How to train for a marathon

How to train for a marathon

Amon Fearon - January 30, 2023

Did you know that more than 800 marathons take place each year around the world? Running a marathon is an incredibly exhilarating experience, but it's also physically demanding and involves a lot of training and preparation. Here we will look at how to train for a marathon, what to wear and what to eat to ensure you are in the best possible condition.

How long does it take to train for a marathon?

The time it takes to train for a marathon can vary depending on factors such as your current fitness level, specific training plan, and how much time you can dedicate to training each week.

Typically, a beginner should plan for at least 16-20 weeks of training for a marathon, assuming you have a base of running or regular physical activity. This time frame allows for a gradual increase in mileage, time on your feet and a gradual build-up of intensity to avoid injury. Or, if you’re starting from the very beginning, you may want to read our guide on how to train for a 5k first.

If you're already an experienced runner with good cardiovascular fitness and have already been running regularly for several months, you may be able to train for a marathon in 12-16 weeks.

The key to successful marathon training is consistency and patience. It takes time and effort to build the necessary endurance and strength, so stick with your training plan and don't try to rush the process.

What time to aim for on your first marathon?

When setting a goal time for your first marathon, it's important to keep in mind that the primary focus should be on completing the race rather than achieving a specific goal. A marathon is challenging, and the goal should be to finish the race rather than worrying about how fast you finish it.

However, many first-time marathoners set a time goal to help them stay motivated and focused during their training. Here are some things to consider when setting a time goal for your first marathon:

  • Base your goal time on your current fitness level: If you're a beginner with little running experience, it's best to set realistic goals based on your current fitness level. A good rule of thumb is to aim for a pace about 2-3 minutes per mile slower than your current 5K pace.
  • Take into account the course difficulty: Some marathon courses are more challenging than others, with more hills or other obstacles that can slow you down. Be sure to factor in the difficulty of the course when setting your time goal.
  • Be realistic: It's important to be realistic when setting a time goal for your first marathon. If you're not currently running at a fast pace and haven't been running for very long, it's unlikely that you'll be able to finish a marathon in under four hours.
  • Set a flexible goal: It's important to have a flexible time goal so you're not too disappointed if you don't hit it on the day of the race. The marathon can be unpredictable, and weather, cramps, or even having a bad day can affect your performance.

Overall, the most important thing is enjoying the experience and finishing the race. Remember that it's a big accomplishment to complete a marathon, regardless of the time it takes you. The time you finish your first marathon is not indicative of your overall running ability. You can improve your time and performance in future marathons with time and dedication.

What to eat before a marathon?

Proper nutrition is an important aspect of marathon training. Pay attention to what you eat before a marathon to fuel your body correctly and give yourself the best chance of performing at your best on race day. Here are some general guidelines for what to eat before a marathon:


Carbohydrates are the main energy source for endurance exercises such as marathon running, so it's important to consume enough carbohydrates in the days leading up to the marathon. Good sources of carbohydrates include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, pasta, rice and bread.


Staying well-hydrated is crucial for running a marathon, so drinking plenty of water in the days leading up to the race is important. Aim for at least 8-10 glasses of water per day, and avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol, which can dehydrate you.


In the days leading up to the marathon, aim to eat a high-carbohydrate meal 3-4 hours before the race. On the day of the marathon aim to eat a light breakfast 2-3 hours before the race, such as a bowl of oatmeal with fruit, or a slice of whole-grain toast with peanut butter.


During your training, practice with different meals and snacks to find out what works best for you and stick to those foods on race day.

Pre-Race meal

It's important to stick with foods you know agree with you and avoid trying new foods on race day. A pre-race meal should be high in carbohydrates and easy to digest, such as pasta with marinara sauce or sweet potato and black beans.


It's also a good idea to have some snacks on hand for during the race, such as energy gels or chews, dried fruit or nuts, to keep your energy levels up.

Avoid high-fat and high-fibre foods

Avoid foods high in fat or fibre, as they can be difficult to digest and cause stomach discomfort during the race.

What works for one person may not work for another, so it's essential to experiment during training and find what works best for you. It's also important to remember that proper hydration is just as important as proper nutrition, so make sure you're drinking enough water in the days leading up to the marathon.

How to train for a marathon without getting injured?

Training for a marathon can be challenging and requires commitment, dedication, and patience. However, it's important to take steps to prevent injury while training to ensure you can complete the marathon without any setbacks. Here are some tips to help you train for a marathon without getting injured:

  • Gradual increase in mileage: Gradually increasing your mileage is one of the most important things you can do to prevent injury. Start by running a short distance, then gradually increase it over time, giving your body time to adapt to the increased stress.
  • Cross-training: Incorporating cross-training activities such as cycling, swimming or strength training into your training plan can help to prevent injury. Cross-training can help to improve overall fitness and reduce the risk of injury by working the different muscle groups.
  • Proper rest and recovery: Getting enough rest and recovery is essential for preventing injury and avoiding burnout. Allow your body to recover by taking rest days, relaxing and stretching.
  • Proper form: Relax your shoulders, keep your arms bent at a 90-degree angle, your feet pointed straight ahead, and your stride short.
  • Listen to your body: If you feel pain or discomfort, listen to your body and adjust your training accordingly. Don't push through pain, as it could lead to injury.
  • Get professional advice: Consult a running coach or physical therapist to help develop a training plan tailored to your individual needs and goals. They can also help identify any potential issues early on, preventing injury.
  • Wear proper shoes: Invest in a good pair of running shoes that fit well, provide proper support and are comfortable to wear. Make sure to replace your shoes every 300-500 miles or 6-8 months, whichever comes first.
  • Proper nutrition: Proper nutrition is important for preventing injury and keeping your body in good condition. Make sure to consume enough carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats.

