For most runners, 16 to 20 weeks of training is needed to train for a marathon.

So you’ve either signed up for your first marathon or you’re thinking about signing up, but you don’t know how long you need to train?

If you don’t train early enough, you increase your injury risk. You also increase your chances of not finishing the 26.2 miles (or may have to walk some of the race).

To avoid disappointment, start training in plenty of time (16 to 20 weeks) and follow a structured training plan. Set yourself up to succeed and you’ll crush your first marathon. 

In this article, we first highlight how long you need to train for a marathon. Next, we provide you with top marathon training tips to help you reach the finish line, whether it’s your first ever marathon or you’re striving for a PB after a layoff from running.

How long should a beginner train for a marathon?

If you’re a beginner and have never run a marathon before, upwards of 20 weeks might be needed. For example, if you’ve never completed a 5km event, then 24 weeks or 6 months is more practical.

What is the minimum training for a marathon?

If you’re not a beginner and already run multiple times a week, you can train for a marathon in less time. 

For example, 12 to 16 weeks may be better suited to you. But allow plenty of time to build up your long run distance – this is necessary to not only increase your confidence but to stimulate the necessary physiological adaptations to run long.

We’ll detail more tips on what your training should look like below.

Marathon training tips

It’s easier said than done, but the sooner you start, the more enjoyable and easier your training will be. 

Leaving your training to the last minute – in this case, weeks out vs. months – increases your injury risk and may not provide sufficient time to help you either complete your first marathon without walking.

Give yourself more time than you think you need, and you’ll be fine! And if you haven’t run in a while, add a couple extra weeks to blow off the cobwebs before following a proper structured marathon training program.

Follow a structured training program

Speaking of training programs, following a structured training plan is highly recommended. All marathon programs – at least the well-made ones – include a variety of runs, including:

  • A long run
  • Tempo runs 
  • Interval sessions 
  • Easy runs 

  • Each of the above runs serve a different purpose. For example, the long run, arguably the most important run in your plan, stimulates aerobic development (i.e., increased mitochondria to deliver more oxygen to the muscles, a bigger and stronger heart, and more). 

    Tempo runs increase the lactate threshold and build mental strength, and interval sessions are bouts of fast running combined with rest to help you run faster. Easy runs are also included for active recovery and further aerobic development.

    Finally, it’s also important to prioritise rest and recovery – more on this shortly.

    Please note: You should also include a strength training session once a week. Focus on training the muscles used during running, mainly the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, lower back, and core. 

    Schedule a time to run 

    Training for a marathon is time-consuming and can be draining. A lot of marathon runners find it useful to schedule a time each day to train. Add it to your calendar – it’s just as important as most other events in your schedule.

    This is especially true for your long run – you need 1-3 hours to complete this training session. Most runners prefer to schedule their long run on the weekend as this is when they have more free time. 

    For your other training sessions, you might need to borrow time before work – if you’re a morning person – or after work to fit in your training. If you’re especially time-crunched, run commuting may be more your thing – this is when you run to or back from work.

    Once you can schedule a time, stick to it. Make it a habit. It’ll make training that much easier!

    Prioritise rest and recovery

    When most people start marathon training, they think that more is better.

    They have to run more often to prepare for their marathon event. And while you need to run more and cover more distance in training, you should always prioritise rest and recovery. Allow a minimum of 1-2 rest days a week in your marathon training – you should have at least 1 full rest day where you do not strength train as well.

    Running too often increases your risk of overtraining and subsequent risk of injury. Overtraining can cause a decrease in performance, general fatigue, and poor recovery between runs/workouts.

    To avoid overtraining, follow a structured training program that suits your training experience (i.e., beginner, intermediate, advanced). Also, ensure you get plenty of sleep – this is when your body recovers and adapts. 

    For more tips, check our 8 Marathon Tips for Beginners From Top Running Coaches blog post. 

