Training for a marathon

Essential tips for running a marathon

If you’ve been thinking about training for a marathon, we will support you all the way with running advice and race tips, so that you get to the start line in great shape. This marathon running guide aims to help you get started, and includes advice on: kick-starting your marathon training, marathon training tips and safe training protocols.

Prepare your training schedule

If you are thinking of training for a marathon, then you will need to plan ahead. If you're starting without any real base fitness level, then preparation is key. Everyone will be at a different level of fitness before they start training, and your rate of progression will vary considerably depending on your age, gender, current and previous fitness levels and available training time.

Follow these guidelines for when you're planning how far in advance you need to begin your preparations:

  • If you're just starting out in running or exercise: the longer you train the better, but a minimum period of two months of running training as a lead-in to your specific marathon schedule is ideal. Following this preparation phase, a 16-week build-up will get you to the start line ready to run.
  • If you're already running or carrying out cardiovascular exercise: less than two months’ preparation is adequate before your week-by-week marathon-specific training plan. The longer your lead-in period is, though, the fitter you can get. Training for more than two months before starting your specific marathon training plan is a good idea if you wish to record a personal best time on race day.

Irrespective of your running background, or lack of it, you will be able to achieve your marathon running goal if you build up gradually within a sensible period of training time.

Before you start marathon training

Before you think about training, you should think about a few safety considerations, because it is vitally important to ensure that it’s safe for you to begin an exercise program. You can do this by looking at the safety checklist below. If you answer YES to one or more questions – or if you are at all concerned about starting training – then make an appointment with your doctor for a check-up before you begin.

Marathon health status safety checklist

1. Are you aged over 30 and/or have you not exercised for some time? Y/N
2. Do you suffer from any medical conditions? Y/N
3. Are you a smoker or have you recently given up smoking? Y/N
4. Have you undergone any surgery in the past two years? Y/N
5. Are you suffering from any injuries? Y/N
6. Are you currently on any prescribed medication? Y/N

Once you have the all-clear from your doctor and/or are confident that you are sufficiently healthy, you’ll be ready to begin your running training. 

What running gear do I need for a marathon?

Running kit can seem tricky but running is one of the simplest and cheapest sports and you probably already own much of the gear you’ll need to start your marathon training. Sports shorts, casual t-shirts and/or sweatshirts and some socks are all you need to get started. Over time you may wish to buy more specialist items of running gear. However, one area where you should not cut corners is when you’re buying your running shoes. Good training shoes are a long-term investment in injury prevention and running comfort, and so it is worthwhile visiting a specialist retailer so that you make the right purchase for your particular gait and training requirements.

Ease into running

If you’ve never jogged seriously or gone running before, or if you haven’t done any strenuous exercise for quite a while, then you need to ease yourself into training. Your body will take time to adjust to the new demands placed on it by running, so start slowly and allow plenty of time for rest and recouperation. Everyone progresses at different rates, so give yourself time to build up safely. Your pre-marathon schedule target is to build up your fitness so that you can comfortably jog or run non-stop for at least 60 minutes.

Running progression

If you’re already doing some regular aerobic exercise (including brisk walking, jogging, running, swimming, rowing, cycling, going to aerobic exercise classes and using cardiovascular exercise machines at the gym), then you are likely to be relatively fit already and will progress faster. Ensure that you still factor in rest days and build up carefully. Eventually running for 60 minutes non-stop in training should be your minimum target – but if you can run further than this in training, then you will be better prepared for your main 16-week marathon training plan.

Eating and drinking during training

Fuelling your marathon running and keeping correctly hydrated is as important as the training itself, so don't neglect this area. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your fluid levels topped up, and make sure you carry a lightweight drinks bottle when running – particularly on hot days. For your nutrition, focus on slow release energy foods such as pasta and rice, which will ensure that you don’t run out of gas halfway through a training run.

Marathon success

Going from being a non-runner to marathon finisher is a real success story, and one that is genuinely achievable by following a correctly structured training plan. Preparing, training for and completing a marathon is a great accomplishment and a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience – plus it will provide you with improved health and fitness. Hundreds of thousands of other people have completed marathons, so if they can do it, then why not you?

Comments (8)

  • PaulRitchie2 'Some good advice to beginners here. At least it stresses the need to build up gradually rather than going at it gung-ho which will generally only lead to an injury. '

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  • Lady_K 'Bit of an insight for me - I thought marathon running was really just for the elite bods! I have just done a 10k but the marathon really could be my next challenge!'

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  • Jogging_Jon 'Sound advice here. I trained for my fist marathon with the intermediate training plan downloaded from this site. It worked for me. Now training for my second marathon.'

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  • blue2504 'I really cant wait to complete my first marathon, and with the excellent advice on this site I feel more confident than ever that I soon will... Thanks'

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  • loppylaura2 'this will be my first marathon, i have some running experience but nothing as big as this! i felt the advice given was very reasurring thank you & good luck to all x '

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  • LouiseM 'Thanks for this! I am new to running and have just started training for the next marathon. I feel so much better and happier doing an hour a day of exercise!'

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  • patrickmcguire 'Some excellent advice. I ran my first marathon aged 59 not having had a long history as a runner. For someone my age I found a gradual build ups good approach, perhaps over six months if you can manage it and I don't think you can underestimate the importance of rest in-between the running.'

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  • KyleKranz_dot_com 'REMEMBER: The most important part of a 4 month marathon training plan is the running you do during the 4 months before that plan starts ;) '

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