RW's Ultimate Marathon Build-up

For subscribers: Our best-ever schedules, marathon Q+As, day-by-day tapering, mile-by-mile on race day, and more...

Posted: 8 December 2004

The time has come to take the first step on the long, hard road to marathon glory. But don't worry; we'll be with you every step of the way, whether you're looking to crack three hours or simply aiming to complete the marathon in daylight.

Here, you'll find Runner's World's finest marathon schedules. You'll also find advice on making the most of your training sessions, tips for overcoming obstacles, and success stories from Runner's World readers who hit their targets.

  • The links below are all part of our premium section, for subscribers to the UK edition of Runner's World magazine. Subscribers get a great online package, as well as 30 per cent off the UK's favourite running magazine. If you're not a subscriber yet, find out more - or see our basic marathon schedules.

The Schedules

Which schedule should you choose? By each schedule, we list suggested 10K and half-marathon race performances that you should have achieved or think you can achieve during the programme. There's also a monthly goal for each schedule, which will help you to see whether or not you're on target.

All the schedules follow a similar pattern and to some extent can be mixed and matched. For instance, if you are following the sub-3:00 schedule and miss a week's training with a cold, you could restart on the sub-3:15 or sub-3:30 schedule until you feel ready to resume the sub-3:00 schedule.

If you fall between two schedules – for example, you think you can run 4:15 – follow the slightly faster schedule and just do the runs at a slower pace. For the small number of you who plan to run much faster than three hours, either do the suggested runs slightly quicker (eg run the steady runs at 6:30 pace instead of 6:50, if you are aiming for 2:50) or add three slow morning four-mile runs (preferably Tuesday to Thursday).

  • Sub-3:00 Starts at 35-40 miles per week, over six or seven sessions. Eventual standard: sub-1:23 for a half-marathon; sub 38 minutes for 10K.
  • Sub-3:15 Starts at 30-35 miles per week, over six sessions. Eventual standard: sub-1:30 for a half-marathon; sub 40 minutes for 10K.
  • Sub-3:30 Starts at 25-30 miles per week over 5 sessions. Eventual standard: sub-1:37 for a half-marathon; sub 43 minutes for 10K.
  • Sub-3:45 Starts at around 25 miles per week; you ought to be able to run for 1:15 non-stop. Eventual standard: sub-1:45 for a half-marathon; sub 46 minutes for 10K.
  • Sub-4:00 Starts at around 20 miles per week; you ought to be able to run for an hour non-stop. Eventual standard: sub-1:50 for a half-marathon; sub 50 minutes for 10K.
  • Sub-4:15 Starts at around 24 miles per week, over six sessions.
  • Sub-4:30 Starts at around 20-30 minutes four or five times a week. Eventual standard: sub-2:00 for a half-marathon; sub 53 minutes for 10K.
  • Get You Round The run-walk programme. Starts with around three hours a week over four sessions. Eventual standard: enough to enjoy the marathon and finish with a smile on your face.

The Extras

Your marathon training questions - answered!

How I beat...
Hit these goals - just copy these people...

  • Three hours, four hours, my first marathon

How I overcame

What if...
Last-minute disaster - changeable weather - or even the race going too well... here's the complete guide to getting on top of any marathon situation.

Packed your pins, written down your splits and found your lucky socks? Here's a final reminder of what to do and what to take for the big day.

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marathon schedule, taper

Discuss this article

Why do the marathon training schedules provide details of runs only up to 20 miles? How will I manage the final 6 miles when i've only trained to 20? There certainly wont be any adrenalin left!!
Posted: 20/12/2006 at 19:12

I'm no expert, but I know where you are coming from, as I did my first marathon a couple of months ago, and was quite worried about the last 6 miles, and 'hitting the wall.'

I think the theory is that 20 miles or so gets your body used to running 'long', without totally exhausting you and increasing injury risk (and therefore missing your maraton altogether!).

You will probably be surprised how the adrenaline and other runners do 'carry' you for the last 6 miles, though I think even experienced marathoners can struggle to keep pace towards the end.

I actually did a longest run of 22 miles, (even such a lack of confidence for the distance. I'm glad I did this and will probably do one 22 miler for my next marathon too.

Hope this helps, and good luck!!
Posted: 20/12/2006 at 19:26

I did FLM Last year and my longest run in training was 20 miles (x4) as stated in the schedules, the last six miles were still hard work. I am doing it agin this year and intend to put in atleast two full distance training runs and the four 20 - 22 milers. My mileage is however about 25% higher this year than last so should not be as bad anyway
Posted: 20/12/2006 at 20:31

If you're training at an appropriate pace, you'll do your last 20-21 mile training run before a marathon in around the same time that you'll do the marathon on race day. That's quite enough time-on-feet in training for anyone who isn't training for an ultra.

The reason long training runs stop well short of marathon distance is that the majority of experts believe that there is no point testing the Wall in training. If you go beyond the distance at which your glycogen stores will inevitably run out, you'll suffer more muscle breakdown and at best you'll take longer to recover from the training run; at worst, you'll develop an injury that will compromise your race.

