Personalized marathon training plans for every runner and every goal

Whether you want to bank your first marathon, or you want to improve your personal best, there are a host of factors that all tie together, from improving your training to nailing your recovery – but perhaps the most important factor in leveling up your running game is having a training plan. 

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about marathon training: training plans, cross-training, pacing, nutrition, and more. 

How to train for a marathon

A marathon is a long-distance running race of a total distance of 42.195 kilometers (26.2 miles). It’s usually run on a road but can also be done on trail routes.

The marathon has become one of the most popular endurance events in athletics – hundreds of marathons across the globe attract a mix of professional runners and motivated amateurs each year.

A marathon will test not only your physical strength and stamina but also your mental resilience and determination. Preparing for a marathon also requires a solid amount of grit and dedication to stay consistent and hold yourself accountable.

Try to start off by developing a weekly running routine and get used to running three, four, or more times per week.

To motivate yourself and stay accountable, add your running sessions to your calendar and track your progress – or better yet, use a dedicated marathon app like Runna to create a personalized running plan based on your goals, current level, and the time you have to train.

Our personalized marathon training plans

One of the best things you can do to level up your running is follow a training plan that is tailored to your goals, preferences, and current race time. 

With Runna, your marathon coaching app, you get a personalized marathon training plan that:

  • Sets out all sessions for you
  • Automatically adjusts your mileage and types of runs to get the best results
  • Incorporates deloads and strength training
  • Helps you manage your recovery and nutrition

Having a plan will also help with accountability, meaning that you can focus purely on improving your running game. 

Pick the plan that best suits your goals and current level:

Beginner’s marathon training plan

In the Runna app, you can train for a Marathon as a complete beginner, which is perfect for runners who are new to long-distance running but may have some experience with shorter races, such as completing a 5k or 10k.

For beginners, your Runna plan will automatically focus on gradually increasing distance over several months, starting with shorter runs and rest days, then building up to longer distances to prepare you for a full marathon.

Intermediate marathon training plan

Runna’s intermediate marathon training plans are ideal if you already have some long-distance running experience.

Our intermediate plans will include slightly higher weekly mileage than the beginner plan with slightly more complex workouts.

Advanced marathon training plan

If you’ve completed longer-distance runs before, such as 10ks or half-marathons, then our advanced marathon training plan is the perfect fit. You’ll start off with longer long runs and higher weekly mileages to build up your endurance further towards the Marathon mark.

Elite marathon training plan

For all the seasoned marathoners out there wishing to achieve a personal best, our elite marathon training plan is the perfect fit. It features more intense workouts aimed at improving your speed and pace with long runs at a brisk pace.

12 week marathon training plan

When you train with Runna, you’ll have the option of choosing the length of plan that you’d like to follow. Our 12-week marathon training plan will enable intermediate and beyond runners to train for a marathon in a shorter period, regardless of whether your goal is to achieve a personal record or simply prepare for an upcoming race.

16 week marathon training plan

For most runners, we’d recommend 16 weeks as the optimal time to train for a marathon. Our 16-week marathon training plan offers a good balance between training intensity and duration, allowing gradual build-up of mileage and recovery time.

20 week marathon training plan

Training for a marathon over 20 weeks is ideal for you if you’re a beginner to long-distance running or are coming back after a break. It gives you more time to adapt to the increasing mileage and prepare for the race day. Our 20 week marathon plans include a pre-marathon baseline phase to build up your base fitness before progressing onto the longer runs.

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Marathon nutrition

To achieve top results at your next marathon race, you'll need to nail not only your training sessions but also your nutrition.

Marathon nutrition involves properly fueling for your runs and recovery, and also making healthy nutrition choices on a day-to-day basis.

To optimize your performance and recovery, keep your protein high, take on plenty of carbs before your tougher sessions, and, if you're looking to really push the pace or distance, don't be afraid to experiment with caffeine, too.

Race week nutrition

You’ve already done all the hard work of training for your marathon, so now it’s time to reduce your mileage and maximize your freshness to run at 110% on race day with the help of some tweaks to your nutrition.

Race week is when you’ll be carb-loading: An increase in the proportion of carbohydrates in your diet, along with reducing your mileage, will allow the muscles to store additional carbohydrates in the form of glycogen, ready for race day. You shouldn’t dramatically increase your calories; instead, focus on increasing the proportion of carbs in each meal.  

Whilst you are going through this process, it is also important to not forget about protein. Keeping your protein high throughout this period not only helps muscle recovery, but also slows the digestion of carbohydrates.

This is perfect for race day, too: You don’t want that quick hit of energy release at the start of the race, you want it to be sustained throughout the 42.2 km.

Think about all other areas of our recovery, too: Make sure to sleep well, do plenty of mobility work, and hydrate well. It all adds up.

Your body stores around 3 grams of water for every gram of glycogen, so during this period, you might put on a little weight. If so, congratulations! You have successfully carb-loaded and are ready for race day, when glycogen will act as your rocket fuel.

