Want to learn how to train for a marathon? Then you’ve come to the right place.
Going from couch to the marathon is an epic undertaking and a completely life-changing experience. As a beginner, expect to spend around six months to go from couch to marathoner.
Taking this long to prepare for the 26.2 miles is nice because it gives you a slow and progressive increase in load to reach your goals.
You’ll be asked to run three to four times a week, and your total weekly load will slowly increase as you get closer to race day (more on this later, of course).
I know this is a lot to digest but bear with me, please.
In today’s article, I’m sharing a comprehensive couch to a marathon training plan that outlines the exact (and proper) process for a successful event.
More specifically, I’ll look at:
- How far is the marathon?
- What is the couch to a half marathon training plan?
- How long does it take to go from couch to marathon?
- How to train for a marathon
- How to stay injury-free
- What marathon training gear you’ll need
- When should you start tapering
- Racing tips
- And so much more.
So you might want to grab a drink as I’m going to take a long dive into each aspect of beginner marathon training.
Note – Looking for the best Beginner’s Guide To Running?
Then Check my Runners Blueprint System Here.
How Far is the Marathon?
Let’s start at the beginning and explain how long a marathon distance is.
A marathon is 26.2 miles, or 42.5 kilometers (if you’re using the metric system like most people outside of the three last bastions of the imperial system: The U.S., Myanmar, and Liberia).
In other words, covering 26.2 miles is the equivalent of 105.5 times around a standard outdoor 400-meter track. At a 12-minute mile pace, it’ll take roughly 5 hours and 15 minutes to finish a marathon.
How long Does it Take to Train And Prepare For A Marathon For Beginners
The length of time it takes to complete the couch to marathon plan depends on your current fitness ability, fitness progress, and marathon goals.
As a general rule, aim to spend at least six months training for your first marathon—assuming you’re already in shape and not suffering from any injury or chronic condition.
If you already have a good running base—meaning you’ve been running regularly for the past 12 months—then expect to successfully train for a marathon in eight to twelve weeks.
That’s why most standard marathon training plans are 16 to 20 weeks long. This will allow plenty of time to build up the needed mileage base without risking injury or burnout.
Here’s the thing, though.
Standard marathon training plans work for people who already have experience with running, as they already have a bunch of 5Ks, 10Ks, and even half marathons under their belts.
The rule of thumb is, the more out of shape you’re, the longer it’s going to take you to be race-ready. The rest is just details, as they say.
Today, my plan spans roughly six months –or more than 25 weeks—of consistent training.
You can go from the sofa to the finish line of a marathon in roughly six months—as long as you’re healthy. You’ll usually run three to four times a week during this time, increasing your weekly volume as you get closer to race day.
How To Train For A Marathon – The Pre-Requisites
Before you jump into the couch to a marathon training plan, there are a few conditions you should fulfill first.
Sure, you don’t have to be a runner, but having experience logging the miles—even for a short time—can help.
Marathon Training Gear
Whether training for your first marathon or trying to clock a 3-hour race, the right gear can make all the difference.
Marathons can be challenging events—and when you don’t have the right kit for the job, you’ll be making it harder on yourself to run your best race.
Regardless of gear preferences, the golden rule for race day kit is to never wear anything on event day that you haven’t used more than a few times during training.
Sure, you might feel tempted to put on a pair of fancy shorts or new shoes to stand out, but doing so will only do more harm than good.
Even the most expensive shoes on the market don’t mean that they will work for you until you’ve tried them for a while. This is especially the case if you’re a beginner marathon runner.
Your choice will depend on the weather and your personal preferences.
This could be a tank top or long sleeves. But, as a rule, avoid cotton. The stuff soaks up moisture and will only set you up for chafing and pain along the way.
Instead, look for a shirt made with lightweight fabrics, such as Polypropylene. This fabric wicks moisture away from your skin to the outer layer of the gear, where it can evaporate. This not only helps you keep dry but is comfortable as well.
You should also avoid shirts with seams, which could increase your risk of chafing during the race.
Choose something soft, light, and allows for airflow. This should be enough to help prevent aby rubbing or sore spots.
Running shorts come in different lengths and sizes, and which one you choose depends on your preference. For example, shorter shorts might feel lighter thanks to having fewer fabrics and tend to be more aerodynamic for racing.
As a rule, avoid heavy or baggy legwear that might interfere with your stride or catch the wind—all of which may slow you down—and you don’t want that.
Female runners should choose a bra that offers plenty of support.
In fact, for some female runners, the sports bra might be the most important piece of equipment they choose for the marathon. It’ll be a long ride, so if you choose an underperforming bra, you’ll be in more trouble as the miles add on.
Go for a high-quality bra. Pay attention to excess seams that might increase your risk of rubbing and chafing during the race.
Have trouble with finding the right size? Choose a bra with adjustable bands and straps.
Your feet will take a quite of beating during the race, and for that reason, a pair of quality socks matters—and matters a lot.
As a rule, choose running-specific socks that are intentionally designed to reduce the risk of blistering. Remember, blisters are the enemy here, so stick with seamless, snug-fitting socks.
Choose socks with plenty of support and padding to help keep your feet comfortable every step of the way. They should fit like a glove.
Prefer shorter socks? Go for a pair that at least covers a portion of your ankle to prevent the back of your shoes from rubbing on your skin.
A proper hat not only helps protect your face and eyes from sunlight but also keeps water and sweat out of your face.
You’ll want to keep an eye for obstacles and potholes during the course—having your vision in check should help. Few things are as worse as twisting your ankle during the race. It’s the recipe for a DNF.
Of course, you’ll need shoes to run the marathon.
You might be able to get away with other gear, but race day is not the time to take your new running shoes for a ride. This is the case whether it’s a marathon, or a shorter distance such as the 10K.
