Marathon Training Guide For (Total) Beginners
Page last updated: 1st March 2023
Are you considering taking on the challenge of a marathon, but not sure where to start? Are you looking to set yourself a mammoth goal, despite being a total running beginner? Then this guide is for you. We’ll help you with everything you need to know to go from couch(ish) to running a 26.2 mile marathon over the course of several months. Even if you’re not signed up to a marathon event, you could still consider running a virtual marathon with this plan.
Can beginner runners complete a marathon?
This is a big question, with lots of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ to consider. Could someone who has never run before jump straight into running a marathon? Well, they could try, but it’s incredibly unlikely they’d finish without causing themselves major injuries or health issues. Can a total beginner train over time to run a marathon? Absolutely, if they’re prepared to commit to months of dedication and preparation.
Training is the key here - we’d recommend training even if you’re simply looking to walk a marathon, as you’d still need to prepare your body for the long distance and different weather conditions. So it’s even more important if you’re aiming to run the whole thing.
This may sound intimidating, but by creating a month-by-month plan and committing time each week to training, it is totally possible to go from couch to marathon in the space of a year.
Why would a total beginner want to run a marathon?
A marathon is a huge challenge, and an incredible goal to work towards. As places in marathon events are limited, once you know you’re taking part, you know you’ll be part of something special and exciting, but also difficult and strenuous. So why might beginners want to run a marathon?
- Personal achievement - knowing you’ve spent time and effort preparing for such a challenge, is an incredible feeling in itself, let alone the fantastic pride when you finally cross the finish line.
- Motivation - having a set goal to work towards means you might be more likely to stick to your fitness routine. Committing to a big event gives a purpose to your training that can boost your motivation and keep you running, even on days where you’d rather stay home
- Health - running is a fantastic way to boost your physical and mental wellbeing - in fact, even running for 30 minutes can help to battle health issues, boost your mood, improve your sleep, strengthen your heart and lungs and give you focus. Learn more about some of the incredible benefits of training for a marathon with our guide.
- To raise money for charity - most people who run in official marathon events tend to be raising money for a specific charity or cause. In some cases, your entry is secured through charities, and you commit to raising a certain amount for them in order to participate. In others, runners might be raising money or awareness for a cause close to their heart.
How to train for a marathon as a total beginner
If you’re thinking about starting your marathon training from total beginner level, then the key is to take it gradually. If you rush your training, you’ll be putting your body under a strain it’s not fully prepared for and you’ll risk injuring yourself, which in turn will prevent you from training. By easing your way through a training plan, you’ll build up your strength, fitness and endurance in a measured way that means you’ll be fully prepared to take on the challenge of a marathon.
The best plan for beginners' marathon training
As a beginner, we recommend starting with a smaller goal and stepping your way up to a marathon. Give yourself a set amount of time to reach 5K, then 10K, and even a half marathon distance, before pushing on to achieve the full marathon. As such, the best plan is actually a combination of three of our popular training plans:
- Start with our 5K training plan - it takes 6 weeks and will guide you to running for around 30-40 minutes without stopping.
- Then pick up with our 10K training plan, which starts focusing on building up distance rather than time, taking you from 5K to 10K over the space of 8 weeks.
- Finally, move on to our 20 week full marathon training plan, which picks up where the 10K plan finished, guiding you from running 5 miles right through to completing your first 26.2-mile marathon.
If you’re not sure about aiming for a full marathon, our half marathon training plan is a good follow up to the 5K plan and includes a blend of focusing on time and pace for some runs and distances for others. You build up to running the 13.1 miles or 21 kilometres of a half marathon over 13 weeks. This could be a good starting point and, from there, you can see if you’d like to continue to the full marathon or not.
How long will it take to train for a first marathon?
Our plans above will take you around 8 months, from complete novice runner right through to crossing the finish line of your first marathon. This might seem like a long time, but you have a long way to go, and it’s important to pace your training carefully.
We also recommend factoring a little extra time into your training for any times you may be ill or have other commitments that might interrupt your plans. So we’d recommend planning around 8 ½ - 9 months to train for your first ever marathon.
What to know before starting your very first marathon training plan
You’ll see that each of the plans above have plenty of tips for you to follow before starting each challenge. However, some of our key pieces of advice are:
- Include rest days throughout all stages of your training. These are essential for allowing your body to recover and repair as you’re pushing it to run further and for longer. It can be tempting to skip these, but they’re an incredibly important part of your training. If you don’t want to take the day off completely, rest days are a great opportunity to work on your flexibility and mobility with stretch and strength-focused activities like gentle pilates or yoga.
- Incorporate other types of training into your plan. While running alone will get you across the finish line, you’re likely to do so with more ease if you’ve also worked on building up your strength and fitness. We’ve made more specific recommendations in each of the running plans, but any kind of fitness class or activity that looks to boost your strength and cardio performance will work.
- Include a blend of indoor and outdoor training. While both treadmill and road running have their individual benefits, it can be helpful to mix it up a bit so you’re including both. Treadmills will mean you can train even if it’s blowing a blizzard, and you can also specify exactly the pace or incline you’ll be facing. However, outdoor runs allow you to practice running in different environments and weather. Many marathon events take place between spring and autumn, but, particularly in the UK, that doesn’t guarantee reliable weather - knowing how to react to windy or wet conditions, for example, will be a massive boost when it comes to event day.
- Always stop training if you’re injured or in pain. You can expect some muscle soreness and aches as you work through your training plan, especially as you get started, and in mild cases you can keep exercising through this. However, if you find you’re feeling sharp pains in any part of your body, we recommend consulting your doctor or physio before continuing your training. Trying to ‘push through’ rather than working on recovery could lead to more serious and long-term injuries.
- Nutrition plays a part. While it's possible to train for a marathon without changing what you eat, having the right nutrition helps to maximise your performance by fuelling your runs and aiding recovery. Check out our blog on what to eat when training for a marathon to learn more.
Interested in learning more about running before getting started on your marathon plan? Head over to our running hub, where you’ll find a wide range of inspiration and advice pieces to help inform your plans and goals. If you’re still not sure where to start, you can speak to a Personal Trainer at one of our gyms - they’ll be able to guide, support and advise to help you hit that marathon goal.