Train Yourself to Run a Marathon Well


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For many runners, the desire to do a marathon is about personal challenge. You might want to test your limits or prove that you can go the distance. Perhaps a friend has talked you into it. Maybe you’d like to lose weight, get healthier or raise awareness for a charity. Whatever the reason, you will need some training to run a marathon well.

Getting Started

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Be aware of your limits. The 26.2 miles in a marathon put you at a significantly higher risk for injury than your daily neighborhood jogs. Consult with your physician before embarking on any training program.

Start early: Conventional wisdom recommends that aspiring marathoners run consistent base mileage for at least a year before embarking on a marathon training program.

One of the most common causes of injury is building weekly mileage too soon, too fast—so don’t underestimate the importance of consistently running at least 20–30 miles a week regularly before committing to training for a marathon.

Start small: Running a few shorter races—5Ks, 10Ks, or even a half marathon—is an excellent way to prepare physically and mentally for a first marathon.

Choosing a First Marathon

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Marathons range from quiet, low-key races on backcountry roads to spectator-lined urban races with tens of thousands of runners. To help you get used to the race vibe and identify your preference, run a few shorter races, cheer on a friend or volunteer at marathons.

Choosing a marathon close to home may offer a “home field advantage” with the opportunity to run on familiar roads; on the other hand, choosing a “destination” race can really stoke your motivation fire in the months leading up to race day.

The Building Blocks of Marathon Training

The primary elements of marathon training are: 

  • Base mileage. Build your weekly mileage over time, running three-to-five times per week.
  • The long run. Do a long run every 7–10 days so your body can adjust gradually to long distances.
  • Rest and recovery. Adequate rest helps prevent injuries and mental burnout.

Base Mileage

Most marathon training plans range from 12 to 20 weeks. Beginning marathoners should aim to build their weekly mileage up to 50 miles over the four months leading up to race day.

Three-to-five runs per week is sufficient. The vast majority of these runs should be done at a relaxed pace. You should run at an easy enough pace to be able to carry on a conversation. When building base mileage, never increase your weekly mileage by more than 10 percent from week to week.

The Long Run

Your next step is to build up to a weekly long run. This should be done once every 7–10 days, extending the long run by a mile or two each week. Every 3 weeks, scale it back by a few miles so as not to overtax your body and risk injury. For example, you might run 12 miles one weekend, 13 miles the next, then 14 miles, and then 12 again before moving on to 15 on the fifth weekend.

Doing these runs at a substantially slower pace than usual builds confidence, lets your body adjust to longer distances, and teaches you to burn fat for fuel.

Max distance: Most marathon training plans usually peak at a long run of 20 miles. So where do those last 6 miles come from on race day? With proper training, your body will take advantage of the peak shape your body will be in, the rest you offer it during a tapering period, and the adrenaline and crowd support of race day.

Rest and Recovery

Rest days mean no running. They let your muscles recover from taxing workouts and help prevent mental burnout. The greatest enemy of any aspiring marathoners is injury, and the best protection against injury is rest. Follow the above tips and train yourself well.

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