Thinking about training for a marathon? Good, we’re here to help you every step of the way. Whether this is your first time training for the distance or you’re aiming for a new shiny PR, we’ve outlined everything you need to know—including a guide to the best marathon training plans—to have a successful training cycle and race day performance.
How Long Should I Train for a Marathon?
If you’re overwhelmed when you Google “marathon training plans,” you’re not alone. There are countless options available—some better than others—but a great plan will include four key components: a build-up to a long run that’s at least 20 miles, a rest day following that long run, cross-training, and a prerace taper. Each week will include different types of workouts such as intervals or speedwork, cross-training, easy recovery runs, and a long run.
As for duration, how long you should train depends on your own personal fitness and experience level and the expert or authority you’re following, but you should expect to incorporate speedwork, hills, and long runs. Generally speaking, most marathon training plans span from 12 to 20 weeks. You can crush your own goals with a Runner’s World Marathon Training Plan, designed to help you crush your first race or finally break that time-based goal. Scroll down for our five most popular plans, but if you’re looking to try a tune-up race mid-training cycle or run your best Boston ever, we’ve got you covered there, too. Just click here.
Which Marathon Should I Run?
From the famous hills of Boston to the cobblestone streets of Paris, there’s a race (or three) for you out there. We want to make it easy on you, so you can spend less time hunting down races (and their websites) and more time chasing PRs.
There are marathons scheduled all throughout the year, but which race you choose to train for will depend on a few key factors including timing, location, ability to travel, budget, and your goal (see more on that below). For beginners, you might want to consider a local race so you can train on some of the exact roads you’ll cover on race day and avoid the disruptions of travel before and after the event. For more advanced runners, you might have a bucket list major in mind.
Unfortunately due to the coronavirus outbreak, many large or major marathons have been canceled or postponed. That doesn’t mean that personal challenges or competition is canceled, though. Here’s our guide to the 2021 virtual races available. If you’re eyeing Boston Marathon, here’s what you need to know about the status of the 2021 race.
What Are Your Marathon Goals?
Whether it’s your first or 50th marathon, each training cycle comes with a unique set of goals. Perhaps you’re simply aiming to improve your health and make it to the finish line, or maybe you’re trying to break four hours.
Finish times will vary depending on your level of experience (beginner, intermediate, advanced), training cycle, and age. But for what it’s worth, the average marathon time in 2019 for men was 4:30:46 and 4:56:39 for women.
We have six training plans for runners of all levels with a variety of goals—all of these plans include cross-training and rest days, which are key to preventing injuries from popping up during your training.
- Run your first marathon: You should be able to run at least 6 miles and be used to working out regularly at a moderate to hard effort.
- Break 4 hours: For a consistent runner used to regularly working out four to five times a week.
- Break 3:45: For the consistent runner looking to complete 26.2 miles at 8:33 pace.
- How to Set New Goals When Youre Injured.
- Break 3:15: For a consistent runner who has completed at least one marathon and can already run at a hard effort for over an hour.
- Break 3 hours: For the marathoner with race experience that is aiming to run 26.2 miles at 6:52 pace per mile.
What Training Plan Should I Use?
Finding the right training plan can be just as overwhelming as making that initial commitment to run.
Not only do you need a plan that gets you to the finish line, you need one that’s going to get you to the starting line feeling strong, healthy, and confident. That will look different to every single runner. Some people respond well to logging high mileage six days a week; others prefer lower-intensity plans that allow for more cross-training.
No matter what any other runner tells you about the plan they swear by, the best marathon training program is one that works for you. That’s why we broke down everything you need to know about the most popular marathon training plans—including insider details from real people who’ve used these plans to cross the finish line.
What If I Miss Training Time or Suffer an Injury?
While it’s important to stick to your training plan in order to run your best race, niggles, injuries, or other unexpected life events (such as having to work late or care for a sick family member) can crop up, leading you to miss some training time.
No training plan is set in stone, and if you’re unable to complete a specific workout on the day your plan calls for it because something unexpected comes up, there’s nothing wrong with swapping it for a different day or simply taking a day off.
If you feel an injury coming on or getting worse, you should stop and take a rest day or cross-train, then reassess. It’s ultimately better to skip a few training days to allow your body to rest than to continue running and risk a more serious injury that leaves you unable to run your marathon.
To prevent injuries from derailing your training in the first place, build up your training mileage slowly so your body can safely adjust to your marathon goal. (The 10 percent rule—increasing your weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent—can be helpful to follow.)
