Marathon Training for a Beginner

Training for the first marathon can be quite the challenge and task. Since you are a beginner it can be an unknown. The training and the marathon can be hard, but you may not know how hard. For those who want the essential training information in terms that are simple to understand, then keep reading.


Marathon Training


Some of the questions runners most commonly have are:

• When it comes to training, what quantity is needed?
• When working on the long run, how long should it really be?
• How many months is enough preparation for a marathon?

Developing your Beginner Marathon Training Plan

Someone who is a beginner training for a marathon will need to work on and focus on improving their aerobic and strength endurance. They are two very important key aspects for achieving the marathon goal.

For those new to running it might be wise to start by building up some races in the 5 km, 10 km and even a couple of half marathons before running a full marathon. When preparing for a marathon it requires a background in training for these types of event. This will help you be able to deal with the training that will be needed for a full marathon. Having a few half marathons under your belt, and even the training for them, will really help you out.

For those runners who are going for the marathon with this type of background you will still want to give yourself 18 – 20 weeks of consistent running training to help prepare yourself. The training for beginners that you are reading about here is an 18 week long preparation.

The beginning marathon training program described here is assuming that you the runner are able to run a 90 minute run comfortably. If not you will want to gradually build up the long run to at least 90 minutes before picking up the training program.

Beginner Marathon Training Program Descriptions

Warm-up and Cool-down

Regardless of whether you are a beginner or more advanced, you need to include a warm-up at the beginning and a cool down at the end of each running session. The time spent warming up and cooling down will be counted toward your run time, as you are running.

The warm up and cool down really is just a jog at a low intensity. The warm up is somewhere between 10 – 12 minutes and the cool down is about 10 minutes. The last part of the warm up will include things like high knees, short stride outs, bounding, and butt kicks as a form of dynamic stretching.

Beginner Marathon Training Program Session Types

Long Runs

A marathon is a long duration that is done at a relatively low intensity. So to train effectively you need to have long runs as part of your training. The long run should include running on hilly courses along with soft and hard surfaces. The closer you get to the event, gradually run more on flat surfaces along with more on hard terrain. You will want to get your long run up so that it is like completing 1 or 2 36km runs.

When doing your long run it should be at a moderate intensity. Your pace of the long run really should be something like 30 seconds slower than what your goal is for the race day and the actual marathon pace.

Most first time marathon runners are able to hold onto their marathon goal pace during the long run. Muscular fatigue because of the marathon distance itself that causes problems on race day, not the running intensity.

The training session lengths are by duration not distance. But distance is critical when it comes to the long runs, so for the long runs you need to go for the target distance. Duration is included just as a guide for the sessions. If your time and/or duration is longer or shorter for the scheduled distance on that day, don’t worry about it.

Recovery Runs

The purpose of the recovery run is to be an easy and short jog promoting recovery while still getting aerobic enhancement. They are usually run at a low intensity and on flat terrain. The pace of the runs are not something to worry about, they are just a nice and easy run. It might not be a bad idea to include short surges while doing the recovery run, they will just loosen up the muscles and joints.

Medium Long / Aerobic Runs

The medium long run is a session used to help supplement long runs on Sunday. The medium long runs and long runs are similar as far as the running pace goes. The medium long run should be done over a hilly course.


A stride is a pick up or even a surge which means increasing your running speed. This helps enhance the neuromuscular running performance. The strides are about 5 km race pace and are combined along with several minutes of an easy running. The strides are run on a flat surface.

Tempo Runs

The idea behind the tempo run is to boost the strength endurance and the anaerobic threshold of the runner. The tempo run will help increase the speed you will want to maintain during the marathon. It will also help reduce muscular fatigue at the desired marathon pace.

When doing this session you will want to do it on a flat or even a slight hill and will start after you complete a thorough warm up. You will want to do this at about a 10-15km pace, or the maximum pace you can keep at for at least 1 hour, and it needs to be a steady pace. You will want to do recovery intervals that are an easy jog.

Cruise Intervals

Cruise intervals are very close to the tempo runs in that you will want to do them at a firm intensity and at anaerobic threshold intensity. There is a difference between the two, and that is that the cruise runs are quite a bit shorter and are usually done at a slightly higher intensity, like a 8-10km pace.

Strength Endurance Runs

One of the main keys for lasting in a distance of something like a marathon and even remaining fatigue resistant as long as possible is through strength endurance. It has been found that one of the best methods to developing this type of endurance is with hill efforts. It is also a good way to increase your running economy.

When using the hill effort it needs to be done on a long hill that is of a moderate grade and has an intensity of firm to hard. You should attempt to maintain a long stride on the way up in order to working on getting a greater improvement towards strength which will force production. When you get to the top you will turn around and jog back down easily before starting again.

When choosing the hill it shouldn’t be too steep. The best hill grade will be between 4-6%. Steep hills will not help get you any gain. You are trying to get strength gains that can help you on a flat running surface. A hill that is too steep will not help the leg drive horizontally, but will help the leg drive vertically, which is not what you want.

The days that you are required to do a temp period before your hill effort you just add in a flat tempo at a firm intensity. The goal is to reach the bottom of the hill exactly when the tempo is suppose to end so you can go right into your hill effort immediately.

VO2 Sessions

What the intense session is doing is improving the VO2 max and the maximal sustainability of a running speed. It may not seem important to a beginner runner, but when you improve your performance your shorter race distance improve. That will inturn help your marathon pace, making it easier to maintain the marathon pace you want both at a physiological and even biomechanical view point.