    If you miss a session, don’t move on to the next one 

    Your marathon training plan should be progressive; each week builds on the previous week. For example, one week your long run may be 6 miles, and the next 8 miles.

    If you miss your weekly long run, do not skip the previous long run and move on to the 8 mile run. Instead, go back to the 6 mile run. Otherwise, because there’s such a big jump in intensity, you risk injury. It’s also more likely to be that much more difficult.

    Get your nutrition in check

    Sara Hayes, Founder and Head coach at Mindful Mile, tells STYRKR, “All too often, running nutrition is overlooked and not properly given the attention it deserves. Most runners fail to properly fuel their training and only fuel on/for race day.”

    It’s essential to fuel your marathon training for success. Eat a well balanced diet to fuel your training and consume plenty of high-quality carbohydrates and protein.

    On marathon day, you need to eat while running – this will help you avoid “hitting the wall” and gives you the energy to finish your run.

    Hayes recommends eating between 40-60g of carbs per hour while running and anywhere from 440-700ml of water. If you’re training in the heat or going extra long, you’ll benefit from a hydration tablet or electrolyte powder. These products help maintain sodium and electrolyte levels for proper hydration – it means less hitting the wall and more hitting your PB.

    Practise your race day nutrition on your weekly long run. It’ll not only improve your long run performance and recovery – but you’re training your body to go long. And that’s a must when running a marathon! 

    What does training for a marathon look like?

    Training for a marathon can be very demanding, especially if you haven’t run 26.2 miles before.

    But what should you expect – and what does the training look like?

    Your training plan will likely start relatively easy and build in intensity as the weeks progress. Week 1 of your training may have 3-4 days of running, whereas weeks 14-15 might have 5-6 training days.

    It’s not uncommon to run upwards of 35-40 miles a week towards the end of your training. Some plans will have you run for time instead, but you’ll still cover a great distance regardless of your training philosophy. For most runners, you can expect to train up to 7 hours a week in the final few weeks of your marathon preparation. 

    The first few weeks are usually the most difficult. It’s a matter of settling into a new routine, remaining accountable and disciplined, and finding the time to recover while balancing work, family, and any other commitments.

    Training for a marathon won’t take over your life – so long as you schedule your runs and follow a training plan. The key here is preparation! 

    Give yourself 16-20 weeks to train

    For most runners, whether you’re a complete beginner or have a few parkruns or 10ks under your belt, 16 to 20 weeks should give you plenty of time to successfully train for a marathon.

    Despite this, the more time you can dedicate – and the sooner you can start – the better! Trust us… you won’t regret starting your training a few weeks early! 

    Key takeaways:

  • Begin training 16-20 weeks before your marathon
  • Follow a structured training program
  • Get your nutrition in check and prioritise rest & recovery
  • FAQs

    How to prepare for a marathon in 3 months?

    If you already run, then you can train for a marathon in as little as 3 months (but the longer you can dedicate to training, the better). Either way, start by including 1 long run a week, a more intense run (tempo runs or interval training), and then a couple of easy runs. Increase your weekly long run each week and stick to your plan for the full 3 months.

    Can you go from 10k to marathon? Yes, you can go from 10k to the marathon. It’s also not uncommon for beginners to go from not running whatsoever to completing their first marathon in as little as 6 months. If you have done a 10k, you can definitely complete a marathon with the right training!

    How long does it take to train for a half marathon? It takes most people between 12-16 weeks to train for a half marathon. If you’re already running multiple times a week, however, then 12 weeks is more reasonable. 

    How to choose which marathon to run?

    If it’s your first marathon, choose a relatively flat course (FYI: the Chester marathon is much flatter than the London marathon and also includes Roman scenery!). If you want more of a challenge, you can run a marathon that is more hilly.

    How long do you need to train for a marathon after a half marathon?

    After successfully completing your first half marathon – and after some well-deserved rest – give yourself 3 months to prepare for a marathon.