Couch to Marathon Running – How Long Does It Take to Train for a Marathon?

8 min read Chris Zibutis

Chris Zibutis
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Chris Zibutis
Head Running Coach - that one person on earth who loves interval runs 🥵

Maybe you’ve always dreamed of running a marathon. Or maybe you’re just looking for a new challenge. Either way, a marathon is 26.2 miles (42 kilometers) long, and that means putting in some serious training. But, how long does it take to train for a marathon?

Marathon training is about boosting your overall health and endurance. Knowing how long to train for a marathon is about pushing your limits. It’s about finding your weak points and improving them, as well as consolidating your strengths as a runner.

Throw discipline, dedication, and resilience into the mix, and what to some may appear as an extraordinary distance can become something you can conquer.

How Long Does It Take to Train for a Marathon?

Preparing for a marathon takes as little as 3 months. You don’t want to rush it, though. You want to give yourself time to train well and enjoy every step.

Before beginning marathon training, you want to spend 3–6 months running 15–25 miles per week, with long runs of 6–8 miles at a time. This will help you prepare for your first marathon while reducing the risk of injury. You can gradually increase the distance you run by 10% increments every week, according to the American Council on Exercise

Joggo app is the perfect way to kickstart your weight loss journey, build up muscle, and increase your running performance. It contains personalized training and meal plans that will help you achieve your health goals.

How to Get Started

Am I ready to train for a marathon? This should be the first question on your mind. If you have any existing health problems, it’s best to consult with your doctor first.

If you’re in good health and enjoy a good night’s sleep, you’re ready to get started whether or not you’re running long distances every week already.

Keep in mind that the less time you run every week, the more time you’ll need to prepare for a marathon.

What Pace Should I Be Running at?

The average marathon finishing time for men was 4:30:46 in 2019. That’s 10:19 minutes per mile pace. For women, it was 4:56:39, or a pace of 11:18 minutes per mile.

If you’re aiming to finish a marathon in under 5 hours, those are good paces to aim for. The time you have available for running may influence your training pace, though.

Also, different marathon training plans may encourage you to run at different paces.

Don’t forget that fast is not always better. When you train for a marathon, the same as when you run one, being able to release your energy at the right time is crucial.

Strength Training

You can better prepare for a marathon through cross-training and low-intensity strength workouts. Resting your legs is important, which is why most marathon training plans squeeze in at least one day of rest in between exercising days.

A 5-minute strength training warm-up at home or outside before every run can help bring you closer to your goal. Do each of the following for 30 seconds:

Before running

  • Gorilla squats
  • Hamstring sweeps
  • World’s greatest stretch
  • Lunge with overhead reach
  • Single leg deadlift
  • Drill-based running: single leg high knees into double leg, A skips, seated arm drive, stiff-legged jumps, sprint on the spot

The marathon plan you choose to follow will influence what strength exercises you do and how much and how often.

With the Joggo app, you will learn how to train for the marathon the right way. Before every training session you will complete a warmup routine, and end each run with a relaxing cooldown. In addition to running, you will try out a variety of strength exercises to improve your endurance and grow muscle.

What Shoes to Choose for Marathon?

Next, let’s talk about how to select running shoes for a marathon. Wearing the right shoes can make training easier and improve your performance.

Finding the right shoes for a marathon becomes easier if you get your gait checked. An easy way to do this is to ask a friend to watch you from behind as you run.

If your knees are turning out and the outer heel touches the ground first, you’re underpronating, and you want running shoes with extra cushioning.

Knees coming in? You’re overpronating – stability shoes will distribute the impact more evenly.

Normal pronation means your entire foot comes in contact with the ground and gives you the most running shoe options to chose from, including neutral running shoes.

You also want to check the wear pattern on your running shoes – overpronation often causes the inside tip to wear out, while underpronation causes the wearing out of the outer edge of the shoes.

Brands like Nike offer various lightweight, comfortable running shoes for men and women training for a marathon. If you don’t have a pair of running shoes already, grab one!

Factors That Can Affect Your Marathon Time

When considering how to prepare for a marathon, it’s good to start with the factors that can affect marathon time.

According to some studies, marathon times tend to be better in cool environmental temperatures (10–12ºC) and when the event takes place in the morning during spring or fall.

Higher temperatures, together with high humidity, will affect your metabolic rate. Body mass index, height, and calf circumference can also affect marathon time. 

A factor that’s easier to control is speed in training. One study found associations between a high running speed in training and better marathon race times.

However, that doesn’t mean you should overdo it in training. Be aware of your limits. This is often the most challenging part of training for a marathon – pushing yourself hard enough to improve but stopping at the right time to fully recover in time. 

Your Base Mileage

You can use your half marathon time as a predictor of your full marathon time. Let’s say you’ve run a half marathon (13.1 miles) in 2 hours and 15 minutes. According to this running pace calculator, your pace is 10 minutes 18 seconds per mile.

Andrew Vicks, a runner and statistician, crunched running data from thousands of marathons and runners across ages and genders to come up with the magic number 2.085.

