Slay Your First Marathon: A Marathon Training Plan for Beginners

Slay Your First Marathon: A Marathon Training Plan for Beginners

Ready to be in the elite 0.5% of people who run 26.2 miles in a marathon?*

You bet you do!

26.2 miles is an insanely amazing accomplishment – to put it into perspective, a marathon is 46,111 yards, or 138,366 feet, or 1,660,032 inches…woah!

But dedicated athletes like yourself are up for the challenge. You just need a great marathon training plan for beginners.

Luckily, if you keep reading, you’ll find exactly that – a comprehensive marathon training plan for beginners that covers everything you need to start training.

1.) Pick a Goal

Marathon Training for Beginners - Pick a Goal

As with any race, selecting the correct goal is the key to success.

It helps you select the correct training plan.

Pick a goal carefully. Make sure it fits your current capabilities and fitness level.

A suggestion: make your goal S.M.A.R.T. – which stands for Specific, Measurable, Agreed-Upon, Realistic, and Time-Based.

That way, you don’t end up with a wishy-washy goal (or worse – an unrealistic goal that causes injury).

Here’s a great example of a S.M.A.R.T. marathon goal:

“I will sign up for the {insert marathon} on {insert marathon date} and cross the finish line in under 5 hours.”

(If you’ve never run a marathon before, then finishing the marathon healthy is also a perfectly acceptable goal).

Alternately, if you’ve run marathons before and want a finish time goal, go for it. Just make sure to train appropriately.

Ok, now you have a goal – onto picking your first marathon race!

RELATED: 15 First Marathon Tips for Marathon Domination

2.) Pick a Marathon

Marathon Training for Beginners - Pick a Race
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This is the fun part!

What marathon do you want to run?

A fun one? A serious one? A destination or local one?

So many options!

But when selecting your first marathon, keep these 4 major things in mind:

Time of Year/Weather Conditions:

Marathon Training for Beginners
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Fall and spring are the 2 most popular seasons to run marathons.

Both come with benefits and challenges.

Spring marathons mean you train in the winter (which is great for you southwesterners, and tough for us northeasters).

Fall marathons mean you primarily train over the summer.

If you like running in the heat then a fall marathon might be for you!

If you like running in cooler to cold temperatures, try looking for a spring marathon!

Location of the Marathon:

Do you want to travel? Or stay local?

Many first-time marathoners prefer to stay local because they can keep their schedule intact.

Traveling always means a disrupted schedule, which can wreak havoc on you before a marathon (from food to hydration to sleep schedules).

If you do travel to a destination marathon make sure to pad some time before the race to try to regain your schedule and get some extra sleep before the big day.

Decide to travel? Scope out the temperature of the location you’ll be running to make sure you’re prepared – mentally and with the right gear and race day plan.

Course Description:

Marathon Training for Beginners - Course

Check out the course (most race websites have a course map or link to the course route).

Is it hilly? Flat? In the woods or out in the open?

Select a marathon course that fits your preferences and abilities (especially for a first marathon!).

And make sure to properly train for the course you choose – specifically hills!

Don’t get caught unprepared for hills…no es bueno. 

Fundraising Requirements?

Some marathons are organized to raise money for charity.

Make sure you know any fundraising requirements ahead of time.

Ok, now onto the part where you pick a training plan for said marathon…

3.) Pick a Marathon Training Plan for Beginners

Marathon Training Plan for Beginners - Pick a Plan

There are many different options when selecting a marathon training plan for beginners.

Here are some recommended places to start:

Don’t be afraid to work with a running coach either – they can customize a marathon training plan for beginners especially for you and adjust along the way as needed.

4.) Prepare for Training (Super Important!)

Marathon Training Plan for Beginners - Prepare

Not planning for marathon training is like arriving to a party with no pants on.

You’re going to #fail real hard and feel really embarrassed and silly.

Here are the most critical things to prepare for before training for a marathon:

Make Time in Your Schedule

Running a marathon is like having an additional part-time job.

Runs take time.

Cross training takes time.

Preparing meals and snacks takes time.

Washing loads of dirty, smelly running laundry takes time.

And it’s all good – it’s worth every second, but you need to plan for it.

Don’t let it sneak up on you. Know your training schedule and block off time on your calendar to accommodate everything you need to do to be successful.

Get the Right Running Gear

Marathon Training Plan - The Right Gear

Don’t be “that guy” running in cotton clothes.

Please. I beg you.

If you’re running 26.2 miles you gotta have some basic gear.

So get the basics (and more) to be truly prepared and to prevent injury, blisters, chafing, etc.

What are the basics for a marathon?

Some basic running gear suggestions:

  • Performance Material Shirts/Pants – “performance” = wicking, which is material that helps regulate body temperature and pull sweat away from your body. Hot tip: get at least a week’s worth of running outfits so you’re never stuck with unwashed gear.
  • Good Running Shoes – get fitted at your local running store (they really know what they’re talking about!)
  • Wicking Socks – I love Balega socks and Injinji toe socks (toe socks might seem silly but they prevent blisters well)
  • Hydration System – 3 main options here: a handheld water bottle, a hydration belt, or a CamelBak hydration backpack. Totally depends on preference but try them out and see what you like best (I prefer a CamelBak).
  • Season-specific items – jacket/hat/gloves/balaclava for winter, hat and sunscreen for summer.

