03 December 2022

Marathon – download your free training plan

May 10, 2011
Marathon training plan

Training for your first marathon is a fantastic, if not a little scary, proposition.  It might have always been a lifetime goal for you, or something a friend just talked you into? Or perhaps you’ve signed up to run for a charity and raise money for a cause close to your heart. Either way, finishing a marathon is a major lifetime achievement and something to be incredibly proud of.

10km-training-planThe growth of marathon running over the last decade seems to have led to a sense of complacency about what is involved. If various celebrities and TV presenters can do it, surely it can’t be that hard?

But a marathon is not a challenge to undertake lightly – running 26.2 miles without stopping is tough, there’s no other way to put it – but would it be worth doing otherwise?  Put in the right training and preparation though, and you’ll have the time of you life and feel a sense of achievement and pride you never thought possible!


Download your plan here: Marathon Training Plan


Before you start

If you’re new to exercise, and especially running, it goes without saying you need to get checked out by your GP, especially if you have a family history of heart disease or high blood pressure or any existing musculoskeletal problems.

How much time you need to train for a marathon depends on many factors.  Your age, history of exercise, current fitness level, weight and lifestyle will all play a factor in how quickly you progress and how your body adapts to training.  If you’re new to running, but generally fit through gym classes, walking or cycling, you’ll progress more quickly than someone who is new to exercise altogether. It doesn’t mean that a marathon is out of the question, it just means you need to give it more time to build up.  As a general rule of thumb, if you’re a complete beginner you need at least 6-8 months to train for a marathon.  If you already have a good base level of fitness and are running regularly, you should be able to get ready in around 4 months.

How much training do I need to do?


Again this really depends on a) how fit you already are and b) your marathon goal. Although even if your goal is just to finish, you still need to put in the miles and train properly – underestimate it your peril. The main goal with any training programme is consistency, and the focus of marathon training is endurance rather than speed. So building up to 3-4 runs (of 30-40 minutes) per week with one long run (up to 20 miles) at a weekend is ideal.

Goal setting

Effective goal setting is about taking a long hard, honest look at why you want to run this marathon and what you want to achieve.  If this is your first marathon and you’re new to running, your goal may well be to ‘just get round’ and enjoy the experience.

Perhaps you do have a time goal in mind, but is it realistic? And how do you know? Setting goals correctly at the start will help you to plan your training and preparation and are key to your success and enjoyment. You may not be able to set a ‘goal’ just yet though; as your training progresses your goal will develop and you’ll get an idea of what you might be able to achieve and what the marathon means to you.

Training Diary

Keeping a training diary is without doubt, one of the most powerful and motivating tools you can use.  Writing down the training you’ve done (or haven’t done) makes you more accountable – there is nothing worse than seeing a week of blank entries. It will help to keep you motivated and stay focused.

Not only that, keeping a detailed record of distance, times, heartrate, the weather and so on, will provide essential feedback when looking back at your training. Seeing your progression and improvement written down in black and white is really motivating and gives you confidence.

Top Time-Management Tips


  • Sit down on a Sunday night with your schedule and your diary and plan out your week. Put training sessions in your diary in advance and you’ll be more likely to complete them.
  • Get your longest runs and races in the diary right at the beginning, arrange to run with friends or take part in group sessions.  Everything else will then slot in around them.
  • If you have family, get them on-side by getting them involved.  Children can help make your drinks and be part of your ‘support’ crew at races. Older children (or your partner) can even ride their bikes alongside you as you run.
  • Run with a club or group at least once a week. It provides structure, social interaction and possibly coaching if you go to a club – making it more fun and motivating.
  • Get organised – none of us have time to waste looking for lost trainers or discovering that your favourite shorts are in the wash. Plan your route in advance, get your kit out the night before, keep your watch, hat, gloves, ipod etc all together in a box near the door.
  • Run with your dog. Double up a dog walk and your run and save time. Just make sure you progress your dog slowly if he’s not used to running.
  • Stick your schedule up somewhere where you (and the family) can see it. It’ll be a constant reminder of your ultimate goal and everyone will know what training you have planned.