To estimate your marathon time, multiply your half-marathon time by 2.085, and you’ll get an estimate of your full-length marathon finish time.

Build your weekly mileage over time, running 3–5 times per week. Easy training runs and shorter races can help too.

During easy runs, run at a comfortable pace you can maintain for longer without effort – you should be able to maintain a conversation on the phone without problems. That’s usually up to 10% slower than your marathon time.

Easy runs add to your total weekly running amount without damaging your muscles and requiring recovery time. In other words, they let you squeeze in more training.

Long Runs

You want to do a long run every 7–10 days. This will enable your body to handle long distances. Don’t slow down during your long runs – keep up the pace and carry them through to the end.

The max distance for a long run should be around 20 miles – pushing for longer increases the risk for injuries. This distance can help you build endurance for the big event, provided you’ve followed your training routine and started with shorter runs.

You don’t want to start running 20 miles before your total weekly distance exceeds this number. Ideally, you want to run up to 6 long runs of 20 miles in the 3 months leading up to the marathon.

Don’t forget to practice tempo runs and intervals. These will boost your cardio capacity and help you better handle effort.

Rest Days

Why rest when you can keep on training? Rest helps prevent injuries and mental burnout. It’s key to getting in shape before the big day.

When you run, the impact on your body’s bones and connective tissues is up to 3 times your weight. That’s a lot.

Three weeks before the big event, you want to cut back on your mileage to rest your legs and body – this is called tapering. But you have to watch out as tapering can play on your nerves. Don’t overdo it.

Consistency is important, so stick to your training schedule in terms of pace and types of workouts. But reduce the length of the runs and the volume of the workouts. 

Think about 40% less volume initially and then up to 60% in the last week. Meditation, reading, and spending time with friends can help you relax. 

Running Injuries

If you’re suffering from running injuries, stay calm and try to treat them. Tendinosis is common and, while painful, will still allow you to run.

Rest, ice, avoiding hill trailing and hard surfaces, warming up before exercising, stretching, and spot training can help.

A stress fracture is more challenging to manage, and it’s best not to run with it as it may cause more serious damage. It usually appears when you increase the intensity of training too quickly. A stress fracture takes up to 6 weeks to heal.

In this case, consider delaying your marathon – there are plenty of other marathons you can choose to run instead once you heal. To treat a stress fracture, stop running and minimize walking.

Consider changing your shoes to increase comfort, do cross-training, cycling, and slowly return to running, reducing the pace by half.

What to Eat and Drink During a Marathon

What to eat and drink before and during a marathon is something you need to consider before you tie your laces on the big day.

Hydrating and fueling on the run are important not only for your health but for your marathon performance.

For any run over 2 hours, aim to take in about 60 grams of carbs per hour. You want a high carb availability before and during your training.

Bananas, dried fruit, sports gels, and isotonic drinks are good choices. Run at least 5k before ingesting the first food or gels. 

Also, keep in mind that dehydration can affect your running performance. Dehydration is easy to overlook but something you need to plan for.

Marathon organizers today provide hydration during events through first aid stations. Even so, you want to do your research to make sure you’re covered not only before the start but throughout the event. You need at least 6oz of fluid every 2–3 miles. 

Couch to Marathon Plan

To figure out your marathon pace, time yourself running a mile as fast as you can during training. Then multiply that by 1.3 to figure out your marathon pace per mile.

This is a formula created by former Olympian Jeff Galloway, and you can use it as an estimate.

For example, if you run a mile in 7 minutes, the math would look like 7 x 60 seconds x 1.3 = 546.

546 divided by 60 means a 9.1 minute pace per mile. Alternatively, you can try out the McMillan Running Pace Calculator

Picking Your First Marathon

“How should I pick my first marathon?” could be one of the big questions on your mind.

Choosing the first marathon becomes easier if you focus on practical factors. Ideally, you want to find a marathon where environmental factors are similar to those you’ve trained in.

It’s not a good idea to choose your first marathon based on the destination. Having to travel long distances to the event can add another layer of stress and tiredness to the experience. Especially if you’re flying to another country.

Other considerations include the time of day when the event takes place, the size of the marathon, and the course type. 

For example, point-to-point races can be more inconvenient because you have to retrieve the gear you leave behind at the start. That said, the course type shouldn’t be a heavy factor if you’ve trained properly. 

Making It to the Finish Line

Marathon training takes time, but that means every single day is an opportunity to know yourself and your body better and test your fitness level and your patience. 

Marathon training is all about learning to run the right way. It’s not just about getting in shape, but dosing your effort, pushing when you have to, and then resting. 

It’s a wonderful journey that will make you not only healthier but more aware of your capacity for effort and limitations. 

So, pick your training plan, get the right gear, follow our tips, and start running – you’ll enjoy every step, even the ones late in the race that make you feel like gravity is your sworn enemy. As many runners will tell you, those are perhaps the most beautiful.

Start running today

Sometimes, simply knowing how to train is not enough. You need a personalized running program and some expert guidance to get you over the hard parts. Take a 60-second quiz and meet your personal running assistant.

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