Those last 6 miles are hard work, and that's why finishing a marathon is always worthy of respect. But on the day you will find them. Everyone can pull out a little extra something in a race.

I'd strongly advise trusting the training-schedule designers, who are in the main experienced marathoners and running coaches, to know what they are doing. And in limiting long training runs to 20 miles, what they are doing is trying to get you to the start line adequately trained, uninjured, and without having peaked too early and run your race around the pavements of your home town with only your SDM to cheer you on.

Posted: 20/12/2006 at 21:13

Also bear in mind that with a proper taper you'll be starting you're marathon fully rested. Each long run you do is in the middle of a packed training schedule, so there's a big difference. If you live in an area with similar terrain to me you'll almost always find the event itself is being run on a far flatter circuit as well.
Posted: 21/12/2006 at 10:29

Don't worry! Similar training principles are used for half marathons too - advice is to train to 10 miles, so you'll be able to manage the extra 3. That's just doubled for a marathon.

Once you can do 20, work on more intense speed & interval type runs to give you the extra push for the last 6.

Remember to take on carbs in the form of energy drinks, esp from 16-17 miles to refuel your muscles.

You'll be surprised how it works, good luck!
Posted: 21/12/2006 at 15:33

The combination of distances and paces is designed to get your body in the best shape for the marathon without damaging it too much. Running the full distance is very hard on your body and you'll take so long to recover fully that you'll hamper the rest of your training.

I know of several people who have put full distance training runs into their schedules and it has gone horribly wrong for them. They haven't been fully recovered on race day so have performed well below expectations.
Posted: 21/12/2006 at 15:34

Thanks folks thats all a big help. I can do just under 20 miles in just under 3 hours on a VERY hilly training course. (Scotland known for its hills!). Hopefully will be Ok for Edinburgh marathon next May.
Merry Christmas to all.
Molly XX
Posted: 21/12/2006 at 17:49

Molly, if they handed out training schedules that included, say, a long run of 23 miles, you'd get to 23 miles and then say, "Goddammit, I might as well do the 26, plus the 385 yards, seeing as I've come this far!!"

Then, as you'd already done the marathon you'd been training for, you might not bother turning up on the big day itself.

So it's too risky including a run longer than 20 miles in the training schedule. (But that doesn't stop you going further if you want to, of course. They can't stop you.)
Posted: 22/12/2006 at 18:29

Hi Folks, I've not done alot of running since the great Manchester run last year & missed the deadline this year.I wanted to know if you think I've given myself too short notice to do the Blackpool half marathon in June or not..? I would like to get a place for doing a Marathon before I turn 40 next year ( either FLM or Edinburgh) hopefully..
Posted: 05/04/2007 at 22:58

I've always wondered about this too, especially when so many people say that the marathon is made up of two halves - the first twenty miles, and the last 6.

That has certainly been borne out in my experience. I bonked at 20 miles in my last marathon, and really struggled in the last 6 miles. I'm still not sure whether it was a lack of longer runs over 20 miles, not enough tempo runs, or the fact that I had a head cold, or acomination of all of these. I had made sure that I did all the long runs in my schedules(up to just over 20 miles), and the speed sessions, but I had missed some tempo runs.

Next time I do a marathon, I'm going to make sure I get several runs over 20 miles in - probably up to about 24, and see if that makes a difference. I know I appreciate the extra strength in a 10K that I get from running training runs which are longer than race distance.
Posted: 07/04/2007 at 08:41

As Johnny says, there's nothing magical about running a 26 or even a 20 in training, it's the cumulative effect you are after. You could run lots of 13 milers and it would still prepare you for the marathon - it just wouldn't be the most efficient way to do it. It takes something like an hours steady running for most people for the body to be functioning at its most efficient in terms of distance running - so it's a balancing act of running long to spend the most time training most effectively whilst not causing damage.

If you were training seriously for a half marathon the schedule would be pretty similar to a marathon schedule - you'd still have the long runs in there probably 18-20 milers.
Posted: 07/04/2007 at 22:11

Just as a wee change of topic: Does anyone know why there's such a discrepancy between the schedules offered? Either you're 'sub 4:30' or you're a 'just get you round'.

I find that a bit upsetting because I don't need a run/walk schedule. I already run regularly, albeit slowly, and I'm aiming for around 5 hr 30 running the whole way.

I've run one marathon already (badly) and several half-marathons without schedules, and I wanted to try to prepare for the FLM with a proper schedule and see if I can improve the experience (read: not hit every possible physical wall along the way )but the only options I seem to have is one that is far too fast for my abilities, or one that's too basic. Has anyone got the same problem? Or can anyone help to point me in the right direction to a schedule that's around the 5-5 1/2 hour mark?



Posted: 08/10/2008 at 13:01

From a psychological point I like to know I can cover the distance and know how much further I've got to run to make me feel more at ease. Isn't that always in the back of your mind? I ran virtually 13 miles on a number of occasions before The Great North Run so had it in my mind that I knew I could finish the course.
Posted: 13/10/2009 at 21:53

You don't know you can run a marathon at a given race pace until you run it at that pace - just covering the distance and racing the distance are two different things.   
Posted: 13/10/2009 at 21:56

I wrote only of covering the distance...
Posted: 13/10/2009 at 23:14

Just thought ti would tell you of my experiance of 20 mile + runs.

