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How to Train for a Marathon: Complete 2024 Guide

Running a marathon is a monumental undertaking that will test not only your physical endurance but also your mental strength. This explains why only 0.01% of the world population engages in the activity. To ensure you don’t fall short in your marathon attempt, you need to know how to train for a marathon and avoid the most common pitfalls runners make on their way to finishing the 26.2-mile challenge.

This guide outlines marathon training plans for both beginners and experts. Ensure you read to the end for a roadmap on how to complete your marathon training in 6 or 12 months.

How Long to Train for a Marathon

Training for a half marathon or full marathon is a significant commitment. Understanding how many weeks to train for a marathon can significantly impact your success on race day. The general recommendation is to train for a marathon for at least 16 to 20 weeks. This timeline allows your body to adapt gradually to the increasing mileage and intensity of your workouts, reducing the risk of injury and burnout.

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However, the specific duration of your training should also consider your current fitness level, running experience, and your goals for the race.

  • For beginners, opt for a more extended training period, such as 6 months, to allow for a more gradual buildup of mileage and the development of essential endurance and strength. 
  • On the other hand, experienced runners with a solid running base can jump-start their marathon training with a 16-week training plan.

Regardless of your skill level, it’s crucial to incorporate rest days, recovery weeks, and proper hydration to prevent over-training and promote optimal performance.

To get you started on your marathon journey try the HIGH5 Run pack that will have you covered for energy, hydration and recovery.

HIGH5 Run Pack

 

Setting Your Marathon Goals: From Beginners to Seasoned Runners

Outlining clear and realistic goals is a fundamental aspect of marathon runner training. Whether you’re a novice runner aiming to complete your first marathon or a seasoned veteran striving for a personal best, having well-defined goals provides direction and motivation throughout your training journey.

For beginners, the primary goal may be to finish the 26.2-mile race, while more experienced runners may have time-based goals or aspirations to conquer challenging courses. An excellent example is how Kenya’s Kelvin Kiptum set a new record of 2:00:35, replacing Eliud Kipchoge as the fastest marathoner.

Setting short-term and long-term goals is essential to keep your training focused and purposeful:

  • Short-term goals include increasing weekly mileage, improving pace, or mastering specific race-day strategies to become a better runner.
  • Long-term goals may encompass achieving a target finishing time, qualifying for prestigious races, or even pursuing a podium finish.

No matter the type/level of runner you are, having a vision of what you want to accomplish in a marathon will drive your training and keep you committed when the going gets tough.

Creating Your Marathon Training Plan

With your marathon goals firmly established, it’s time to plan your training. So, how do you train for a marathon? A well-structured and individualised training plan is the backbone of your marathon preparation and is essential for progressing safely and effectively towards race day. 

Most marathon training plans encompass the following:

  • A balance of running
  • Cross-training
  • Strength training
  • Rest days to optimise your performance and reduce the risk of injury.

When crafting your marathon runner training plan, consider factors such as:

  • Your current fitness level
  • Running history
  • Available time for training
  • Any specific weaknesses or strengths you may have

Also note that:

  • Beginners will need to adopt a gradual buildup of mileage and intensity to ensure the body adapts to the demands of marathon running.
  • More experienced runners may incorporate higher mileage, speed work, and targeted workouts to refine their performance and achieve their goals.

How to Train for a Marathon for Beginners

As a beginner marathoner, focus on increasing your cumulative weekly runs to 50 miles in the last 4 months before the race. We recommend spreading this over 3 to 5 runs weekly. Try to do these runs at a pace that’s comfortable for you such that you can still hold a conversation. That’s how to train for a marathon from scratch.

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Incorporating a variety of workouts, such as easy runs, tempo runs, long runs, and interval training, can help beginners improve their running efficiency and build the necessary stamina for their first marathon race. Additionally, focusing on proper nutrition, hydration, and recovery strategies is vital for beginners to effectively sustain their training and progress. A good way to achieve this is by incorporating hydration formulas and electrolytes into your training sessions.

With dedication, patience, and a sensible approach, beginners can confidently work towards completing their first half marathon.

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Advanced Marathon Training Techniques

As you progress in your marathon runner training journey, consider incorporating advanced training techniques to enhance your performance and preparation for race day. These techniques can push your limits, refine your physiological adaptations, and fine-tune your race-specific abilities, maximising your potential as a marathon runner, as evidenced by research.

Two advanced marathon training techniques to focus on are altitude training and periodisation & peaking.

Altitude Training

Altitude training involves exposing your body to high-altitude conditions to stimulate increased red blood cell production and improve oxygen utilisation. While traditional altitude training may not be feasible for everyone, simulated altitude training systems and altitude tents offer alternative methods to reap the physiological benefits of altitude training, potentially enhancing endurance and performance.

