Training Schedule for a Beginner Marathon Runner

Author profile image of Ben Fraser
Author: Ben Fraser
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Training schedule for a beginner marathon runner

A marathon is a long-distance running event that covers 26.2 miles. It is considered to be one of the most challenging and rewarding endurance events for runners, as it requires a high level of physical fitness, mental toughness, and dedication.

For beginner marathon runners, the prospect of completing a marathon can be intimidating. The distance is much longer than most people are used to running, and it requires a significant amount of time and effort to prepare for the race.

A well-designed training schedule is essential for beginners to confidently build up their endurance and stamina, and to ultimately reach the finish line on race day.

By following a structured plan, beginners can safely and effectively prepare for the demands of the marathon distance.

Importance of a Training Schedule

Why do you need a training schedule? What benefits are there as a runner, especially beginners?

Having a training schedule is crucial for beginner marathon runners for several reasons. Firstly, it provides a clear plan for how to prepare for the race: how many miles to run; what types of workouts to do; and when to incorporate rest days. This structure can help beginners stay on track and avoid under or over-training. 

A training schedule can also help beginners gradually build up their endurance and stamina in a safe and controlled manner. By increasing the mileage and intensity of their workouts gradually over time, beginners can avoid injury and burnout. This approach allows the body to adapt to the demands of marathon training and ensures that runners are physically and mentally prepared for the race.

Incorporating a schedule into your training is a visual reminder of where you are and where you’re going. Alongside tracking your running progress, it is ultimately the starting place of running with personal accountability. Without a marathon training schedule a beginner could get lost and overwhelmed when training for their first ever marathon.

Determining a Goal Time

Determining a goal time for the marathon is an important step in creating a training schedule. This goal time will provide a target for the runner to aim for on race day and will help determine the training schedule.

Beginner marathon runners should set a realistic goal time based on their current fitness level and how much time they have to train – ideally you want to give yourself 4-months if it’s your first ever marathon. 

To determine a goal time, beginners can start by looking at the average finishing times for marathon runners in their age and gender group. This information is readily available online in England and the UK via England Athletics and British Athletics. We recommend taking a look so you can set realistic expectations.

RunRepeat have gone further, between the years 1986 and 2018 they have analysed 107.9 million recreational race runner results, from over 70 thousand events in 209 countries worldwide. The average marathon finisher time has gotten longer for men and women with the latter starting to speed up in the last couple of decades. Clearly as more people signed up to run this event distance, the longer the average has got.   


Alternatively, if you’ve progressed up through the milestone distances, chalking off 5, 10 and 21-kilometre races you’ll already have a good idea of where you are at, and where you might be heading. Beginners can also consult with a coach or experienced marathoner for advice on setting a goal time. A coach with little personal knowledge of your running history might use a generic race time predictor to set a goal time.

Once a goal time has been established, the training schedule can be designed to help the runner achieve this target. The schedule should include workouts that are specifically designed to improve the runner’s endurance, speed, and overall fitness. These workouts may include long runs, intervals, tempo runs, and hills. 

It is important to note that the goal time should be considered a target, not a strict requirement.

Beginner marathon runners may find that their fitness improves faster or slower than expected, and the goal time may need to be adjusted accordingly. The most important thing to focus on is to consistently follow the training schedule. Like any skill you seek to improve, it takes time and repetition. Putting in the hard yards from the start to the end of the 4-month training schedule will increase your chances of personal marathon success. 

Base Level of Fitness

When putting together a schedule it is worth understanding your base level of fitness.

You should be able to comfortably run for at least 30-minutes without stopping and should be free from any injuries or chronic health conditions. If this is something you are unsure about it is recommended that you consult your doctor. They will provide guidance on the best way to safely prepare for the physical demands of running a marathon.

To determine your starting fitness level, beginners can approach this by doing two common tests. The first is running a timed mile to determine your average pace. The second is carrying out a V02 max test which is effective at giving you a more objective measure of fitness.

Grasping a sense of your starting fitness level is a key precursor to planning a training schedule that’s right for you.

Weekly Meal and Snack Plan

Creating a weekly meal and snack plan is the next step to ensuring you support your body in getting what it needs to train and recover. In short, this is eating a balanced diet of fruit, vegetables and protein, otherwise known as macronutrients.

A scientific way to start this is to measure your metabolic rate which considers factors such as your age, body size and composition, and overall activity level. 

What you consume needs to meet the demands of your training schedule. From day to day this might mean a food intake complimentary to your intensity of training. A general guide is to get more carbohydrate in your diet at breakfast and lunch; increasing protein consumption at lunch and dinner.  This will help the ongoing growth and repair of muscles. The amount of carbohydrates will change in the 5-day build up to your marathon. A gradual increase in carbohydrate (carb loading!) will help your body fill up its glycogen stores, ready to keep running for hours and hours. 

Eating nutrient dense meals will support the immune system by boosting it with vitamins. This in turn will keep it functioning through illness and fatigue. Iron and B12 are key determinants for energy production. Iron is vital for carrying oxygen to the working muscles and supporting energy production during endurance training. Having not enough iron is like having the right fuel but a faulty ignition. 

Alongside your food intake you need to remember to keep well hydrated, avoiding dehydration by replacing fluids lost to physical exertion. For those super long tempo runs you may consider supplementing your running with synthetics gels; but be warned that adding a new gel (and food type!) needs to be introduced well in advance of race day to avoid a bodily reaction. 