What marathon training gear will you need?

Several key pieces of gear are essential for marathon training to help prevent injury and improve your performance on race day. For example:

  • Running shoes: Invest in a quality pair of running trainers that provide good support and are comfortable.
  • Clothing: Dress in layers so you can adjust to changing weather conditions. Look for running clothes made from moisture-wicking fabrics, which will help to keep you dry and comfortable. Female runners should consider investing in a good sports bra for maximum comfort.
  • Water bottles or hydration packs: Staying hydrated is essential during marathon training, so make sure to have a water bottle or hydration pack with you on long runs.
  • Heart rate monitor or GPS watch: These devices can help you track your progress and monitor your heart rate, pace, and distance.
  • Foam roller or massage ball: These tools can help to release muscle tension and prevent injury.
  • Reflective gear: For evening and early morning training, it's essential to wear reflective gear such as a vest, armband, or shoe clip to ensure visibility and safety while running.
  • Headlamp: For running in low-light conditions, invest in a headlamp to help you see the path ahead and increase visibility.
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses: Protect your skin and eyes from the sun's harmful rays.
  • Hat or visor: Protect your head and face from the sun and rain with a sports cap.
  • Running socks: Invest in running socks made from moisture-wicking fabrics to keep your feet dry and comfortable.

Marathon training plan

A marathon training plan typically combines running at various intensities, strength training, and rest. Start your training plan at a comfortable level and gradually progress it. Remember, every person is unique and may have different needs. If you start to feel tired or sustain an injury, take an extra rest day or reduce the distance of your runs. Ensure you listen to your body and adjust the plan accordingly. It's always better to err on the side of caution and not push yourself too hard.


A marathon training plan for beginners should typically include the following elements:

  • Week 1-4: Start by running 3-4 times weekly, each lasting about 20-30 minutes. Increase the duration of your runs by 5-10 minutes each week. Make sure to include a mix of easy runs and brisk walks, where you run at a comfortable pace.
  • Week 5-8: Continue to increase the duration and frequency of your runs, aiming to run 4-5 times a week for at least 30-40 minutes. Incorporate some speed work into your training, such as 30 seconds of fast running followed by 30 seconds of walking, repeated 5-10 times.
  • Week 9-12: By now, you should be able to run for at least an hour. Start incorporating longer runs into your training schedule to run at least 10 miles by the end of this period. Make sure to include one or two rest days each week to allow your body to recover.
  • Week 13-16: Continue to increase the distance of your long runs to run at least 15 miles by the end of this period. Incorporate some form of cross-training, such as cycling or swimming, into your training schedule.
  • Week 17-20: The focus during this period should be on building endurance and fine-tuning your running form. Continue to increase the distance of your long runs to run at least 20 miles by the end of this period. Make sure to include at least one rest day each week.
  • Week 21-22: During this period, gradually decrease the distance of your runs to allow your body to recover and prepare for the marathon. Make sure to eat a healthy and balanced diet, stay hydrated, and get plenty of rest.


For intermediate runners, you can follow the above plan for beginners while also incorporating the following elements:

  • Gradual increase in mileage: Begin by running 4-5 times a week, each run lasting about 40-50 minutes. Increase the duration and frequency of your runs gradually over the next few weeks, with the ultimate goal of running 6-7 times a week for at least 90 minutes.
  • Long runs: As your fitness improves, start incorporating longer runs into your training schedule. These should be done once a week, with the distance gradually increasing over time. Starting at around 8-10 miles and gradually building up to 20 miles over several weeks will help prepare the body for the marathon distance. By the end of your training, you should be able to run at least 25 miles.
  • Speed work: To improve your running speed and efficiency include some speed work in your training plan. This can include interval training, hill repeats, or fartlek runs. Aim for at least one session of speed work per week.
  • Tempo runs: To improve your endurance, include tempo runs in your training plan. These runs should be at a moderate pace. Aim for at least one session of tempo runs per week.
  • Cross-training: To prevent injury and improve overall fitness, include some form of cross-training in your plan. This can include cycling, swimming, or weight training. Aim for at least one session of cross-training per week.
  • Rest and recovery: It is important to include rest days in your training plan to allow your body to recover from the stress of running. Make sure to listen to your body and take a day off if you feel tired or unwell.



Advanced runners should already have a good running base, likely have some marathon experience, and be able to train at higher mileage and intensity than intermediate runners. An advanced marathon training plan typically consists of the following: 

  • 4-5 runs per week, with one long run on the weekend (building up to 24 miles)
  • Gradual increase in running distance over time, peaking around 50-60 miles per week in the final weeks before the marathon
  • Incorporation of speed work, such as interval training and tempo runs, as well as hill repeats and fartlek training
  • Incorporation of strength and conditioning exercises, such as weightlifting or yoga, to enhance overall fitness and reduce the risk of injury
  • Cross-training activities, such as cycling or swimming, to enhance cardiovascular fitness and reduce the risk of injury


Additionally, advanced runners might benefit from incorporating specific race pace training, running at the target pace they want to hit on the marathon, and running two-a-day sessions to increase the training load. Doing so will help you improve your fitness and endurance and prepare for the demands of the marathon.

Many runners sign up for a marathon as a personal challenge, want to get healthier, lose weight or raise money for charity. Whatever your reason for doing a marathon, keep it in mind during the rigorous months of training. Keeping motivated, sticking to your training, eating well and having the right mind frame will help you perform at your best when the day comes.