At 26.2 miles or 42.195 kilometres, planning to run a marathon is an ambitious target for anyone.
So if this is something you are thinking about – for the first time, or to try again – nice work!
A marathon can be completed by running the whole distance, or a combination of running and walking, or even in a wheelchair.
The marathon has been completed in under two hours, at 1:59:40, by Eliud Kipchoge, though his achievement did not count as a record, as the run was not performed under formal marathon conditions.
The formal world record is just a few minutes over two hours.1
For most humans however, a respectable marathon time is around four or five hours, though it is worth taking sex and age and any other health factors into account.2
Overall though, training for a marathon is a great goal to help you boost your fitness and overall health, no matter what time you achieve.
Such training can also help develop your discipline, confidence, and determination.
Key marathon training steps
Ultimately, training for a marathon is about increasing your stamina rather than your speed.3
Though running long distances is one important part of the training, you will also want to build your muscle strength with resistance training, increase your flexibility with some stretching or yoga, and build your heart strength with aerobic exercises outside of running, such as dancing, swimming, or even martial arts.4
This variety will help minimise your risk of injury and ensure that your whole body is prepped for the run.5
To build stamina and endurance, do at least one run a week that is long distance, and ideally a little further than you ran the previous week.
Be sure to take a full day off each week, as a minimum, so that your body can recover.
And don’t forget the value of supporting your efforts with additional gels and workout supplements.
Half marathon and marathon training plans
The amount of time it takes to go from couch to running a marathon really depends on whether you want to run a marathon fast, or more just participate in one.
Generally, it is suggested that you should be running around 40 kilometres, in total, every week for a year, before aiming to run a fast marathon.
It is also worth starting smaller – with five kilometre and 10 kilometre races first. Then perhaps a half marathon.
There are couch to marathon plans that only take six months, if by “couch” you mean you are already able to walk or jog for 20 minutes.
These plans involve climbing a ladder of road race distances, where you go from the five kilometres, to ten, then to a half marathon, and finally to a marathon.6
To get to running a marathon in six months, you can spend the first four weeks working up to five kilometres, then another four weeks working up to 10 kilometres, then eight weeks to get to the half marathon, and finally, another eight weeks to get to the full marathon.7
In the first stage, you will have more rest days, and you will walk and run for a total of around half an hour, mixing short segments of running with short segments of easy running (that means, running where you can still breathe easily and even have a conversation).
Then, you will gradually build up these sessions, doing more of them, for longer periods of time, with higher and higher proportions of hard running (where you are running as fast as you can).8
How to build the most effective running training plan
To build a plan that suits your life, and that takes your health needs, when you have free time, and your specific goals into consideration, you can start out by considering various plan templates online, then adjusting them.
In the first weeks though, you will want to be running a minimum of three times per week, for at least an initial thirty-minute minimum.
Consider though, a starting point that is tailored to your current level of fitness.
Ask yourself how far you can continuously run already, and what your default pace is (easy, medium, or hard?).9
The key to a good marathon run is consistency.
That is, keeping up the same pace from the start of the race, right to the end, and not slowing down.10
The same is true of a workout plan. You want to practice being able to sustain the run for longer and longer.
When you are ready to build your plan, get a calendar, and week by week, note down which days you will run on, and the distance, pace, and time goals.
A journal or a fitness app to track your progress will help you be able to visualise your improvement.
It will also enable you to adjust your medium and short-term goals so that you can eventually get to where you want to be.
Last updated: 6 July 2021