What If My Training Feels Too Difficult?
Marathon training is no easy feat—it requires a ton of dedication to long runs, tempo runs, speed workouts, and cross-training. At times, this can all feel overwhelming and sometimes difficult. While this is, to some degree, normal, your training shouldn’t feel completely impossible.
If your marathon training feels too hard, consider factors like rest days, pain levels, and your mindset. Are you taking proper time to recover from your efforts? Are you ignoring aching muscles? Are you in the right headspace before and during your workouts?
Read on to learn more about the importance of rest days, managing pain, and developing a proper mindset—all of which can make a difference in how your training feels.
What Do I Eat During My Training?
Proper nutrition during marathon training is essential since you need to fuel your runs and eat for muscle recovery.
or speedwork, cross-training, easy recovery runs, and a long run before a run can vary depending on the specific workout you’re doing, carbs are key in providing your body enough energy to complete your run. Good options include a banana, oatmeal, a white bagel, a honey packet, or any combination of these foods, depending on how long or intense your workout is.
During your run, aim to fuel with 30 grams of carbs every 30 to 45 minutes after one hour with options such as gels, gummies, or easy-to-eat whole foods. Your stomach can absorb up to 60 grams of carbs per hour when diluted with water so be sure to also hydrate properly along the way.
To help you recover faster, eating foods that restore your muscles, strengthen your bones, and reduce inflammation is important. This includes foods that contain protein, healthy fats, carbs, antioxidants, and certain vitamins and minerals (such as vitamin D, calcium, and electrolytes).
It’s also important that you experiment with fuel during your training and not on race day since everyone tolerates fuel differently. You want to have a good sense of what works best for you on race day so that you don’t have any unexpected stomach issues that derail you from achieving your goal.
Read on to learn more about the breakdown of what nutrients—and how much of them—are necessary to help you run your best.
What Shoes Should I Buy For My Race?
Your shoes are arguably the most important piece of gear for training and race day. After all, if your kicks aren’t comfortable and tailored to your needs as a runner, your training and your marathon won’t be nearly as enjoyable.
Since everyone is different, there’s no one best shoe that fits the bill for training for and running a marathon. It’s important to find a shoe that fits you well and has features that meet your specific needs. For instance, if you are an overpronator with a wide foot, the shoe that works best for you might be different from someone with a narrow foot who underpronates.
You also want to take into consideration the miles you put on your shoes. You generally can put about 300 to 500 miles on one pair of shoes before they wear out, so depending on how many miles you run during your training, you may want to invest in two pairs of shoes—one for training and one for race day.
It’s important to note that it’s best not to run your marathon in shoes you’ve never tried before—you’ll want to know how they feel before completing 26.2 miles in them. Read on for more on how to find out which types of shoes are right for you.
What Should I Wear to My Race?
While everyone’s preferences are different, there are a few general rules to take into account when deciding what you should wear on race day. First and foremost, consider your race’s start time and the weather. If your race starts early in the morning, it may be pretty chilly out in the beginning but warm up as the day goes on. If it’s supposed to rain, wearing water-proof or water-resistant items is a good idea.
With that said, layering is key. If you wear multiple layers, you can take clothes off the weather or temperature changes. (You can wear items you aren’t attached to and ditch them on the course as you run—many races collect these pieces of gear at the end of the race and donate them.)
Regardless of the weather, you may want to consider certain fabrics that are soft, stretchy, and wick away sweat (like a polyester-spandex blend) and stay away from others (like cotton) so that the material is breathable and doesn’t rub on your skin and become uncomfortable as you race. Also, you may want to wear a GPS watch to keep track of your time and pace if that’s important to you.
Read on to learn more about how to dress for a marathon.
How Should I Recover After a Marathon?
While everyone’s recovery will look a little different, there are a few general strategies to bounce back that you can use to ensure you’re not limping around and avoiding stairs in the days after your race.
Getting enough rest and sleep is necessary for your body to heal, but it’s still important to gently move around in order to get your blood flowing and flush the lactic acid from your muscles. Walking around, stretching, doing yoga, foam rolling, and icing your muscles will speed up the recovery process.
It’s important not to return to running too soon after your race—your body has been through a lot of stress while training for and running your marathon. Take some time to heal, and maybe even throw some cross training in there, before you start logging miles again. Learn more about the marathon recovery process below.