Personalized Marathon Training Plan: succeed over 26.2 miles

Marathon training plan

Looking for a personalized marathon training plan to achieve your goal? Whether you want to simply finish or hit a specific time target, a personalized training plan can help you reach your goal of running a marathon in under 4:30 , 4:15 or even 4 hours. For those aiming for higher performance, we also offer programs to finish in under 3:45, 3:30, 3h15 or even under 3 hours.

No matter your objectives, good preparation is essential. Let’s explore the key points of effective preparation and a marathon training plan.

The marathon: a mythical distance

Are you signed up for a marathon? Perhaps the Paris, New York, London, or Boston Marathon? Or maybe the famous and fast Berlin Marathon, or another flat marathon in France?

Running a marathon, precisely 42.195 km, requires patience. You will be running for several hours, and endurance, rather than breathing, often becomes the limiting factor. The challenge lies in maintaining a steady marathon pace, especially in the last ten kilometers, to delay the dreaded “wall” and avoid muscular and joint fatigue.

To beat your personal marathon record, you need to delay the onset of fatigue and minimize the effects of the marathon wall. Quality preparation and tailored training are indispensable.

Running a marathon is an incredible achievement, even for regular runners. The average time to complete a marathon is often discussed, but there’s no good or bad time—finishing a marathon is already a great feat. On average, the marathon completion time is 4:29.

Basics of a marathon training plan

A personalized marathon training plan helps you master specific paces and accustom your body to long aerobic efforts. Physiologically, the body adapts to muscle damage (impact on the ground) and the ability to sustain effort despite energy expenditure.

Long runs: what’s the maximum duration?

The long run is a staple in any marathon training plan. We recommend including 2-hour endurance runs in your marathon preparation. For most runners, this means covering between 18 km and 24 km.

Once you are comfortable with 2-hour runs, you can increase to 2.5 hours or even 2:45 if you feel good. Depending on your pace, this will be between 24 km and 30 km. Beyond this, the risk of injury increases. A marathon training plan should be managed over time, and the sequence of training will prepare you for the big day.

Marathon pace sessions

To master your paces, it’s important to do sessions at your marathon pace. A personalized marathon training program includes interval sessions at marathon pace, for example, 4x 5 km or 4x 3 miles, 2x 10 km or 2 x 6 miles, 3x 20 minutes, or 2x 40 minutes.

These marathon pace runs also allow you to test your race day gear and nutrition. It’s a good opportunity to try 1 to 2 gels during some long runs to ensure you can digest them well. If they don’t sit well during training, they probably won’t on race day. In this case, switch brands or opt for fruit purees.

To make marathon pace feel easier, we also recommend semi-marathon pace sessions, such as 3x 10 minutes at your semi-marathon pace.

Strength training for marathon preparation

While running is essential for marathon preparation, strength training is also crucial. It’s not just about running miles but also fortifying your body to enhance strength, endurance, and prevent cramps from the 30th km of the marathon.

Including targeted general physical preparation (GPP) exercises, like leg, core, and arm exercises, will help you develop better posture, prevent joint and muscle injuries, and increase your resistance to impact.

Exercises like squats, lunges, planks, and push-ups can be included in your marathon training program.

Marathon training plan: 8, 10, 12, or 16 weeks?

A marathon requires regular preparation. The final preparation cycle focuses on marathon pace and endurance. However, it’s important to vary your training throughout the year and improve your MAS (maximum aerobic speed) with sessions like 10x 400m with 1-minute recovery.

Therefore, we recommend preparing for your race rather than following a traditional 8, 10, or 12-week marathon training plan. Ideally, prepare for a marathon 4 to 6 months before the event.

Training volume for marathon preparation

It’s hard to pinpoint how many running sessions per week are necessary, but a minimum of 40 km per week ,equivalent to the marathon distance, is suggested. We recommend at least 3 sessions per week for marathon training.

Those who can train 4, 5, or 6 times a week will be even better prepared. For most runners, especially those preparing for their first marathon, 5 to 6 training sessions per week, totaling 60 to 80 km, is ideal.

As a reference, elite marathon runners (under 2:15) run more than 150 km per week, while regional level runners (under 2:40) typically run between 80 and 120 km.

Common mistakes with free online marathon plans

Be cautious, not all free online marathon plans are reliable. The biggest issue is often with training paces. The paces suggested in online training plans can be inaccurate when based solely on a percentage of MAS. It’s crucial to also consider your endurance index for precise paces.

For example, two runners with a MAS of 17 km/h could have very different marathon results based on their endurance index—one might finish in 2:59 while the other in 3:30.

This can lead to significant discrepancies in long interval sessions at marathon pace or threshold runs. A 2 km/h difference in a 2x 40 minutes marathon pace session can result from inaccurate pace recommendations. Similarly, heart rate targets should consider both your max heart rate and resting heart rate for precision.

Your personalized marathon training plan, easy to follow

Precise training paces

In the RunMotion Coach app, training paces are very precise thanks to the endurance index. It is automatically calculated for you using algorithms based on your race results. Enter at least two race results for the most accurate calculations.

Additionally, if you enter your resting and max heart rates in your profile, you will get accurate target heart rates in your marathon training plan.

You will find a personalized marathon training program based on your experience and time goal.

A typical marathon training week

Here is an example of a training week from a RunMotion Coach user, with 4 training sessions plus 1 GPP (strength training):

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: MAS 10×400 meters with 1-minute recovery
  • Wednesday: Active endurance 1 hour
  • Thursday: GPP (specific marathon strength training)
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: Endurance 20 minutes + 2x 40 minutes marathon pace, 6-minute recovery
  • Sunday: Fundamental endurance 1.5 hours

Final preparation

After following your training program rigorously, the last week before the marathon is crucial for being in the best condition on race day.

During the final week, reduce the intensity of your training to allow your body to recover. Focus on light, short sessions like 20-30 minute jogs and gentle stretching. Ensure you get 7-8 hours of sleep per night for optimal recovery.

As race day approaches, adapt your pre-marathon diet and stay hydrated, especially in the three days leading up to the race. Avoid new or hard-to-digest foods to prevent digestive issues on race day.

Ensure your gear is ready and comfortable. Your running shoes should be well broken in to avoid blisters. Choose clothing suitable for the expected weather conditions. Prepare your GPS watch to monitor your pace and respect your target times, as well as energy gels or bars you have tested and tolerated during training.

Your adaptive marathon training plan

Your marathon training plan in the RunMotion Coach app adapts to your weekly availability since training is rarely linear. You can choose the days for your long runs and intervals and modify your availability each week.

In the Premium version of the RunMotion Coach app, physical preparation (core and strength training) and mental preparation are advantages that can make a difference when it gets tough in the last 10 kilometers of the marathon. Nutrition advice, especially on carbohydrate loading before the marathon, will also be helpful.

In the 2023 Paris Marathon, about 2000 runners prepared their goal with RunMotion Coach. Some ran their first marathon, others finished under 4 hours, Yohann crossed the finish line in under 3 hours, and Maël ran it in 2:31!

Like them, prepare for your next marathon with RunMotion Coach. You’ll have the best chance of achieving your goal: beating your personal record or finishing your first marathon.

Happy training!

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Jamie Taylor-Caldwell14.21 5000m runner and former scholar athlete for West Texas A&M. Jamie is the UK Country Manager for RunMotion Coach