Trained for my 1st marathon at London this year was advised to only do up to 23 max  only problem was i underestimated the distance on the longest  run and ended up doing 24. 7 !! was out for 3 hours 50!!!!

Ran Ashby 20 a week later was fine got round in 2 .47 but come London six weeks after the mammoth long run i found it very tough going after 21 miles, mile splits went from 8. 30s up to nearly 10 mins!

So i think the long run was far too long for me, so i wouldnt be too concerned in not running more than 20 m in training ,  i would go 22 tops, in fact thats the way im going to be going in training for Brighton marathon next year.

Posted: 14/10/2009 at 00:07

I don't have specific marathon experience.... but I would certainly say that time on your feet is more relevant than a long-run that matches race distance.

If you're training for a 3-hr marathon, I'd say it'd be better to be hitting a higher mileage week-on-week and doing long-runs that give you 3 hours on your feet.... rather than putting too much into a long run that's going to break you down.

 I'm happy doing a long-run of no more than 90 minutes in 10k training... and even that is probably more than I need... and I've run good times on doing 60 min long runs.

 Weekly mileage/the quality of the sessions you do has probably got far more to do with it. I'm not the most experienced runner in the world... but I have dipped under 40 mins a couple of times for 10k so I'm not talking complete shit.

Posted: 14/10/2009 at 03:59

Ran a marathon last month on one 17 mile long run, and a handful of 13 milers.  I have a highish weekly mileage (40-50 miles).  Ran the whole way, did not hit the wall and only slowed slightly in the last 2 miles.  From my own experience it is the cumulative effect of the whole training plan rather than individual sessions, and as Squal says, time on your feet rather than distance, especially as you are running the LSR slower than race pace.
Posted: 14/10/2009 at 14:30

Posted: 05/01/2011 at 12:40

OP: why not run up to 23 miles max instead of 20?

training plans are there for guidance only IMO
Posted: 05/01/2011 at 16:39

@theBorne you do know the ops thread is 4 years old?

@TT9 what is that link, seems to be some sort or java script or something, not advisable to click it.

Posted: 05/01/2011 at 17:09

paulj48 wrote (see)

@theBorne you do know the ops thread is 4 years old?

Yes, and it wasn't written by me!

It was the account, in a previous life...

Posted: 05/01/2011 at 17:18

@paulj48 thanks so, so much for pointing this out - you're a real hero, aren't you?
Posted: 06/01/2011 at 10:04

i know this thread is old...but the below quote is misleading. Only a get you round schedule would say do only 10miles for a half marathon,  a long run of 15-16miles is pretty advisable.

 For a marathon, over distance is never advisable unless you're some kind of invincible super hero runner

Siance wrote (see)
Don't worry! Similar training principles are used for half marathons too - advice is to train to 10 miles, so you'll be able to manage the extra 3. That's just doubled for a marathon.

Posted: 06/01/2011 at 13:49

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Posted: 08/01/2012 at 22:41

I also decided to ignore the maximum of 20 as I had to know I could cover the distance without worrying about the wall that is always mentioned. I did 25 miles three weeks before my first marathon. I worked for me as ran my first ever marathon (Liverpool 2011) in 3:33 and I'm 48.

I must add that this was against the advice from my running club but I know others who've used similar techniques.

I use a similar tactic of 17 mile long runs within a couple of weeks of half marathons.

Posted: 08/01/2012 at 22:46

I've just downloaded the "free" sub 3.30 training programme and the one for subscribers and notice that the subscribers prog has very little hills runs in it, whereas the other one, which I followed earlier in the year, has lots of hill training.  Has anyone tried both training programmes ?  (I did 3.39 at Halstead and I'm 57 so the hills and intervals worked!)


Posted: 21/12/2012 at 19:15

Having come unstuck in my last marathon at about 21 miles, I'm going to make sure I go over that in training in future. I wprobably won't run over distance, but will look to get at least 5 or 6 of 20 or more, going up to 23 or 24.

Posted: 22/12/2012 at 17:08

I remember years ago when the marathon boom was on, the top runners would have a long run of 23 miles. This was on the grounds that if you can do 23 without blowing up then you could do 26. If you enter a race with a longest run of 20 miles then there is a question mark on whether you could find another 6 miles and, if you were to try and do it any faster than your training run, the question mark would be an even bigger one.

I think the 20 miles is one for a runner who has maybe already done a few marathons and knows that they can do the distance and that 20 miles is not going to take so much out that it will interfere with their training. I used to reckon that 24 miles was best if you had the recovery rate.

Posted: 25/12/2012 at 00:51

I am a marathon runner and have done 3 full and 1 half. I need to improve my timing as all I have finished in 6+ hours, though my aim is 5.30 hours. I train hard and my next marathon is Paris Mararhon in 2014.

Any tips and means to improve my timing. Please let me know.

Posted: 29/04/2013 at 13:23

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