How long do I need to train for my first marathon?

April 12, 2022

It may be part of your bigger plan to lose weight, shake things up, get fitter or fundraise for your chosen charity. Whatever the reason, when you have made the decision that a marathon is for you, how do you get yourself race-ready?

26.2 miles. It may not sound so bad - or it may sound like a big, scary, sweat-inducing number! The question is, how do you get from your current distance to that target? And how long should you give yourself to get there?

The average time people train for a marathon is 16-20 weeks, but I’ve worked with clients who have managed it in 12 weeks and know others who decided to go easier on themselves and plan twice as long for training.

Like many aspects of fitness, getting yourself ready to run a marathon is a very personal journey. It depends upon your starting level of fitness, any historical injuries you are carrying and the time which your lifestyle will allow for training.

There is also a common belief that those attempting a marathon for the very first time should make sure that they can maintain a consistent base mileage for a year, prior to even thinking about the ins and outs of the training programme.

The building blocks of a successful marathon training plan

Here are the main things to consider as you begin to make your marathon plan: -

  1. Short runs – an average of 3 to 5 runs per week is advised, gradually increasing from your baseline distance to around 10 miles per run
  2. Long runs – you should allow for just one longer run per week, building up comfortably to between 15 and 20 miles
  3. Conditioning exercises – these will include tempo and interval exercises to help your body (and mind) build a level of stamina, preparing you for the challenge ahead
  4. Rest days – these are just as important as the active days in your training plan and essential to let your body recuperate, repair and stay strong
  5. Training peak – the suggested target you should aim for pre-marathon is 20 miles which, whilst short of the full 26.2, will prepare you adequately to complete the race on the day
  6. Tapering – your distance should decrease in the last 3 weeks of training, allowing adequate rest and getting you to the starting line in peak marathon condition

The list above includes all the main blocks to allow within the programme, but I always ask those I am training to give thought to some wider issues too.

Additional points to remember

  • Getting your body marathon-ready is one thing, but maintaining motivation is also an important part of the process, so don’t be over-optimistic with training timescales
  • Safety has to feature in your programme if you are to minimise long-term injury (as well as avoiding any mishaps on the big day itself) so don’t build weekly mileage too soon or too fast, the ideal being an increase of no more than 10%, week on week
  • Do not skimp on the warm up or cool down, even if you are squeezing your run into an already busy day (it’s better to shorten your run by 5-10 minutes than cut out these essential steps)
  • Your marathon training needn’t take over your entire fitness regime and I always recommend a good mix of other exercises too, such as cycling, swimming, yoga, weights and gym work

Taking part in a marathon can be very exciting but, for me, it is the planning which allows maximum enjoyment. I’m always available to discuss strategy with my clients before they take the marathon plunge, including the type of race to go for. Whether it’s a low key event or a televised spectacular, as a Personal Trainer I can make sure you cross the starting line – and hopefully also the finishing line -in the best possible shape.