Training

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Beginner marathon programme

This programme is for beginner runners who would like to train for a marathon. It will focus on completing the distance comfortably.

The programme is for you if you haven't run a marathon before or it's a long time since you ran any longer distances. To get the most out of it you should be able to run 10km comfortably.

The training schedule will have you out running four days a week. Training days are set as Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, but you can change these to suit your personal lifestyle. If you do, remember to keep the rest days in between training days – these are important.

You will have the opportunity to try some of the training techniques that more experienced runners use, such as speed and tempo runs. These will improve your running performance and provide some variety in your training, which will help to keep you motivated. Alternatively you may choose to do all the runs in the programmes at a steady pace. This is fine and will still get you around the race comfortably. Just run for the length of time given in the programme.

It's important to bear in mind that you may get ill, even if it's just a cold or injured during your training, so build time into your training programme to account for this. If you strain a muscle, it can take up to three weeks to fully heal and more serious conditions such as tendonitis can take as long as 12 weeks. If you have a cold or any pain or stiffness, you're more likely to develop a serious injury, so it's best to rest until you're fully recovered rather than risk it becoming more severe.

Clothing

In this programme you will be setting off on some fairly long runs, so you may be running outside for longer than you have done before. Make sure your clothing and shoes will keep you comfortable over the 16 weeks, particularly later in the programme when you will be doing the longer runs. Also, bear in mind the seasonal weather changes that may happen over the 16 weeks.

Beginner marathon
  Monday / Day 1 Tuesday / Day 2 Wednesday / Day 3 Thursday / Day 4 Friday / Day 5 Saturday / Day 6 Sunday / Day 7
Week 1 Rest day 20mins jog/easy run Rest day Rest day 20mins jog/easy run Rest day Long run: 40mins
Week 2 Rest day 25mins easy run/recovery run 20mins easy run Rest day 20mins easy run Rest day Long run: 50mins
Week 3 Rest day 30mins easy run/recovery run 25mins easy run Rest day 30mins easy run Rest day Long run: 60mins
Week 4 Rest day 40mins easy run/recovery run 30mins easy run Rest day 50mins speed running or cross training Rest day Long run: 70mins
Week 5 Rest day 40mins easy run/recovery run 40mins steady run Rest day 40mins speed running session Rest day Long run: 80mins
Week 6 Rest day 30mins easy run/recovery run 30mins tempo running session Rest day 40mins speed running or cross training session Rest day Long run: 90mins
Week 7 Rest day 40mins easy run/recovery run 60mins steady run Rest day 50mins speed running session Rest day Long run: 10 miles
Week 8 Rest day 40mins easy run/recovery run 50mins tempo running session Rest day 50mins speed running or cross training session Rest day Long run: 11 miles
Week 9 Rest day 40mins easy run/recovery run 35mins steady run Rest day 30mins speed running session Rest day 10km race
Week 10 Rest day 40mins easy run/recovery run 50mins tempo running session Rest day 50mins speed running or cross training session Rest day Long run: 15 miles
Week 11 Rest day 40mins easy run/recovery run 50mins steady run Rest day 60mins speed running session Rest day Long run: 14 miles
Week 12 Rest day 40mins easy run/recovery run 40mins tempo running session Rest day 20mins speed running or cross training session Rest day Long run: 13 miles or half marathon race
Week 13 Rest day 40mins easy run/recovery run 50mins steady run Rest day 40mins speed running session Rest day Long run: 20 to 22 miles
Week 14 Rest day 40mins easy run/recovery run 50mins tempo running session Rest day 50mins speed running or cross training session Rest day Long run: 15 miles
Week 15 Rest day 40mins easy run/recovery run 40mins steady run Rest day 40mins speed running session Rest day Long run: 8 miles
Week 16 Rest day 30mins easy run/recovery run 30mins easy run Rest day 20mins jog Rest day RACE

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Training aims

Weeks one to three

The first three weeks are a lead into the programme. They include plenty of easy running – the main aim here is to get you used to a regular running routine. The long run on Sunday (or Day seven if Sunday isn't the best day for your personal routine) starts to increase steadily. This long run will build up to between 18 and 22 miles, which will ensure you're ready to run the marathon distance on race day. Take it easy during these first few weeks, and let your legs get used to running some distance. Don't worry about how fast you are going.

Weeks four to six

By now you will have done your first hour-long run - well done. Over the next few weeks the programme introduces tempo and speed running. These sessions will help to increase your running speed and will also add some variety to your training.

For a tempo run, start with a five-minute warm-up before running at tempo pace for five to 10 minutes. After this, jog slowly for a couple of minutes to recover before repeating another five to 10 minutes at tempo speed. You have just completed around 30 minutes of tempo running.

For a 40-minute speed running session you could start by running 10 minutes nice and easy to warm up, then run fast for two minutes followed by jogging slowly for the next two minutes. Repeat this six times. Finish off with another 10 minutes of jogging to cool down.

You're continuing to increase the distance of your long runs, which will help you to run further in comfort.

On alternate Fridays, you may wish to try some cross training. If you're still sore from the tempo running, your body is telling you it needs more time to recover, so keep Friday/Day 5 as a recovery day - take it easy and don't forget to stretch.

