Receiving advice from others will always need to be taken in the context of your own personal training journey. Reaching a balance between adopting suggestions and assertively leading on your own plan will take practice to strike right. Yet, the more people know how you’re progressing to those 26.2 miles, the more accountable you are.

Run for a Good Cause or Charity

Having a purpose to run a marathon is universal for everyone that makes your drive and achievement personable to you. One other great way of making your efforts more accountable is to fundraise for a charitable cause. Millions of Britons run for a charity every year. If you’re considering this as your purpose to run a marathon, check out our article on ‘How to pick a charity to run for’.  

Finally, treating yourself to rewards for meeting training milestones can provide additional motivation and a sense of accomplishment. Why not go and buy some of that new running gear you want; treat yourself to a massage; or indulge in some tasty restaurant food.

Celebrate Your Goals

Setting SMART goals (link to above section) and tracking your progress can help to keep you motivated by providing a sense of accomplishment and direction. With those goals already set it’s worth checking in regularly with yourself to match your progress to the expectations; not forgetting to celebrate your achievements as you move closer to your goals. Celebrating is as important, if not even more, than setting your goals. Without a proper self-congratulatory pat on the back you will miss the chance to build on the ‘I can do’ attitude needed to complete a marathon.  

By setting goals, tracking your progress, varying your routine, seeking support, and rewarding yourself, you can stay motivated and focused during your training for a marathon.

Finding a Training Group or Running Partner

Partnering with a friend or family member to train together can also be a great way to stay motivated and provide mutual support to one another. A shared experience is twice as powerful as a single one; basking in the positivity together will spur you on collectively to do more. 

If a running partner isn’t available the next best (and probably even better alternative) is to find a running group or club. Joining a local running club or group can provide a great opportunity to meet other runners and participate in group sessions. These groups often have members of various abilities and can provide a supportive and encouraging environment, crucial for individuals to reach personal running goals. To find a local running club or group: search online, check with local running stores or fitness centres, or ask friends or family members who are runners.

Connecting with fellow runners on social media can also provide a great way to find potential training partners. Many runners use social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Strava, to connect and share their training progress. These platforms can act as a great mechanism to keep the words of affirmation coming every time you do a little bit more. At the touch of a button you can be in communication with a fellow runner who may be on a similar journey to you.    

By connecting more with other runners, you begin to unlock another secret value that fellow runners hold – the strength of experience! Seeking out experienced runners for guidance and advice can be a valuable way to learn from those who have successfully trained for and completed marathons. Experienced runners can provide valuable insights and advice on training, nutrition, and other aspects of preparing for a marathon. This is why we champion running with others as part of a successful road to marathon accomplishment. 

Avoid Common Injuries

It’s important to listen to your body and take care of yourself during your training. As already covered once the substance of run training – hydration, nutritious foods, and getting enough rest and sleep – is covered then you can turn your attention to things like run gear and technique.  Below are some of the most important things to consider:

Proper Shoes Help Avoid Running Injuries

When thinking about your run gear. The most important purchase is picking the right type of running shoe. Using a shoe that works for you will prevent things like over-pronation which is when your feet are landing in a way that puts stressors on the body. Cushion and shape of the shoe can help counter over-pronation. For distance and terrain – most marathons are run on roads – a more cushioned shoe is essential. 

A great use of your time is to seek out a running shoe Gait analysis from any of the good high street running shops. Completing a Gait analysis will determine what type of pronator you are when it comes to foot striking – from here you’ll be able to pick the shoe that supports you the best.

Once you have purchased your shoes, be sure to break them in before race day. This can include wearing them on shorter runs and gradually increasing the distance and intensity of your runs in them. By taking the time to choose the right shoes and break them in properly, you can ensure that your feet are well-supported and comfortable during your training and on race day.

Ultimately, by wearing the right shoes and using proper running technique, you can reduce your risk of injuries such as plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and knee pain.

Stretch out Before Running

Stretching before and after your runs is also important for preventing injuries. Even a few basic exercises indoors before you head out running will help loosen and warm up your muscles. Before a run it is recommended to do stretches that are dynamic and movement based. To do this effectively, focus on stretching the major muscle groups used in running, such as the calves, quadriceps, and hamstrings. 

Exercises such as arm circles, chest openers, trunk twists, leg swings, moving hamstring and calf stretches are great mobility exercises to include in your warm up before your runs. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds and repeat on each side, if applicable. And don’t forget to warm down the same muscle groups with more static stretching after every run too!