Some “extras” beyond the basics to consider too:

  • Compression sleeves – improves circulation for improved muscle recovery
  • Reflective Gear – run in the morning or at night? Be seen, be safe.

Know the Right Nutrition for a Runner

Marathon Training plan for Beginners - Nutrition for Runners

Marathon training takes energy.

Hell – running a 5K takes energy.

Point is, make sure you’re consuming the right foods to fuel your runs.

Junk in, junk out – putting processed, greasy, sugary crap into your body isn’t going to help you achieve your marathon goal.

So what is the proper nutrition for a runner?

Great question!

I have a full post on that: Runners Food 101: The Ultimate Guide to Nutrition for Runners

Know the right combination of carbs, protein and good fats for optimal performance.

Know the Fuel Your Long Runs

Marathon Training for Beginners - Mid Race Fuel

Again, I have a whole post on this topic: Yummy Long Run Snacks for Before, During and After Your Run

One of the biggest challenges for runners unfamiliar with running long distances is figuring out mid-run fuel.

Some runners have sensitive stomachs while running. Some don’t.

Some people like chewing a gummy or energy waffle…some prefer GU or a similar almost-liquid substance.

The only way to know what you like is to test different mid-run fuel.

Start testing this WAY in advance of the race.

Like, start with your first 1 hour+ run.

Once you figure out what works – do the same thing for a couple long training runs as a race-day simulation – then DO NOT CHANGE IT on race day.

Get Support from Family & Friends

Marathon Training for Beginners - Support

Running a marathon can feel lonely without support.

Ways to get support from family and friends:

  • Join a running club – running is more fun with friends (plus you get some extra accountability help)
  • Accountability Friend – whether it’s your significant other or best friend, find someone to text/call weekly to report on progress
  • Help with Family/Kids/Chores – Have kids? Ask your spouse to commit to a little overtime during training so you can focus. Pick a specific time to run – like morning, or after work – and keep that schedule so everyone knows when training time is.
  • Fun Time – Let’s be honest…you’re busy when training for a marathon. Ask friends and family to not bug you about this (you probably aren’t available Saturday mornings…ever). But, make sure to schedule some fun time with them on rest days!

5.) Stay Healthy During Training

Marathon Training Plan for Beginners - Stay Healthy

Staying injury-free and healthy during marathon training is crucial.

So what can you do to prevent injuries and stay healthy?

Here are some ways to keep yourself in tip-top condition during marathon training.

Foam Rolling

Marathon Training for Runners - Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release that aids in muscle recovery.

How do you foam roll properly?

Also a great question!

The Complete Guide to Foam Rolling for Runners explains 6 classic foam rolling moves that are perfect for marathoners.

Sports Massages

Having muscle pain or tightness in a spot that’s hard to foam roll?

Invest in a sports massage.

Anything that helps make your body heal and feel better is worth it during marathon training.

Tip: some marathoners schedule a massage a month as maintenance. if you want to do this too, check for deals on massage packages and save yourself some money!


Getting sleep is absolutely crucial to successful marathon training.

Sleep is when your body repairs itself from all your intense training.

Everyone is a little different but aim to get at least 7.5 hours of sleep per night.

Respect Recovery Days

Marathon Training for Beginners - Rest and Sleep

Don’t even think about skipping recovery days.

Over-training leads to injury.

Enough said.

Remember Cross Training & Strength Training

Marathon training isn’t just about running (surprise!).

Find some Cross Training and Strength Training activities you like and integrate them into your weekly marathon training plan.

Get Ready for Race Day

Marathon Training for Runners - Hydrate

Don’t waste all that training preparation by failing to prepare for the actual marathon!

Be a race-day pro.

Here are some things to do in preparation for race day:

  • Taper properly – yeah, I know, it’s hard to not run a lot after weeks of running tons…but follow the taper (it’s for your own good)
  • Make a list to prepare for race day – what do you need? Gear + recovery + nutrition, etc. Try this list to start.
  • Get plenty of rest & sleep – again, yes, this is hard with pre-race-day jitters but sleep is so important.
  • Carb up baby! – Ah the glorious feeling of “carbing up” before a marathon.
  • Hydrate Like Woah – drink ALL THE WATER (and Gatorade) in the days before the race.

Are You Ready to Run a Marathon Now? 🙂

Hopefully you have everything you need to be successful!

Not sure you’re ready for a marathon yet?

That’s fine!

Instead, run a half marathon – it’s 13.1 miles and still a very respectable distance accomplishment.

Try the Half Marathon Training Plan for Beginners: 7 Steps to Your First Half Marathon

The ultimate marathon training plan for beginners who want to run their first marathon (but aren't sure what to expect). #marathon #marathons #running
The ultimate marathon training plan for beginners who want to run their first marathon (but aren't sure what to expect). #marathon #marathons #running
A super helpful marathon training guide for beginners. Find a marathon training plan for beginners and tons of tips!
The ultimate marathon training plan for beginners who want to run their first marathon (but aren't sure where to start). #marathon #marathons #running
The ultimate marathon training plan for beginners who want to run their first marathon (but aren't sure what to expect). #marathon #marathons #running


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