Periodisation & Peaking

Another advanced approach is the integration of periodisation & peaking strategies into your training plan.

  • Periodisation involves dividing your training into distinct phases with specific objectives and intensities to optimise adaptations and prevent staleness.
  • Peaking strategies entail strategically tapering your training load in the weeks leading up to the marathon to ensure that you arrive at the start line in peak physical condition.

3 Key Strategies & Tips for Marathon Race Day

Race day is the culmination of months of dedicated marathon runners’ training and preparation, and having a well-defined race strategy is essential for maximising your performance and achieving your marathon goals. Your race strategy should encompass pacing, fueling, hydration, mental tactics, and contingency plans, all tailored to your strengths, limitations, and race objectives. Let’s elaborate on each strategy below:

Pacing

Pacing is critical to your race strategy, particularly in marathon running. Starting too fast or maintaining an unsustainable marathon pace can lead to premature fatigue and hinder your overall performance. Developing a pacing plan that aligns with your training, fitness level, and race goals is crucial for optimising your race experience and preventing you from hitting the wall in the latter stages of the marathon.

Mental Tactics

Mental tactics, such as positive self-talk, visualisation, and staying present in the moment, can be invaluable for navigating the mental challenges of a marathon. Anticipating and preparing for potential setbacks or rough patches can help you stay resilient and focused, ultimately enhancing your ability to overcome obstacles and finish strong.

Nutrition and Hydration: Fueling Your Marathon Training

Fueling your body with the proper nutrition and hydration is paramount for successful marathon training. The demands of long-distance running necessitate a balanced and tailored approach to fueling, ensuring that your body has the energy and nutrients to perform optimally and recover effectively. Proper nutrition supports physical performance and plays a significant role in injury prevention, immune function, and overall well-being.

Nutrition

A well-rounded nutrition plan for a half marathon or full marathon should encompass balanced macronutrients to fuel your marathon runner training and aid recovery.

These include:

  • Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are your body’s primary energy source during endurance exercise, and consuming an adequate amount before, during, and after training runs is vital for maintaining glycogen stores and sustaining performance. Marathoners should source 60–70% of their calories from carbs
  • Protein: Protein is essential for muscle repair and growth.
  • Healthy Fats: Healthy fats provide sustained energy and support various physiological functions.

Tip: Protein and healthy fats should account for 15–20% of your total calories.

Hydration

Hydration is equally critical, particularly for long races and when running in hot weather. Dehydration can impair performance, lead to symptoms like cramping, and increase the risk of heat-related illnesses.

HIGH5 Isotonic Hydration Drink

Establishing a hydration strategy that includes the intake of sports drinks like our isotonic hydration drink before, during, and after workouts is critical to maintaining optimal performance and minimising the potential for dehydration. Check out the HIGH5 Run Pack for a comprehensive selection of products designed to fuel your race day success.

Race Recovery and Beyond

Crossing the finish line of a full or a half marathon is a momentous achievement, but the journey doesn’t end there. Post-race recovery and transition back to regular marathon runner training and daily life are integral to the marathon experience. Proper race recovery is essential as it allows your body to recuperate from the physical and mental demands of the marathon and sets the stage for future training and racing endeavours.

In the days following a marathon, prioritising rest, rehydrating appropriately, and refuelling is paramount. Your body has undergone significant stress and depletion during the race, and replenishing essential nutrients, fluids, and electrolytes is crucial for jump-starting the recovery process. Take advantage of the HIGH5 Recovery Drink, Electrolyte Tablets, and whey protein to recover well from the rigours of your marathon race.

HIGH5 Recovery Drink

How to Train for a Marathon in a Year

Training for a marathon over a year offers a unique opportunity for runners to approach their preparation with a long-term perspective. In 12 months, you can gradually build your mileage, strength, and endurance, allowing for a more conservative and sustainable progression. This extended timeline can be particularly beneficial if you’re new to long-distance running or have specific performance goals.

Here’s a plan on how to start training for a marathon for beginners:

Months 1–3:

  • Focus on building your base mileage by running for longer periods at a slower pace.
  • Aim to run 3–4 times per week, for 30–45 minutes each time.
  • Include some cross-training in your routine, such as swimming or biking.

Months 4–6:

  • Increase your mileage and start incorporating speed work into your training.
  • Aim to run 4–5 times per week, for 45–60 minutes each time.
  • Add 1–2 speed workouts to your routine per week, e.g., tempo runs, interval runs, and hill repeats.

Months 7–9:

  • Continue to increase your mileage and speed work.
  • Aim to run 5–6 times per week, for 60–75 minutes each time.
  • Add a long run to your routine on the weekends. Your long run should gradually increase in distance each week until you’re running 20–22 miles by the end of this phase.