The VO2 session is best when completed on a track or an oval for the specified distance. The intervals should be at about 3-5 km race pace. You will jog a recovery between each of the efforts and it should be an easy jog. These sessions can be demanding on your body.

Understanding the Program Layout

• Warm-up and cool-downs are included in the sessions distances and durations.
• When the program has a duration that is more than the time requires including the warm-up, main part of the session and the cool-down you just make up the rest of the time with easy aerobic running.

Meeting your Individual Goals

This beginning marathon training program is just an outline and is generic, so you may need and want to customize to fit your own schedule and needs. This is a program that can be easily adjusted with any modifications to the weekly outline and the load of the training as you need to fit you. You may want to address any weaknesses the program doesn’t address as well. This program is just a guide to help you as a beginning marathon runner. Make it fit your own needs.

There are usually only four runs that are scheduled most weeks, so that makes all of them very important to make sure you achieve your marathon goal. If you will need to miss a session every once in awhile Tuesday’s session is the best one to cut as it is low on the priority list in the training program.

Other Aspects of Beginner Marathon Training Preparation


It is important to try and include about 10-15 minutes of stretching at the end of each of your sessions. You should also include 20-30 minutes at least three times a week for stretching as well. The focus of your stretching should focus on the following areas; hip flexors, calves, hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps and the back. By including stretching you are helping to minimize your chance of injury during training and the event and minimizing fatigue by increasing the suppleness of the muscles.

Strength Training – Weights

Strength training is a part of the training that has some great benefits for the runner. It has shown to help improve things like technique, reduce the muscular fatigue during the run and it can help in preventing any injuries.

If you decide to add any strength training to your program it is best to include only two sessions per week and it should be using light weights. When including strength training it shouldn’t detract you from feeling fresh and be able to perform well while training. Because of the demands that come with marathon training, many runners who are training for a marathon will either cut back or even eliminate weight training.

Cross Training

Cross training is a good way to increase your weekly aerobic workload in a way that is low stress. If you use it properly, cross training can enhance your recovery as well.

It is important to make sure the cross training you work into your training sessions around the running sessions are appropriate. Cross training is beneficial, but the running sessions are what you need to be focused on to make sure you get to the marathon goal you have set.

The marathon training program included here has one session of cross training in the schedule each week. The exercise involved that will best accompany your running training is cycling and elliptical trainer. Some other exercise that is helpful is swimming. The exercise you choose needs to be low impact and at a low to moderate intensity.


This marathon training program does not include any races for the beginner. It may a good idea to put some short races in to help you with your marathon preparation. If you feel you want to include short races putting a 5 to 10km run on a weekend during the last half of your training program, go ahead.

Some options if you are running in a race is that if it is a Saturday event, then just don’t do a session on that Friday and run the race and then keep the long run for the following day. When a race is on a Sunday you will want to do a warm up, run the race and then run the remainder of your scheduled distance, just at a low intensity. Doing this option on a Sunday is because you really need the long run training.

Participating in a half marathon as you prepare is not a bad idea. If you choose to do this it is best to do it 4-8 weeks before the marathon. Since most half marathons are on Sunday you will use the race as your long run.

Nutrition and Hydration

Nutrition is important for all runners, especially for those who are in training for long events like a marathon. When a high amount of training is taking place nutrition plays an important part of your training and impacts your racing performance.

Before the marathon you really need to consider not taking in about 2-3 days worth of carbohydrates. Instead you need to eat more time based energy dense carbohydrate foods and increase the overall intake of food. For more information about diets for marathon runners just click here.

Race day is also vital when it comes to nutrition as well. Having a good nutritional plan for the marathon can make all the difference between having a good and bad race. It will be important to put a lot of preparation into your diet.

The nutritional plan you should consider for the race will focus on carbohydrates. Have a strategy to intake a certain amount of carbohydrates through things like sports gels, high energy snacks like lollies and even sports drinks. You really should take in carbohydrates in regular intervals, like every 30-40 minutes.

How much fluid you take in is a completely different issue and will depend on what the temperature on the day of the race is. It is recommended that you take in between 350-700mL of fluid every hour. On hotter days that will be more. The carbohydrate intake does not change, regardless of the temperature. So remember that the water intake amount will change and sports drink intake doesn’t.

Pacing the Marathon

On the day of the marathon it is important to remember two important issues. These issues are your pacing strategy that will happen throughout the entire marathon and the nutritional plan.

The main goal is to finish the marathon, but most importantly it is to reach the 30km mark in a relatively good condition. It is always the last 10-15km of the event that is the toughest because fatigue is starting to set in. Since this is the case you will want to try and run the first part of the marathon conservatively so that your pace will still be comfortable at the end.

A general rule is that you want to try and complete the first half of the marathon approximately using 48% of your time. For example if you think that you can do the race in four hours you will want to do the first 21km somewhere between 1:55 and 1:56. The pacing plan you have in place may need to be altered based on the course.

General Training Load

The training schedule of the program, even the long run, is the minimum recommended to be ready to complete a marathon. If you are able, willing and comfortable with doing longer runs during the middle of the week and on the weekends then go ahead and do it.


Preparing for a marathon can be and will be tough, and often you may even feel that it is an overwhelming goal. If you follow the program outlined and are willing to do the hard work, you will be ready physically to complete the marathon. A marathon is a tough challenge, yet an achievable goal for the person who has a semi-established running background, commits to the program, and is capable of performing the required long runs.

Good Luck!


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