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Marathon training plans

Although the half marathon is the fastest growing race distance in the United States, and ultra marathon trail races are growing in popularity, the marathon is still the grand-daddy of all road races. Just about every runner feels they need to complete a marathon at least once in their lifetime.

Marathons used to be reserved for experienced runners (the slowest runners used to finish in around 3 hours), but the running booms of the 1970’s and 2000’s have led to a dramatic increase in marathon runners of all ability levels. As the the world record time for the marathon has crept closer to 2 hours, the times of the slowest marathon runners now exceed 7 hours. Given this vast range of ability levels among marathon runners, we present four very different training plans with the hope of satisfying the needs of any runner who hopes to conquer 26.2 miles.

Couch to marathon training plan (52 weeks)

The marathon is no joke. Despite what the movies might tell you, you’re not going to go from being sedentary to running a marathon in a few months. That’s why we give you a year. If you’ve been inspired by a recent marathon, this plan will show you how to start slow and work yourself up over the course of 52 weeks so you can complete that marathon next year.

Beginner marathon training plan (18 weeks)

If you’ve been running for a while and would like to make the jump to the marathon, or you’ve completed a marathon and would like to run your next race a little faster, then this is the training plan for you. The emphasis is still on finishing, but a few speed workouts will have you fit enough to feel strong at the finish.

Intermediate marathon training schedule (18 weeks)

This plan is for experienced runners who may not have the time to go “all in”. If you’ve already got some speed, this plan will be sufficient to get you down to around 3:30. If not, the speed workouts and occasional “two a days” will have you adequately prepped for a new personal record.

Advanced marathon training plan (18 weeks)

If you’re an experienced runner who wants to give a sub-3-hour performance a go, then this is your plan. It’s a huge time commitment, and the early weeks include a lot of days with two workouts. The speed workouts are intense. Make no mistake, this plan will be a physical and mental challenge. If you’re up for it, and consistently complete the workouts, you’ll be primed for a fantastic performance.

Written by

Brian Darrow is a running coach in St. Petersburg, FL who specializes in online coaching for beginners. Follow him at

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2 Responses to "Marathon training plans"

  1. Brian Darrow says:

    In honor of Christopher Knight’s first marathon today, we decided to release our marathon training plans.

  2. I am honored. One tip from my limited experience is that if you are a flatlander and especially one that trains at sea level you might want to run your first marathon with the same features; unless you are just into crazy challenges, then by all means come to the Madrid Marathon in 2013.

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