The 20 weeks marathon training plan will get you ready for your first 42.2 km
When you have conquered a half marathon, you might start dreaming about finishing a full 40.2 km (26.2 miles) marathon. This 20 weeks marathon training plan is the best place to look for first time marathon runners.
From half marathon to marathon distance
Just like the step-up from a 10k to a half marathon, this isn’t just a doubling in miles as the plan also incorporates cross training workouts to reduce the risk of injury.
The 20 week marathon training plan that is linked below assumes that you can run comfortably for 2 hours at a steady “6 min/km (9.7 min/mile)”-ish pace. This training plan is made with first-time marathon runners in mind. For now, you shouldn’t set a finishing time in mind. If you are training for your first marathon, your main focus should go to just finishing it.
Structure of the Marathon training plan
Training for a full marathon will take up a big chunk of your free time as there are 4 runs planned every week. Some of those will take up a few hours. As you will have to combine the running days, with the cross training days, good planning is essential. Believe me when i say that you can’t just go for a run as it fits your schedule. You should incorporate your marathon training into your planning as skipping a few days will have a negative impact on your progress.
In the plan that is linked at the bottom of this page, you run on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. With rest days on Monday and Friday and a Cross training day on Wednesdays. On Friday you can decide if you take a rest day or do some extra Cross training exercises.
Cross training days
You are free to shift these days around. As long as you keep at least one easier day in between two running days and don’t put more then 2 running days after each other, you are free to do whatever you want.
Recovery and rest days
Try to do some light stretching, foam rolling, yoga or pilates on the recovery day after your long run. I would advise to not do too much physical exercise on your recovery day as this might increase the risk of injury. Those recovery days are in there to give your legs the time they need to, you guessed it…, recover.
Also try not to skip any of the runs itself. You are free to shift some days around but if you skip runs, you might find it hard to keep up with the plan. If you have to shift or skip too many days around your schedule, you might need to go back a week or two. Just continue from there and you will be back on track in no time.
If you find a workout too difficult to complete, you can also go back a week or two and start over from there. Remember that this is a training and not a race. After each run you should feel accomplished, not exhausted.
Types of runs
Each run will start with a 5 minute warm up. The goal of a warm up is to, well… warm up your muscles. If you just start running for an hour after sitting behind your desk all day, you might increase the risk of injury. That’s why it’s advised to do a quick warm-up before you start your workout. A warm-up can consist of some dynamic stretches and/or a fast paced walk. Just try to get your muscles moving as much as possible..
After the warm up you can start the actual run. There are 3 types of runs in the marathon training plan: long slow runs, easy runs and Fartlek runs.
- Long slow runs: These runs are planned on day 7. Slow runs make you used to the longer distance. Try to actually run slow during these runs. You should always be able to have a conversation without feeling out of breath. If you have a heart rate monitor, try to keep your heart rate in zone 2. If you don’t know what that means, you can read more about heart rate zones here. Keep in mind that these runs can take up more than 3 hours in the second half of the training plan, so make sure to include it in your week planning.
- Easy runs: These runs are planned on day 2 and 6. During these runs, you will find the balance between a slower pace and a longer distance. During your easy runs, you should always be able to have a conversation without feeling out of breath. If you have a heart rate monitor, try to keep your heart rate in zone 2 or 3.
- Fartlek runs: Fartlek runs can be compared with a normal interval training. The key difference is that you can decide for yourself when, and for how long, you perform the fast intervals. During a Fartlek, you switch between a fast and a slow running pace without actually stopping or walking. Try to actually run slow during the slow parts. Use the same technique as you do during the other slow runs in the plan.
During the fast periods, it’s more important to raise your heart rate than to actually go very fast. Try to maintain the same speed during the faster parts. Having a conversation should be more difficult, but even here you should never feel like you’re unable to talk to someone. you can decide for yourself how long you run each interval. You can find more information about Fartlek runs and some examples here. If you have a heart rate monitor, try to keep your heart rate in zone 3 or 4 for the fast parts and in zone 2 for the slow parts.
After each run, there is a 5 minute cool down period. Just like with the warm up at the start of the workout, the cool down period is here to help your muscles transition from the hard work they had to perform back to your daily routine. I mostly use the cooldown period to walk back home and do some light stretches when I arrive.
Every week, you will have 4 running days, combined with 1 or 2 cross training days. Cross training is an important part of the plan as it reduces the risk of injury and improves your general fitness.
More information about cross training can be found here.
Underneath you can find a PDF for you to download and print out. Put it up somewhere and cross out every exercise you completed successfully. This will help with motivation as you will be able to see your progress. At the end of the plan you will be able to run quite a distance.