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Running programmes - marathon

Welcome to Bupa’s marathon running programmes. If you’ve got a marathon on the horizon, we’ve got a choice of two running programmes here to meet your needs:

  • beginner – for if it’s the first time you’ve run a marathon, or it’s been a while since you ran any longer distances
  • intermediate – for if you consider yourself to be a more developed runner

How the programmes work

All the training programmes have three key elements, which alter as you progress. These are ‘FIT’; which stands for:

  • F – frequency (how often)
  • I – intensity or pace (how hard)
  • T – time (how long)

Exercising regularly and gradually increasing how much you do is the key to improving your health and fitness.

As you get fitter, you’ll be able to train more often and for longer in each session. As a beginner, this will mean that gradually you can run more and need to walk less. At an intermediate level, you should find that you’re able to run distances faster.

It’s hard to define ‘intensity’ (or pace) because it depends on your individual level of fitness, which will increase as your training progresses.

Some of the training programmes involve different types of run – see Types of training for more information. These correspond to your ‘perceived effort scale’. The scale runs from one to 10, where one is standing still, and 10 is your maximum effort, such as running flat out. The table below has more detail. The activities in the running programmes correspond to the ‘Activity’ column of this table.

Perceived effort levels

Effort level

Effort rating

Activity (approximate, depending on fitness)





Standing still




Minimal activity



Slow walk

Used in cool down



Moderate walk

Normal pace - used in warm up/cool down


Fairly light

Fast walk / light jog

Walking - striding out or jogging a little above march pace; heart rate and breathing increase a little



Jog / easy running

Easy jog - active but not challenging; breathing is easy and steady


Slightly challenging

Steady running

Sustainable steady running - general race pace; breathing and heart rate are raised but not uncomfortable


Challenging / slightly hard

Tempo running

Brisk - challenging running at increased pace; breathing should be harder



Hard running

Fast running with arms pumping - used in speed work and 400m to 800m distances




Maximum effort - sustainable for one minute or less

Types of training

All the training programmes involve long runs and light / moderate (recovery) runs, and some also include faster runs (tempo and speed).

Easy runs

These allow your legs to recover from hard efforts and prepare you for the next day of training. Take them at a light to moderate pace (effort level of five to six). You should be able to enjoy running without feeling tired.

Steady runs

These runs should be at a slightly challenging pace with an effort level of six to seven. You should be able to hold a conversation, but find it difficult. This will become your race pace and be used for your long runs. It will increase your distance and build up your aerobic fitness, efficiency and endurance.

Tempo runs

Constant speed running is sometimes referred to as tempo running. This improves your running pace.

Although the true definition of tempo running varies, aim to run at a constant speed that feels ‘comfortably hard’. This should be about an 8 on the effort scale. Stick to about 15 to 20 minutes at this pace and always include warming up and cooling down as follows:

  • 30 mins total:
    • 5 mins warm up (effort level 5)
    • 20 mins tempo running (effort level 8)
    • 5 mins cool down (effort level 3–4)

  • 40 mins total:
    • 4 mins warm up (effort level 5)
    • 15 mins tempo running (effort level 8)
    • 3 mins easy jog (effort level 5)
    • 15 mins tempo running (effort level 8)
    • 3 mins cool down (effort level 3–4)

  • 50 mins total:
    • 5 mins warm up (effort level 5)
    • 20 mins tempo running (effort level 8)
    • 5 mins easy jog (effort level 5)
    • 15 mins tempo running (effort level 8)
    • 5 mins cool down (effort level 3–4)

Interval training

Training with intervals builds your aerobic fitness, strength and speed. Interval training involves running fast (but not sprinting), over a set distance or time, at an effort level of 9. Follow each hard interval with an easy one of at least the same length, then repeat. Try using a treadmill or running track to help you get the distances and times right.

As you go through your training programme, try filling the recommended time with these sequences:

  • Starting interval training:
    • 30 secs running (effort level 9)
    • 2 mins easy jog/walk (effort level 5)

  • Hitting your stride (from week 8):
    • 1 min running (effort level 9)
    • 2 mins easy jog/walk (effort level 5)

  • Closer to race day (from week 12), try short/fast intervals and longer/slower ones, eg:
    • 30 secs sprinting (effort level 10)
    • 90 secs easy jog / walk (effort level 5)
    • (repeat x 5)
    • 3 mins running (effort level 9)
    • 4 mins easy jog / walk (effort level 5)
    • (repeat x 2/3)
    • 30 secs sprinting (effort level 10)
    • 90 secs easy jog / walk (effort level 5)
    • (repeat x 2/3)

Don’t forget to perform 5 minutes of warm-up and cool-down before and after your interval training.

Cross training

This helps you to keep up your fitness but reduces the strain on the muscles you use for running. Take one session a week to do an activity such as swimming, cycling or using a cross trainer in the gym. This will work your muscle groups in different ways and help to stop you from getting bored of just running.

Beginner programme

This programme is for beginner runners who would like to train for a marathon. The programme is for you if it’s the first time you’ve run a marathon, or a long time since you ran any longer distances. To get the most out of it, you should already be able to run at least 5km, and ideally 10km, comfortably.

If you’re struggling to run the full distances suggested, don’t worry. Just make sure you cover the whole distance, slowing to a walk to recover energy before running again.

Don’t forget to warm up for each run with 3–5 minutes of jogging or walking at effort level 4 or 5, and cool down with 3–5 minutes at effort level 3 or 4.

One mile is equivalent to 1.6km. For this training programme, distances in km have been rounded to the nearest whole number for simplicity. Click on the image below to see the full programme (PDF 163KB, opens in a new window).

Image of Bupa's beginner marathon running programme

Intermediate programme

This programme is for you if you consider yourself to be a more developed runner. You may have already completed marathon races before, or possibly a half marathon race.

1 mile is equivalent to 1.6km. For this training programme, distances in km have been rounded to the nearest whole number for simplicity. Click on the image below to see the full programme (PDF 170KB, opens in a new window).

Image of Bupa's intermediate marathon running programme


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