Getting ready to run

A pair of properly fitted running shoes is essential – fitted by a specialist running shop after they have observed you running on a treadmill is ideal. Running shoes need to be about 1 – 1 1/2 sizes bigger than your normal shoe size to allow for movement in the toe box and avoid blisters and bruised toes. A specific sports bra is also essential, and treat yourself to some flattering new kit which will boost your confidence. A digital sports watch is the only other thing you need and you’re all set.


It is now universally considered that stretching before a run (especially a steady paced run) is just not necessary. Stretching should be done when your muscles are ‘warmed’ up with increased blood flow; so stretching cold ‘tight’ muscles (i.e. before a run) is just not a great idea. In an ideal world, many running coaches suggest jogging for 5 minutes or so, then stopping to stretch when your muscles are warm, before going onto your main run. This can be especially beneficial if you have any tight spots or ‘niggles’ which you can stretch out ‘on the run’ but perhaps not a realistic option when you’re pressed for time, or really all that necessary if you’re running long and steady.

There is one major exception however. If you’re going to be doing some fast efforts, track work, sprinting hills or a race (less than a half marathon), then stretching AFTER a warm up jog but BEFORE your main session/race, is vital and could help your performance and reduce the risk of muscle tears.

So if pre-run stretching is a no-no, how do you go about warming up?

The purpose of warming up, prior to a run, is to gradually increase your core temperature, slowly increase the blood flow to the muscles that need it (i.e. heart, lungs and working muscles) and to prepare your body for some ‘hard work’. Spend two or three minutes going through some mobility movements and (rolling shoulders, knee lifts etc) before breaking into an easy ‘warm up’ jog will pay dividends. Make sure you stretch after a run including hamstrings, calves, quads, inner and outer thigh and your glutes and hips. Focus on any tight spots and get advice from a physiotherapist or sports therapist if you have any pain or discomfort… never ignore a niggle.

The schedule

Any training programme you follow should only act as a guide to structure your sessions and training progression. It should not be a source of stress or pressure, nor should you follow it verbatim. If you feel tired, take a day off without feeling guilty. If you’re ill, take a day or two off. Getting fitter is as much about ‘resting’ as it is about training – that’s when your body absorbs the training and you get stronger and faster.

Session Terminology:

Easy – as it says, jog, chat and enjoy at an ‘easy’ pace. If you were working on a scale of 1-10 (10 being flat out) you might be around 5/10. Preferably a nice, easy flat route.

Steady – a slightly quicker pace than ‘easy’. On the scale, around 7/10. This might be a slightly more challenging route with some hills for example.

Pace – a quicker pace. Somewhere in the region of 8/10. You will be breathing harder and may not be able to chat as easily. They need to feel ‘controlled’ but that you are working a bit harder. You also need to add a 5 min warm up and cool down to these sessions.

Intervals – Fast run repeats with recovery in between. This should feel hard 9/10. You will be breathing very hard, but not out of control. They add variety to your training and will make you stronger and fitter. For example – 5 minute warm up then 2 minutes running hard/2 minutes walking/easy jog. 5 minute cool down jog. Always have 5 minutes either side for warm up and cool down.  Feel free to move days and sessions around to suit your schedule.

Fit Beginner 12 Week Marathon Training Programme

Download your plan here: Marathon Training Plan

This programme is 12 weeks long and gives you a pretty good structure for how to plan out your training sessions and how you progress from week to week. You should have been running regularly for at least 3-4 months (2-3 times per week) before starting this programme and be able to run for about 60 minutes without stopping. If you’re not quite at that level yet, you can still train for a marathon, just give yourself a bit more time to build up.

Good luck and enjoy your marathon journey. It’ll be worth it, trust us.

Sarah Russell, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

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