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How Should I Set up my Marathon Training Schedule?

Deanna Baranyi
Updated May 23, 2024
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Once a runner makes the decision that she wishes to complete a 26.2 mile (42.2 km) run, called a marathon, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Next, the runner must set up her marathon training schedule. In doing so, she must decide if she will train as a novice runner, merely trying to finish the race; as intermediate, trying to improve her time; or as an expert runner – trying to achieve a lofty time goal or even a financial award. Although a marathon training schedule is usually around 18 weeks long, it is often recommended to start at least 20 weeks out from the actual race because injuries will happen and may interfere with training.

Beginners or those who do not have hours to train each day will typically run around four days each week for the entire 18 week marathon training schedules. There are also days for cross training and days of rest every week. The key for novice marathon runners is to add miles to the marathon training schedule gradually and have one longer run each week. Cross training activities can include swimming, biking, and the elliptical machine.

For novice marathon runners, an example of a marathon training schedule may look like this: during the first week of training, runners should run 3 miles (4.8 km) for the first three days, and then run 6 miles (9.7 km) for the long run that week. Two days of every week should be days of rest and one day of every week should be used for cross training. The long run will get progressively longer each week. By about week 15, the long run will reach its peak of 20 miles (32.1 km). The last few weeks of a marathon training schedule, the runner will be running fewer miles to conserve her efforts for the race itself and to prevent overtraining.

An intermediate runner will use a slightly different format for her marathon training schedule. Slightly more difficult and time-consuming, the intermediate level schedule begins the first week with a 3 mile (4.8 km) run, a 5 mile (8 km) run, another 3 mile (4.8 km) run, a 5 mile (8 km) pace run, and then a 10 mile (16 km) long run. By the eleventh week, the runner will run her 20 mile (32.1 km) long run, so, she gets to do it again during the thirteenth and fifteenth weeks. In addition, the shorter runs during the week are usually longer than they are during the novice schedule. Intermediate runners will still cross train with swimming or another activity one day each week; but, days of rest are limited to one time a week.

An expert marathon training schedule, the miles are longer and greater focus is placed on improving the runner’s time. Speed work sessions involving hill repeats, tempo runs and interval training are also included; however, for those new to speed work – a marathon is not the appropriate time to learn the skills involved. One day of each week should still be reserved for resting the body; however, cross training is no longer included.

By following a marathon training schedule that fits a runner’s level of skill, it is possible to complete one. It is important to be checked by a medical doctor before taking part in such strenuous daily training.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Deanna Baranyi
By Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her work. With degrees in relevant fields and a keen ability to understand and connect with target audiences, she crafts compelling copy, articles, and content that inform and engage readers.
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Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi
Deanna Baranyi, a freelance writer and editor with a passion for the written word, brings a diverse skill set to her...
Learn more
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