Run with Good Form and Technique

Proper running technique involves maintaining good posture; start by imagining a helium balloon is attached to the top of your head pulling you up. The feet will begin to strike the ground, aim to use as much of the midfoot to land these, and take lots of little strides. 

Working out your speed over distance is an effective way to maintain running consistently on long runs without burning out.

Tapering and Resting in The Lead-Up to The Race

In the lead-up to the race, it is important to taper and rest to ensure that you are ready to perform your best on race day. To do this, you should gradually reduce your training volume several weeks before the race and allow for adequate rest and recovery. A level of running maintenance will need to be continued while the distance is reduced. To do this effectively take shorter runs on neutral terrain.

A combination of more rest days over a reduction in distance and intensity of running will ensure you are ready to perform on race day. This is because you are allowing your body to recover and adapt to the demands of the race without losing fitness. If you do feel some injuries during the training process we recommend reducing or pausing your training. A massage – deep tissue – can aid injury recovery and provide relaxation for the mind. 

Race Day Preparation and Strategy

Race day preparation and strategy are important for ensuring that you are ready to perform your best. To prepare for the race, you should review the race route and familiarise yourself with the course; prepare all necessary gear and equipment; arrive at the race early and warm up; and develop a race day strategy and pace plan.

Reviewing the race route and familiarising yourself with the course can help to ensure that you know what to expect on race day. This can include looking at the elevation profile, identifying potential challenges or obstacles, and deciding where you will need to hydrate or fuel during the race. By reviewing the race route and familiarising yourself with the course, you can prepare mentally and physically for the challenges of the race.

Preparing all necessary gear and equipment is also important for race day success. This can include items such as your running shoes, race bib, hydration pack or water bottles, and any nutrition or electrolyte supplements that you plan to use during the race. By preparing all necessary gear and equipment in advance, you can avoid last-minute scrambling and ensure that you have everything you need for the race.

Arriving at the race early and warming up prevents any last-minute stress or delays, and you have plenty of time to check in, use the bathroom, and warm up.

Dealing with Anxiety and Nervousness on Race Day

Dealing with anxiety and nervousness on race day is an important part of marathon training. To manage pre-race nerves and anxiety, it can be helpful to use breathing exercises and positive self-talk to calm nerves and focus on the present.

We put together an article on How to Deal With Anxiety and Nervousness on Race Day, which should be helpful if you need more information on this.

One effective technique is to use breathing exercises to calm your nerves and improve your focus. By taking slow, deep breaths and exhaling slowly, you can activate your body’s natural relaxation response and reduce anxiety.

Another is to talk to yourself in a positive and reassuring way, you can overcome negative thoughts and focus on your strengths and abilities. For example, you can remind yourself of the hard work and dedication you have put into your training. You’re already capable of achieving your goals on race day.

Celebrating and Recovering After The Race

Celebrating and recovering after the race are important steps in your marathon training journey. To celebrate and recover effectively, it is important to recognise and celebrate your accomplishment, take time to rest and recover after the race, stretch and ice any sore muscles, and refuel with a well-balanced meal.

Recognising and celebrating your accomplishment is an important part of the marathon experience. By completing a marathon, you have achieved a significant personal milestone and should be proud of your accomplishment. Take time to celebrate your success with friends, family, and fellow runners, and reflect on the hard work and dedication that went into your training.

After the race, it is also important to take time to rest and recover. This can include taking a few days off from running or other forms of exercise, and allowing your body to recover from the demands of the race. During this time, focus on getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and fuelling your body with nutritious foods to support your recovery. A balanced meal with plenty of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats to replenish your glycogen stores and support muscle repair. 

Stretching and icing any sore muscles can also help to speed your recovery after the race. By stretching your muscles, you can help to loosen and relax tight or sore muscles, which can improve your range of motion and reduce discomfort. Icing sore muscles can also help to reduce swelling and inflammation, which can speed your recovery.

You’ve just run a marathon! That moment you crossed the line for the first time will stay with you forever.

Author profile image of Rob Marshall
Rob Marshall

Rob is a passionate running enthusiast who has dedicated his life to exploring the running culture of England. An avid runner himself, he has helped to start a number of running and tourism websites across the UK, and has been actively involved in the running scene in England since 2017. He loves running and walking, and is always looking for new and exciting places to explore. He is always looking for new and exciting running challenges, and is determined to help make running more accessible and enjoyable for everyone.

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