Week six is a slightly easier week in terms of mileage. It will give your body a chance to recover a little more, and will hopefully have you feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the next stage of your marathon training.

Weeks seven to ten

You will run your first 10-mile run in week seven. Remember to tackle this milestone steadily and mentally break it down into chunks of either one mile or 10 minutes. You may find that you need to drop your pace down to a very slow jog or even a walk.

In week nine you might like to enter a 10km race. Training is kept light in the week leading up to this – you want to feel refreshed and raring to go in the race.

Some longer tempo running sessions are introduced to the programme here. You might be tempted to "go for it" and try to run tempo speed for the entire 40 to 50 minutes, but resist the urge. After all, running more than 40 minutes at tempo speed is getting close to full race running and you don't want to risk injuring yourself.

Week 10 will see you undertake one of the longest runs before your marathon. Remember that the focus is on completing the distance rather than running it in a specific time. If anything, start off at a slower, easy pace - you can always increase your speed in the latter stages of the run if you feel good.

Weeks eleven to thirteen

Many marathon runners like to enter a half marathon race three or four weeks before their marathon. There are plenty of races around to cater for this demand so hopefully you can find one that is convenient for you at the end of week 12, four weeks before your big day.

Use this race to rehearse your race day. Do everything as you plan to on race day - get up at the same time, eat what you plan to eat before the marathon and wear the same clothes.

Week 13 is a big week with a 20 to 22 mile run at the end. This will be your longest run before the marathon. The main challenge will be motivating yourself to keep going for the full distance. The good news is that if you can do it now in training, then hopefully the extra miles on race day will fly past as the excitement and atmosphere of the race carry you along.

Weeks fourteen to sixteen

After your 20 to 22 mile run, you will begin your three-week 'taper' in weeks 14, 15 and 16. This is a time of recovery and preparation for the race. Your aim is to keep the gains you have made over the past 13 weeks, while ensuring that your body has time to recover before the race.

Your last week is all about getting ready for the race, so take it easy. Make sure you do plenty of stretching to stay loose and prevent injuries. Take it easy on Friday to make sure that you're well recovered and have a good rest on Saturday. In fact, on the Saturday it's best to do almost nothing at all - don't spend hours walking round the shops or be tempted to fit in one last training session. You have done all the work and you should be more than ready for the race. Good luck!

Types of training run

All the training programmes involve long runs and recovery (easy) runs. Some also include faster runs (tempo and speed).

Recovery (easy) runs
These allow your legs to recover from hard effort and prepare you for the next day of training.

They should be run at an easy pace (effort level of five to six).

You should be able to enjoy running without feeling tired.

Steady runs
These runs are slightly faster than recovery/easy runs.

You should them at an effort level of seven to eight.

Long runs
The aim of the long run is to build up your aerobic fitness, efficiency and endurance.

Use this session to increase your mileage. The long run should be at a steady pace, effort level six to seven.

You should be able to hold a conversation as you run. This will become your race pace.

Tempo runs
Tempo runs improve your running pace. The aim is to maintain a hard but controlled pace, at effort level eight.

Increase your pace from your long run pace by extending your stride. Stay relaxed and breathe deeply and rhythmically.

You should finish the session feeling refreshed and invigorated.

A tempo session is made up of one or more periods of tempo running with some easy running in between.

Build up to running tempo pace for about 20 minutes, starting with five minutes if you're a beginner.

Reduce or extend the recovery periods as you need them.

A beginner's 30-minute tempo session might include:

  • Five-minute warm-up walk or slow jog
  • five minutes at an easy pace followed by five minutes of tempo running, repeated twice (20 minutes)
  • five minutes' walk or jog to cool down

An intermediate 40-minute tempo session might include:

  • 10-minute warm-up walk or slow jog
  • 20 minutes of tempo running
  • 10 minutes at an easy pace

Speed work
Speed work, using either intervals or hills, builds your aerobic fitness, strength and speed.

Interval training involves running fast, but not sprinting, over a set distance (200m or 400m) or time at an effort level of 10.

Hill running involves keeping your pace roughly constant but increasing intensity to effort level 10 by changing the gradient up which you are running.

Each hard run should be followed by a slow recovery running break of at least the same length before repeating.

You may find using a treadmill can help you to get the distances, times or gradients right.

The following are examples of distance intervals.

  • Six sessions of 400m - a 400m fast run, then a 400m slow jog, repeated three times
  • Four sessions of 400m and 200m - a 400m fast run, a 400m slow jog, then a 200m fast run followed by a 200m slow jog. Have five minutes walking between sets, then repeat.

Examples of timed intervals are:

  • six minutes warm-up, then run fast for one minute and jog slowly for two minutes; repeat this six times, followed by six minutes cool down (30 minutes in total)
  • five minutes warm-up, run fast for two minutes then jog slowly for two minutes; repeat this five times, followed by five minutes cool down (30 minutes in total)

Examples of hill training are:

  • on a treadmill - run one to three minutes on 0 to one percent gradient, then 30 seconds to two minutes on four to six percent gradient (no more than 10 percent); repeat this until you have been running for about 20 minutes
  • outside - find a hill that takes you roughly two minutes to run up, run up it fairly fast and then slowly back down; repeat this until you have been running for about 20 minutes