How to run a marathon – free marathon training plans for every kind of runner

How to run a marathon - free marathon training plans

How far is a marathon?

A marathon is 26.2 miles or 42.2 kilometres.

How long does it take to train for a marathon?

Most typical marathon training plans are 16 to 20 weeks long. During this time, you’ll typically run three to five times a week, increasing your mileage as you get nearer to race day. On the other days, you can cross train, do some low intensity exercise (think yoga or Pilates) and, most importantly, rest your legs, allowing them to fully recover.

Related: Everything you need to know about running the London Marathon 2019 

Which plans are best suited for beginners, or what marathon finishing time should I aim for?

If you’re a complete beginner, it’s best to start with a training plan focused on getting you round the course, not finishing in a certain time. If you’ve run a few races and are used to running longer distances, take a look at our race time predictor using a recent finishing time to work out which plan is best suited to you. 

What pace should I be running at?

Each training plan will include different runs, which require you to alter your pace to avoid burning out. From an easy run training pace, to a tempo run training pace, whether you’re a beginner or a well-practised marathon runner, it can be difficult working out how fast to run. Use our training pace calculator to work out how quickly you should be running on each type of training run, by entering a recent race, or run, finishing time.

What should I do if I miss some of my marathon training plan?

Very few runners will get to the end of their marathon training schedule without missing some runs due to illness, injury or life getting in the way. If you’ve missed four weeks or more, our best advice is to postpone your marathon, as it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get the time you want on race day having missed a month.

If you’ve missed two or three weeks, you should still have time to build up to your longest training runs, which are a key to race-day success. If you are coming back from injury, spend a week or two gradually increasing your training volume, using previous weeks on the training plan as a guide.

I’m finding the training hard, how do I know when I need to back off?

If you are pushing the pace to get faster or adding distance to go further, your body will talk back to you. During training, learn to distinguish ‘good pain’ (discomfort from leaving your comfort zone) from ‘bad pain’ (something verging on injury).

Related: Running injuries - when to run and when to stop 

I’ve got a last-minute charity marathon place, what should I do?

If you’ve got less time than the training plan suggests, the key goal should be to make your marathon as comfortable as possible, rather than aiming for a time. If you’ve done little or no running before, it’s going to be hard and you should built up the length of your training sessions using a combination of running and walking, and plan to use the run/walk strategy on race-day. By walking briskly for a minute a mile, you’ll finish with far less damage to your body, and probably just as fast overall as if you’d attempted a straight run.

Mix and match training schedules to work from your starting point with a view of extending your long run by no more than two miles a week, and your overall training volume by no more than four to six miles, depending on your fitness.


What are the best, free marathon training plans out there?

Whether it’s your first marathon, or your attempt at your fastest, finding the right plan to get you across the finish line is key. To make things easier, we’ve rounded up our best training plans for every kind of runner here:


Beginner's marathon training plan to get you round

beginners free marathon training plan

A 16-week training plan for complete beginners, if you’re new to running but gearing up for your first marathon, this training plan will get you round, with some run-walk breaks. Running 4-5 days a week, the idea here is to get you to the finish line, regardless of speed.


Intermediate marathon training plan – for those aiming for a 3:30-4:30 marathon

intermediate marathon training plan 16-weeks

This schedule is for runners who are already used to clocking up some weekly mileage. Building up from 32 miles to 48 miles per week, training over 5-6 days, this plan should get you across the line between 3:30-4:30.


Advanced marathon training plan – for those aiming for a sub-3:30 marathon

marathon training plan sub 3:30 advanced runners

A free, advanced training plan for runners aiming for a sub-3:30 marathon. You’ll need to be pretty used to running several times a week, as this plan builds up from 44 to 60 miles, training over 6-7 days.


RW's 16-week sub-5:00 marathon training schedule 

free sub 5 marathon training plan

A 5:00 hour marathon is approximately 11:30 per mile though a target pace training of 11:00 per mile (4:48) could be beneficial. To break five hours, you should eventually be capable of a sub-2:15 half marathon (10:15 per mile) and sub-60:00 10K (9:30 per mile). Right now, you should be used to running comfortably for 30-60 minutes, three or four times a week.


RW’s 16-week sub-4:30 marathon training schedule

runners world sub 4.30 free marathon training plan

To run a 4:30 marathon, you’ll need to do approximately 10 minute miles for the entire course. To break 4:30, you should be capable of running a sub-2:00 half-marathon and a sub-53:00 10K. (Use our race time predictor with one of your recent running times to see if this training plan works for you). Before starting, you should be used to running for 20-30 minutes four or five times a week.


RW’s 16-week sub-4:00 marathon training schedule

runner's world sub 4 free marathon training plan

Running a four hour marathon works out as approximately 9 minute miles for the entire race. To break four hours, you should be capable of running a sub-1:50 half-marathon (8:20 per mile) and a sub-50:00 10K (8:00 per mile). Before starting this plan, you should be running at least 20 miles per week, and be able to comfortably run for an hour non-stop.


RW’s 16-week sub-3:45 marathon training schedule

runner's world sub 3.45 free marathon training plan

To run a 3:45 marathon, you’ll need to stick to around 8:30 minute miles for the entire 26.2. To break 3:45, you should be capable of running a sub-1:45 half marathon (which works out as 8:00 minute miles), and a sub-46:00 10K (7:30 per mile). Right now, you should be running at least 25 miles per week and be able to run for 1:15 non-stop.


RW’s 16-week sub-3:30 marathon training plan

runner's world free sub 3.30 marathon training plan

A 3:30 marathon is approximately 8 minute miles. To break a 3:30 marathon, you should first be capable of running a sub-1:37 half marathon (7:20 per mile) and a sub-43:00 10K (7:00 per mile). Before starting this plan, you should be used to running around 25-30 miles per week, and be able to comfortably run for 1:30 non-stop.


RW’s 16-week sub-3:15 marathon training plan

runner's world free sub 3.15 marathon training plan

To run a 3:15 marathon, you’ll need to stick to 7:20 minute miles for the entire course. To break a 3:15 marathon, you should first be capable of running a sub-1:30 half marathon (6:50 minute miles) and a sub-40:00 10K (6:30 per mile). Before picking this training plan, you should be running at least 30-35 miles per week.


RW’s 16-week sub-3:00 marathon training plan

runner's world sub 3 free marathon training plan

Our sub three hour training plan is suited to runners who are used to clocking up around 35-40 miles per week already. To run a three hour marathon, you’ll need to run 6:50 miles for the entire 26.2. To break a three hour marathon you’ll need to be capable of running a sub-1:25 half-marathon (6:30 per mile) and a sub-38:00 10K (6:00 per mile).


I'm not ready to run a marathon just yet, how should I train for a half? 

If you're looking to half the distance and train for a half-marathon, take a look at our half-marathon training plans for every kind of runner.