Three days before your race

Three days before race day is where you might want to slightly reduce foods high in fiber, such as vegetables, whole grains, and cereals. Everyone training for a marathon will understand the impact fiber could have on your bowels, so to have a smooth run, limit fiber to reduce the weight in your intestines.

Two to four hours before your race

After spending the last 7-10 days loading up your glycogen stores with carbs, it only makes sense to see race day with another high-carbohydrate meal to keep them topped up. Ideally, try to have it 3 to 4 hours before you cross the start line to allow your body enough time to digest it.

In this meal, you should keep fats to a minimum and keep your protein intake relatively low, i.e. below 15g.

Most importantly, however, experiment with what works for you during training and have confidence in that – don’t change things up for the big day. We’d encourage you to eat an extra snack before you set off, but make sure it’s something tried and tested.

Marathon strength training

If you incorporate cross-training and strength training within your running plans, this will not only help you optimize your performance, but it’ll also reduce your injury risk.

Cross-training options include cycling, elliptical, rowing or swimming, but ultimately, we’d advise you to do what you enjoy the most. It’ll add variety to your routine when you are running fit and healthy, but it’ll also make it a lot easier to adapt if you are injured. Set yourself goals and challenges while you can’t run – you’ll enjoy it a lot more!

Strength training is a crucial part of a balanced training program, because it not only boosts performance but also helps prevent injuries. It consists of exercises specifically designed to increase your power, speed, and endurance by building the muscles involved in running. With this, it provides a proven performance benefit, helping to improve your running economy by 8-12%.

When you run, your calf muscles will take up to 11x your bodyweight in force, while your quads take up to 4x. It’s essential to make sure your body is conditioned to tolerate these loads. If your muscles are tired, then these loads are going to be distributed elsewhere, for example, your skeletal system, which then may lead to bone-stress injuries.

By using Runna, you'll be able to complement your running with a fully personalized strength and conditioning plan that fits alongside your running workouts. This plan will be optimized to you, based on your strength ability, the number of workouts a week that you want to do, and the equipment that you have available – from bodyweight to gym equipment.

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Your personalized running coach with tailored training plans to achieve your goals, from running a faster 5k to finishing your first marathon.

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Types of runs for marathon training: speed work, long runs, easy runs

Marathon training involves a mix of different types of runs, each with a specific purpose.

Speed work

To run faster, you need to start practicing running at faster speeds. For this, you need two particular types of training sessions: Tempo and Interval sessions.

  • Interval sessions: An interval session is where you run faster for shorter periods, with true rest periods (walking!) in between. This forces your body to adapt to running at these faster speeds, and, as a result, the pace at which you can run continuously will increase proportionally.
  • Tempo sessions: In addition to running faster for short periods of time, you should aim to build up your tolerance for running at faster speeds for longer, i.e. build up your speed endurance. A tempo session is where you run at slightly faster than usual speeds but for longer – and where you jog between sections.

Long runs

With a goal like a marathon, it's crucial to build up your endurance with long runs alongside all of the faster training that you'll be doing.

You'll need to get used to running for longer periods, gradually working up to around 75%-80% of the marathon distance, and use a variety of session structures. It's also important to include faster stretches in longer runs.

By building up your body's endurance to run longer at slower speeds, it'll help build your overall fitness (aerobic base), improve your performance for speed work, and make you a better runner overall.

Easy runs

Easy runs are often the most neglected part of runners' marathon training regimes. Running slowly when you're aiming to run faster feels counter-intuitive, but easy runs exist for a good reason.

Running fast is very demanding on your body, with heightened injury risk and longer recovery times. By spending the majority of your runs running slower and easier, you can still build your leg strength and endurance but also feel fresher for your more difficult speed sessions.

You can use the 80/20 rule: Spend 80% of your time doing easy running and only 20% of your time training at or above threshold pace. There is no set pace for easy runs, but the slower the better.

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Marathon pacing

A marathon is an endurance event, so to get the best out of yourself, you need to control the controllables in advance and make a realistic plan about your pacing.

Start by working out your goal time, i.e. what time you are aiming to finish in. For example, if you are aiming for 3 hours and 30 mins, then this is an average pace of 4:58 mins per km. Hitting the pace to the exact second is tricky, so we’d recommend setting a pace range of 3-4s either side of your target pace (4:55-5:03 per km, in this case). 

You can then break down your marathon into sections and focus on each section at a time. 

Coach Steph would take on the following approach when running a marathon, spitting the run up into three parts: 

  • First half: The first half of a marathon should feel comfortable and like you’ve got plenty in the tank. Stick to the slower side of your target pace. Enjoy the first half and try not to get ahead of your pacing plan. Remind yourself that you still have a long way to go! 
  • From halfway to 36k (22miles): The halfway point is where your marathon really starts. Focus on getting to the next kilometer or mile rather than worrying about the rest of the race. You can gradually work up your way to a faster pace if you’re feeling well, but only increase it by ~5 seconds per km. If you aren't sure, then hold. 
  • Final push: You've got 6k to go. It might feel like your body is being weighed down but everyone else will be feeling this, too. Keep ticking off the kilometers and give it everything you’ve got. Use the energy from the crowds and focus on runners ahead of you: Can you pick them off? In the last kilometer, give it your absolute all to cross the finish line and celebrate your successful race. 