The below marathon training food plan is a mixture of medium and heavy breakfast-lunch-dinner meal ideas courtesy of BBC Goodfood. It is a general example of what a marathon meal and snack plan could look like. 

MONDAYPorridge W/ blueberryCajun chicken with super green quinoaThai beef stir fry
TUESDAYScrambled egg muffinSmoked salmon & avocadoSesame tuna steaks W/ asian slaw
WEDNESDAYVanilla-almond chia breakfast bowlSpiced rice W/ prawnsChicken breast W/ avocado
THURSDAYCinnamon buckwheat pancakesFalafel burgersSpanish rice & prawn one pot
FRIDAYBlueberry bircher potsChicken & broccoli pasta bakeLamb W/ buckwheat noodles & tomato dressing
SATURDAYGood for you granolaQuick chilli bean wrapsChicken sweet potato and coconut curry
SUNDAYApple slices W/ peanut butterHalloumi pepper wrapsSalmon fillet W/ brown rice & broccoli

Gradually Increase Intensity and Mileage

As part of a training schedule for a beginner marathon runner, it is important to gradually increase the mileage and intensity of the workouts. This approach allows the body to adapt to the demands of marathon training and reduces the risk of injury.

To gradually increase the mileage and intensity, the training schedule should start with relatively short and easy workouts and gradually build up to longer and more challenging runs, eventually reaching close to 40-miles a week in the 4-month mileage schedule below. 

For example, the schedule may start with runs of just a few miles at a slow pace, and then gradually add additional miles and incorporate faster paced runs as the runner’s fitness improves. The key is to increase the mileage and intensity gradually, rather than trying to do too much too soon. And it is key not to forget to include lighter training weeks at regular intervals to allow for optimum recovery.

WeekMonTueWedThursFriSatSunWeekly Miles
1STR4STR45 + STR821
2STR4STR65 + STR1025
3STR4STR43 + STR617
4STR4STR66 + STR1026
5STR4STR66 + STR1228
6STR4STR66 + STR1430
7STR4STR44 + STR1022
8STR4STR78 + STR1433
9STR4STR78 + STR1635
10STR4STR78 + STR1837
11STR4STR66 + STR1026
12STR5STR810 + STR1437
13STR5STR810 + STR1639
14STR5STR810 + STR1841
15STR4STR43 + STR1021
16STR3STR32 + STR26.234.2

Include Cross-Training and Rest Days 

Including cross-training and rest days in a training schedule for a beginner marathon runner is essential for improving overall fitness and preventing injury.

Cross-training refers to activities other than running that can help improve a runner’s fitness, such as cycling, swimming, or strength training.

Rest days, on the other hand, are days when the runner takes a break from running to allow the body to recover from the demands of training. Resting can also help prevent injuries by giving the body time to repair and rebuild muscles that have been stressed during training.

Incorporating cross-training into a training schedule can provide several benefits. First, it can help improve overall fitness by strengthening muscles and improving cardiovascular health. This can make the runner stronger and more resilient, which can help them perform better on race day. Cross-training can also help prevent injuries by providing a break from the repetitive motion of running and by strengthening muscles that may be weaker than others.

To incorporate cross-training and rest days into a training schedule, beginners can start by scheduling one or two cross-training workouts and one rest day each week. As their fitness improves, they can increase the number of cross-training workouts and rest days as needed. It is also important to listen to the body and adjust the schedule as needed based on how the runner is feeling. Overall, including cross-training and rest days in a training schedule can help beginners prepare for a marathon successfully and avoid injury.

Make Adjustments as Needed

As part of a training schedule for a beginner marathon runner, it is important to regularly review the schedule and make adjustments as needed. This approach can help ensure that the runner is making progress and is on track to achieve their goal time. It can also help prevent injuries and burnout by allowing the runner to adjust their training as needed based on how they are feeling.

To review and adjust a training schedule, beginners can start by tracking their workouts, including the distance, pace, and any other relevant details. They can then regularly review this information to see how they are progressing and make adjustments to the schedule as needed. For example, if the runner is consistently hitting their goal pace on their long runs, they may be ready to increase the distance of those runs. Alternatively, if they are consistently struggling to complete their workouts, they may need to adjust the intensity or incorporate more rest days into the schedule.

It is also important for beginners to listen to their body and make adjustments to the schedule as needed based on how they are feeling. If they are experiencing pain or discomfort, they may need to take a rest day or decrease the intensity of their workouts. Similarly, if they are feeling energised and motivated, they may be ready to increase the mileage or intensity of their training. Overall, regularly reviewing and adjusting the training schedule can help beginners prepare for a marathon successfully and avoid injury.

A well-designed training schedule provides a clear plan for how to build up endurance and stamina, and can help beginners stay on track and motivated throughout their training. By following a structured plan, beginners can safely and effectively prepare for the demands of the marathon distance and achieve their goal time on race day.

To create a successful training schedule, beginner marathon runners should start by determining a realistic goal time and building a base level of fitness. They should then gradually increase the mileage and intensity of their workouts, incorporating cross-training and rest days as needed. Throughout their training, they should regularly review the schedule and make adjustments as needed based on their progress and how they are feeling.

Author profile image of Ben Fraser
Ben Fraser

Ben is an experienced runner and fitness enthusiast who has been working in the sport and fitness industry for over 10 years. His passion for running began when he founded the Run Leeds project, while working for England Athletics. Ben is passionate about the sport of running and is always looking for ways to improve it. He is dedicated to helping runners of all ages and abilities to achieve their goals. He believes that running is one of the most enjoyable and accessible sports and loves to spread the joy of running.

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