Marathon Training Plans for Every Runner

Hit the ground running with these 18-week marathon training schedules for beginner, intermediate and advanced runners.

February 13, 2016
Picture of two runners running on the sidewalk.

You’ve worked up the courage to register and now you’re ready to train for a marathon. Maybe you’ve crossed a finish line or two before – maybe you haven’t. Either way, the secret to race-day glory is all in the preparation.

Our running experts designed these three comprehensive marathon training plans for beginner, intermediate and advanced runners. They include a mix of rest days, distance treks and cross-training workouts to help prepare you for the 26.2 miles ahead.

Remember, training for a marathon can be grueling. Always consult a physician before taking up any new fitness regimen. The right footwear, apparel and accessories can also make a difference, so make sure you know how to buy the right running shoes for you.


Before racing into your marathon training schedule, there are a few key terms you should be familiar with.

Cross-Training: Most marathon training plans have some type of cross-training. This switch up from running can help you become a well-rounded athlete and get in better shape for your race. Cross-training can include a range of physical activities, such as using elliptical machines, biking or swimming. Make sure it’s an activity that you enjoy.

Looking for more suggestions on cross-training? Check out our Pro Tips guides on indoor cycling, kickboxing and cross-training class.

Pace Runs: Start these runs with a warmup by walking or slowly jogging. Then transition to running a set pace. With each pace run you do, try each week to get closer to your goal pace for your marathon.

Tempo Runs: Complete these runs with a sustained effort that is 1-3 minutes slower than your goal race pace. These runs should be challenging but manageable. The goal is to help develop and increase your anaerobic threshold while increasing speed. Basically, helping get you in shape by increasing your energy and endurance.

Hills: It’s rare that a marathon is completely flat, so prepare with hill repeats. These running workouts can help strengthen your legs for faster speeds as well. The first step is finding a hill with a gentle incline. If you can’t find one near you, you can substitute any type of stairs for these workouts.

Get started with a warmup jog. From there, start at the bottom of your hill and sprint up. You can either walk or slowly jog back down. It’s important to make sure your hill is not too steep and that you’re safely descending.

Sprint Intervals: Also referred to as “fartlek,” sprint intervals are short, fast runs with recovery jogs in between. Sprint intervals can help increase stride frequency, maximizing stamina and race confidence.

Long Runs: Rack up your miles on long-run days. Long runs should focus on physical and mental endurance, not necessarily speed.

Most marathon training plans have long runs on Saturday. If your race day is on another day of the week, we suggest moving long runs to that day. As race day draws nearer, start to perform your run around the same time that your race will occur. If you have an early morning race, you should acclimate your body and mind to waking up early and tackling a long run. 

Rest Days: After you put in all these miles, you’re going to need to take a break. While it might seem ideal to lounge around on the couch during your rest days, we suggest stretching or yoga instead. Try these twelve basic yoga poses for beginners or seven yoga poses for tight hamstrings to help keep your muscles active on rest days.


This running plan helps newcomers tackle their first marathon. At this point, you should have a few smaller races under your belt and feel ready to take on the big one. If you have no prior experience in running, consider taking a step back and try training for a 5K and/or 10K race.

You’ll start the marathon training plan by alternating three- and five-mile runs. Make Wednesday a tempo run. Start at three minutes slower than your goal race pace and work toward one minute slower than your race pace as the marathon training schedule continues. Your long runs will be on Saturdays – switch depending on what day of the week your race day is. In this marathon training schedule, Mondays and Fridays are your critical rest days, while Sundays are reserved for cross-training workouts. Note that by week nine, you’ll have worked your way up to a half marathon. Attempt this at your goal race pace.

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Have a few 10Ks or half marathons under your belt? Ready to step up the pace after conquering your first 26.2? Then this intermediate marathon training plan is for you.

The intermediate schedule incorporates more speed and mileage than the beginner plan. Under this marathon training plan, Mondays are for cross-training and Fridays are for rest. Make sure to adjust the plan based on your schedule and how you feel. If your body is feeling especially tired on a certain day, take it easy and change the run into a recovery run.

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Not for the faint of heart, this marathon training plan is for skilled runners looking to improve their performance on race day. This plan includes a well-rounded mix of tempo runs, hill training and distance running.

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Remember, you should consult with a physician when starting any new fitness regime. For other marathon advice, check out this must-read advice for running your marathon. Make sure you’re ready for race day with the marathon clothing and essentials checklist.