Instead, run in well-broken running. At a minimum, plan to run about 100 to 120 miles in your shoes before race day to make sure they’re properly broken in.
Furthermore, keep in mind that your feet might swell up to full size after extended time on your feet—which is the norm during marathon running.
The Walk /Run Method
During the first few weeks, you’ll be doing a set of walk/run sessions to get used to running non-stop for a relatively long period.
For example, the first session consists of a one-minute run, a one-minute walk, repeated ten times.
As the weeks go by, you’ll spend more time running and less and less walking until you can jog straight for 30 to 40 minutes without much trouble.
Progress The Slow Way
Training for a marathon shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg, especially when you’re just starting.
The key is to start slow and progress gradually.
How? Follow the 10 percent rule.
This is a common rule in the running world—one used by running coaches and experts around the globe. The rule is simple: you should not increase your total weekly mileage by a maximum of 10 percent from one week to the next.
Don’t force yourself even if you feel that you could do more. Abide by the “don’t bite more you can chew.”
Following this slow progression is safe and ensures that you reduce your risk of injury from upping your mileage too fast and/or too soon.
This seems too much to digest? Don’t worry. The couch to marathon plan below explains in detail the exact process to follow to build up mileage safely and pain-free.
Easy Training Runs
As for speed, shoot for a sustainable and comfortable pace, especially during your first few runs—when you have just graduated from the walk/run method.
All in all, allow your body to lock in a pace you can keep up for 30 minutes and follow that.
Build Your Long Runs
Whether you’re looking to finish your first marathon or want to pull off a sub-3:00 event, long runs are key.
Long runs help your body adapt to extended periods of running. In addition, they simulate real marathon running conditions, which helps to physically and mentally prepare for tackling the 26.2-mile beast.
Once you’re a few weeks in, start building up your weekly long runs. These should be performed once a week, extending the session by a mile or two.
Your first step?
Start with a distance that you can easily run—say six miles—and then progressively build it up.
On the third or fourth week, scale it back by a few miles to avoid injury or burnout.
For example, you might run six miles on Saturday, seven miles the next, nine miles next, and then seven again before moving to 10 or 11 in the fifth week.
This is the mindset you should adopt when increasing your overall mileage—whether it’s for the long run or your total weekly load.
Long Run Pace
As for pace, stick to an easy and conversational pace. You should be able to keep a conversation with a running buddy with no problems.
Said otherwise, if you cannot recite the pledge of allegiance without huffing and puffing, you’re going too fast.
Marathon training isn’t just about the miles—your cross-training workouts also matter.
On the non-running days, perform low-intensity, low-impact training to help improve your conditioning and overall strength without putting extra stress on your legs.
This is what’s known as cross-training.
Cross-training consists of low-impact training that keeps your heart rate at a medium level for a lengthy period.
All of these help you build endurance and strength without adding extra stress to your running legs.
Fuel your Efforts
Proper marathon training isn’t just about the miles. You also need to get your diet up to speed.
The fact is, your nutrition is as much as important as your training plan.
To fuel your training, bulk up with high-carb, low-fiber foods (pasta, bread, grains, etc.).
Time Your Nutrition
Other great examples of good pre-run options include a banana, bagel with peanut butter, or an energy bar.
You should also experiment with various types of fuel on your training days to see which ones work the best. Then choose to follow the same fueling strategy during the race itself.
Stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day—not just around your runs. Carry your water for long runs to keep you well hydrated.
High mileage exposes you to injury, whether you like it or not. How you handle these aches and pains is critical for your marathon success.
Feel pain? Do something about it. Even a small niggle can turn into a serious injury that might derail your marathon training plan.
Use ice, take anti-inflammatory medication, and, most importantly, take enough rest days to allow the injury to heal. Pushing through pain achieves nothing but making things worse.
In short, there’s no room for It’s Okay. Proceed with caution.
Follow the 10 percent rule at all times, work on developing proper running form, and aim to build a strong to help you dodge injury and stay on track.
Taper Right For Marathon Training
The few weeks leading to your race day are most vital. That’s why all good marathon-training plans have a “taper” period. During the period, you taper or reduce your training volume.
This latter phase of training helps reduce accumulated fatigue and recharge your body after all the training. This, in turn, ensures that you’re well-rested so you can reach your full potential on race day.
Don’t know how to taper? Don’t worry. This is how:
- Two weeks out: Resist the urge to run harder or longer, as doing so will only compromise your efforts. Excess energy? Cross-train, but stay low impact.
- One week before: Cut your mileage to half of your normal training volume and keep your usual pace for the most part. Focus on recovery during the last week.
How To Train For A Marathon – The Couch to Marathon Plan
Now that you know how to train for a marathon the right way, let’s get into the actual couch to the marathon training plan.
If you stay consistent with your training, it might take you no more than six months to be in marathon shape. The early training weeks focus on preparing you to be able to run 5K distance, and then you move up the ladder from there to 10K, then half marathon—and finally transition to marathon-ready shape.
Training properly for a marathon is key since your body needs plenty of time to adjust and adapt to the stresses during both training and the race.
The traits of a proper marathon training program consist of:
- Running three to four times per week
- Two to three cross-training days per week
- One to two rest days per week
- One long run a week
If you feel that making the jump to the couch to marathon training plan is too much, then feel free to check out my other beginner’s plans:
- The couch to 5K plan
- The couch to 5K treadmill plan
- The couch to 10K plan
- The couch to a half marathon plan.
Note – Click HERE to download the PDF version of my couch to a marathon plan.
There you have it. If you’re looking for a simple and easy-to-follow couch-to-marathon plan, today’s article has you covered. Now you know how to train for a marathon without fail.
Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.
In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.
Happy Marathon Training