How Long Should a Beginner Train for a Marathon?

Training for a marathon is an incredible journey that tests both your physical and mental strength. If you’re a beginner, understanding how to structure your training schedule is essential for crossing that 26.2-mile finish line successfully. Let’s dive into what a beginner marathon training plan should look like and how you can prepare for race day effectively.

Marathon Training Plan Overview

When taking on your first marathon journey, the length of your training plan is important. It is recommended for beginners to follow at minimum a 16-week marathon training program. This time frame allows you to gradually build up your endurance and strength without overwhelming your body. You may need more time if running is brand new to you, or if you’d prefer to build up more gradually.

Weekly Training Breakdown

A typical week in your marathon training plan might include a variety of runs to keep your regimen balanced and your body injury-free:

  • Easy Running: Most of your runs should be at an easy pace, ensuring you’re not overstraining your heart. Keeping your heart rate in an easy to moderate zone helps improve your aerobic capacity safely.
  • Tempo Runs: Incorporate tempo runs to boost your threshold pace These runs are done at a sustained yet challenging pace.
  • Speed Work: Add in some shorter, more intense interval sessions to work on your turn over, lactate tolerance and running economy.
  • Long Runs: The weekly long run is key to marathon training, gradually extending in distance but done at an easy pace. It helps your body adapt to the prolonged stress of race day.
  • Recovery Runs: After hard training days, recovery runs are crucial. They are short and slow runs designed to facilitate muscle recovery and adaptation.
  • Cross Training: Engage in non-running activities such as cycling or swimming on cross-training days to supplement your training. Cross training can be a great tool to enhance your overall fitness and reduce the risk of injury by changing the stress applied to your muscles.

Planning for Race Day

Training for a marathon isn’t just about logging miles; it’s also about preparing for the specifics of your race:

  • Race Course Familiarity: Familiarize yourself with the race course—whether it’s hilly or flat, urban or scenic—can help you tailor your training to mimic similar conditions.
  • Simulating Race Conditions: Try to simulate the race day conditions during your long runs. This includes starting at the same time of day as your race and practicing nutrition and hydration strategies.

Importance of Rest Days

Rest days are an integral part of any training plan. They allow your muscles to recover and grow stronger. Skipping rest days can lead to fatigue and injuries, setting your training back rather than moving it forward. Aim for at least one or two rest days per week, depending on the intensity of your training.

Understanding Marathon Training Cycles

A 16-week training plan typically includes several phases:

  1. Base Building: Focus on gradually increasing your weekly mileage at an easy pace to build endurance.
  2. Strength and Speed: Introduce more tempo runs and speed work to increase your running economy and pace – this will improve your aerobic “strength”.
  3. The Taper: Reduce your mileage in the final weeks leading up to the marathon to let your body recover and store energy for race day.


The journey to running your first marathon is as thrilling as it is demanding. With a structured marathon training program that is approximately 16 weeks, you can prepare yourself physically and mentally for the 26.2 miles on race day.

Remember, consistent training, combined with dedicated rest and cross-training days, will ensure that you not only reach the start line but also cross the finish line with a sense of achievement.

Ready to take your marathon training to the next level? Let us guide you every step of the way. Visit Grit Coaching to explore how our personalized coaching can transform your training experience. Our expert coaches are here to help you achieve your goals. Start your journey today!


Coach Faye in 'GRIT' athletic attire confidently poses with crossed arms.

Faye’s journey in athletics is marked by dedication and impressive achievements. Throughout her high school and university years, she was deeply engaged in running, competing for the University of Calgary’s track and cross-country teams. Her standout moments include earning the “All Canadian” cross-country status and participating in the 2008 Olympic trials for the 5000m. After obtaining her Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology, Faye embarked on a career as a personal trainer, where her passion for fitness and a healthy lifestyle became a source of inspiration for her diverse range of clients.

Transitioning from competitive running, Faye soon discovered her next athletic passion: obstacle course racing (OCR). Her strong foundation in running and strength training quickly propelled her to success in the OCR world. Faye’s talents were recognized in 2016 when she joined the Spartan Pro Team, and her athletic ability was furthered with a bronze medal at the Spartan World Championships.

Continuing to compete among the elite, Faye has consistently demonstrated her skill and tenacity in OCR. She has secured two 4th place finishes at both the Spartan North Americans and the Spartan World Championship. Her record of Spartan podium finishes over the past decade showcases her enduring excellence in the sport.

Beyond the thrill of competition, it’s the OCR community that deeply resonates with Faye. The opportunity to travel, share her passion for fitness and adventure, and connect with an array of positive, inspiring individuals fuels her year after year. Faye embodies the essence of the “work hard, play hard” ethos, living it to the fullest in both her professional and personal life.

Jess O'Connell

Coach Jess in 'GRIT' athletic attire confidently poses with crossed arms.

Though Jess spent much of her free time growing up competing in Irish dancing, once she hit the track, she never looked back! As a specialist in the 5000m, she boasts a personal best time of an impressive 15:06.66. Her accomplishments include competing in the 2016 Rio Olympics in the 5000m and formerly holding the Canadian national records for the indoor 3000m and 2 mile races. Jess’s career is further highlighted by being a 15-time Canadian national team member across track and field, cross country, and road running, a four-time National Champion, a Pan Am Games silver medalist, an NCAA Division I All-American, and achieving a personal bests of 32:22 in the 10km (road race) and 4:30 in the mile.

Jess has always been “nerdy” about her training, which shows through in her impressive academic background. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University and a Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Calgary. As a CSEP-CEP (Clinical Exercise Physiologist) with a High-Performance specialization, Jess holds the highest level of certification available in Canada. Jess also holds NCCP Performance Coach certification for endurance events. She applies her vast athletic experience and educational background to her role in Grit Coaching, and also serves as the distance track and cross country coach at the University of Calgary. 

Jess’s commitment to sport extends beyond her personal achievements, as she actively works to inspire and uplift the next generation of athletes. She has passionately volunteered for Fast and Female, an organization dedicated to empowering girls and young women to remain active and engaged in sports, and has served as the athlete representative on the board of Athletics Alberta, the provincial governing body for track and field. Jess believes that balance, health, and FUN are essential for longevity in sport, and she loves sharing her love of running with others.