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Running programmes - marathon

Maybe you’ve just signed up for your first ever race or have set your sights on beating your personal best marathon time. Whatever your aim, we have a training programme to suit your ability and goal.

Before starting any programme, make sure you have a look through the plan. If it has different types of run, familiarise yourself with the techniques involved. And no matter what level you are, don’t forget the importance of preparation before training sessions and recovery afterwards. To find out more, read our information on how to avoid sports injuries.

The programmes involve running on several days a week. You don’t have to stick to these exactly, but be sure to keep the recommended number of rest days. These give your body time to recover so you’re ready for the next training session.

The programmes will take you towards, but not necessarily up to, your full event distance. The idea is that your fitness and ability progress steadily so that you’re ready to complete the full distance by race day. The atmosphere and cheering crowds on the day will help to push you on for that extra mile or so.

How to choose

Choosing the beginner programmes

The ‘walk to run’ and 5km beginner programmes will suit you if you have little or no running experience but are generally fit and in good health.

The 10km and above distance programmes are ideal if you want to run a longer event and are in the habit of running at least twice a week. They will suit you if you could complete a 5km run in 30 to 40 minutes, with a mix of walking and running.

Choosing the intermediate programmes

You don’t need to have run the full distance before you follow an intermediate programme. However, we recommend that you’ve been running regularly (two to three times a week) for at least 10 weeks. You regularly run 5km in less than 30 minutes and have probably also run 10km a couple of times in around an hour. Bear in mind that these programmes involve training on at least four days a week with some faster paced running.

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 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 so 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.

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

Brisk 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 400 to 800m distances




Maximum effort - sustainable for one minute or less

To get the best from the effort scale, listen to your whole body and think about how it feels. So consider your breathing, heart rate and how your arms and legs feel.

Types of training

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

Easy runs

These allow your legs to recover from hard effort and prepare you for the next day of training. Take them at an easy pace (effort level of five to six) and no longer than 40 minutes. You should be able to enjoy running without feeling tired.

Long runs

These should be your longest run of the week. They are for increasing your distance and aim to build up your aerobic fitness, efficiency and endurance. Your long run should be at a steady pace, effort level six to seven, so you can hold a conversation as you run. This will become your race pace.

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 eight on the effort scale. Stick to about 20 to 30 minutes at this pace and always include at least five minutes of warming up and cooling down.

Speed work

Speed work, either using intervals or hills, 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 10. Hill running involves keeping your pace roughly constant, but increasing intensity to effort level 10 by changing the gradient that you’re running up. Follow each hard run with an easy one of at least the same length, then repeat. Try using a treadmill to help you get the distances, times or gradients right.

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.

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 to download the full programme.

Bupa UK running programmes - beginner marathon

Intermediate programme

This programme is for runners who have already completed a 10km, 10 mile or half marathon race and would like to move up to the next distance, or improve on an existing marathon time.

One mile is equivalent to 1.6 km. For this training programme, where distances are specified, we’ve rounded them to the nearest mile for simplicity.

Click on the image to download the full programme.

Bupa UK running programmes - intermediate marathon

Advanced programme

This programme is for you if you consider yourself to be an advanced runner. You may have already completed marathon races before, or possibly a half marathon race, perhaps following the Bupa beginner and intermediate training programmes.

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 to download the full programme.

Bupa UK running programmes - advanced marathon


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