Keep on top of your fueling plan from the get go. We advise a gel every 30-35 minutes (i.e. 60g carbs every hour). 

Take your running to the next level

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Post-marathon recovery: sleep, rest, cross-training, and more

If you’ve just completed your marathon, first of all, congratulations! 

You now need time to recover. No matter how well you prepared for it, most runners see the finish line as the ultimate end and never really think about the recovery process.

But pounding the pavement for 26.2 miles is hard! It’s strenuous, exhausting and painful, sometimes to the point it feels like you got hit by a bus.

That’s why it’s crucial to approach your post-marathon recovery in the same way as your training, i.e. as an essential part of the journey. This way, you’ll be able to get back to running without risking injury. 

Here are some tips to help you recover from a marathon: 

  • Allow for a few days of rest: Following a marathon, give your body a few days of rest from running to help it heal from the stress of the race. Other sports like swimming or cycling are okay, but stay at low to moderate intensity.
  • Get enough sleep: Sleep is when the body does most of its repair and recovery work, but keep in mind that because of the adrenaline rush it might take you a few days to get consistent 8-hours nights. 
  • Take care of your post-marathon nutrition: Refuel your body with meals rich in carbs (to replenish your glycogen stores) and in protein (to help with muscle repair).
  • Set a new goal: Completing your race will leave a vacuum if you don’t have another goal in mind. Set a new goal to stay focused during the recovery period.

Marathon gear: shoes, clothing, and more

What you wear while training for a marathon and on race day will have a significant impact on your comfort and performance.

Keep in mind the golden rule, however: On race day, don’t try anything new. 

Stick to clothes, shoes, and gear in which you’ve already run long distances. You don’t want to discover halfway through your maraton that your shorts ride up uncomfortably or that your t-shirt feels itchy. 


Look for high-quality performance fabrics that can wick away sweat to keep you dry and comfortable during your run, such as polyester or nylon. Cotton should generally be avoided as it can retain moisture and cause chafing. 

Consider running socks, which can help prevent blisters; female athletes should also choose a well-fitted sports bra. 

Make sure you try all clothing and accessories on longer training runs.

Marathon shoes

Investing in a good pair of shoes for your marathon training (and race) will help protect your body from the impact with the ground. 

We recommend going to a shoe shop that specializes in running shoes and has a treadmill in-store so that you can test a few different pairs. 

If you're looking to shave a few seconds off your 5k time, you could even look to invest in a light, carbon-assisted pair of shoes!

Other gear: Watches, hydration gear, and more

A running watch (or your phone’s GPS tracker) will help you monitor your pace and distance during training and the actual race. Plus, a watch helps you track all training runs and view all fitness data post-workout such as paces, heart-rate, and progression.

To help you get most of your training plan, Runna integrates with Garmin, Apple Watch, Coros, and Strava. 

Hydration gear, like a handheld water bottle or a hydration vest, along with nutrition supplies like energy gels or bars, are also key. You might also consider a running belt or armband to carry your phone, keys, and other essentials.

Lastly, don't forget to apply a high-SPF sunscreen and wear a hat or sunglasses to protect from sun damage, even on cloudy days.

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“Very grateful I stumbled across this game changer! Out of years of different running programs, this is by far my favourite; it’s been so enjoyable”


“The plan has given me an achievable goal to work towards which has kept me motivated and I actually look forward to my running days!”


"Training program really adapted to my goals that got me motivated to run again and get ‘back in my groove’."


"Only into week 2 and loving It already. The structure is great and the app is so easy to use - also big appreciation for the playlists. V happy to be on a runbuddy plan for the next few months!"


"Great personalized running plan so I can really be intentional with my training! The Runna team have all been super responsive and helpful making sure the plan and paces are right for me, and there to answer any questions. Great value, would highly recommend!"


"Excellent app, so easy to use! The training programs are fantastic. Can’t recommend enough!"


All you need to know about marathon training

Marathon distance: how long is a marathon?

How long will it take me to prepare for a marathon?

Which marathon training plan should I pick?

What marathon finishing time should I aim for?

Marathon training and injuries: What should I do if I’m recovering from an injury?

I only have 10 weeks to prepare. What should I do?

Marathon and general fitness: Do I need to do strength training to run a marathon?

I’m not ready for my first marathon yet. What’s an easier goal I can aim for?

How can I progress from a half marathon to a marathon?

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Take your running to the next level

Your personalized running coach with tailored training plans to achieve your goals, from running a faster 5k to finishing your first marathon.

Download on the App Store.Get it on Google Play.
First week free. Cancel anytime.