Months 10–12:

  • Taper your training, i.e., reduce your mileage and speed work in the weeks leading up to the marathon.
  • Aim to run 3–4 times per week, for 45–60 minutes each time.
  • Focus on staying hydrated and eating a healthy diet.

How to Train for a Marathon in 6 Months

Training for a marathon in 6 months provides a balanced timeframe for both beginner and experienced runners to prepare for the demands of the race. With a 6-month training program, runners can progressively increase their mileage, incorporate strength and speed workouts, and fine-tune their race-specific strategies. For beginners seeking how long to train for a marathon from nothing, a 6-month duration allows for a structured buildup of fitness and endurance while providing ample time for recovery and adaptation.

Here’s a 6-month marathon training program for both beginner and seasoned runners:

Months 1–2:

  • Focus on building your base mileage, i.e., running for longer periods at a slower pace.
  • Aim to run 4–5 times per week, for 30–45 minutes each time.
  • Include some cross-training in your routine, such as swimming or biking.

Months 3–4:

  • Increase your mileage and start incorporating speed work into your training.
  • Aim to run 5–6 times per week, for 45–60 minutes each time.
  • Add 1–2 speed workouts to your routine per week, like tempo runs, interval runs, and hill repeats.

Months 5–6:

  • In the last 1–2 months before the marathon, reduce your mileage and speed work by about 25%. This concept is known as tapering and will help your body rest and recover before race day.
  • Aim to run 4–5 times per week, for 40–45 minutes each time.
  • Focus on staying hydrated and eating a healthy diet.
  • This will help your body rest and recover before race day.

How Should I Eat Before a Marathon?

Nutrition plays a crucial role in the success of your marathon runner training plan and race day performance. Proper fueling before a marathon is essential for optimising your energy levels, supporting muscle recovery, and sustaining your endurance throughout the race. In the days leading up to the marathon, your marathon nutrition plan should focus on consuming a balanced diet that includes a variety of carbohydrates, lean proteins, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.

HIGH5 ZERO Nutrition Pack

Pay attention to your hydration status and ensure you’re adequately hydrated in the days leading up to the marathon. Aim to drink plenty of water and electrolyte-rich beverages like the HIGH5 ZERO Nutrition Pack to maintain optimal hydration levels.

On the morning of the marathon, aim to eat a light and easily digestible meal that includes carbohydrates and a moderate amount of protein. Avoid trying new foods or gels on race day to prevent stomach discomfort or digestive issues. You may experiment with different pre-race meal options during your training runs to identify what works best for your digestive system and provides sustained energy for the marathon.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many years does it take to train for a marathon?

The number of years it takes to train for a marathon can vary based on the individual's fitness level and running experience. Nonrunners may take up to a year to safely prepare for a marathon. Beginner runners with some running experience may need 5–6 months of training, while intermediate and advanced runners may require 16–20 weeks, especially if aiming for specific time goals.

How do I start training for a marathon?

You can start training for a marathon by having a solid base of running experience. If you're a beginner, aim to build up your weekly mileage gradually, incorporating both short and long runs into your routine. Consider consulting with a running coach or using a reputable marathon training plan like ours to help guide your workouts.

You can also focus on cross-training, a proper marathon nutrition plan, and adequate rest to support your training. As you progress, gradually increase your long run distance and incorporate speed work to build endurance and speed.

How to go from 5K to a marathon?

To go from a 5K to a marathon, follow a structured training plan that gradually increases mileage. For instance, a 24-week training plan can take you from zero to 5K, 10K, a half marathon, and ultimately to a full marathon. Aim to build up your stamina by running 3 days a week, with 3 miles each day and 5 miles on Sunday, and gradually add 2 days of cross-training once you've achieved this.

Can I train for a marathon in 2 months?

While you can train for a marathon in 2 months, it’s not recommended — it generally depends on your fitness level and running experience. A well-designed 8-week marathon training plan can help improve your aerobic fitness, strength, and speed, preparing you to handle the marathon distance. However, you must assess your readiness for such an intense training regimen to avoid overtraining and potential injury.

Conclusion

Understanding how to train for a marathon is crucial to crushing your marathon goals — a proper marathon training plan equips you with the right exercises and nutrition to support your race day performance. HIGH5 offers a range of premium sports formulas designed to fuel your runs and optimise your marathon experience, from energy gels and hydration tablets to recovery drinks and electrolyte solutions. To transform your marathon training and race day nutrition, we suggest checking out the HIGH5 Run Pack — an optimised selection of hydration, energy, and recovery products offering the perfect combo of nutrients for a marathon race.

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