Beginner Full Marathon Training Plan

“Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.” – George S Patton

Are you ready to run your first marathon? The Beginner Marathon training plan is the perfect program for first-time marathoners and those looking to smartly increase their mileage.

The Beginner Marathon training plan is 20-weeks in length and includes four runs per week. You will start with a 6-mile long run in week 1 and progress to running a 20-mile long run in preparation for the race. The focus throughout the plan is on a strategic combination of easy runs, long-distance runs, rest days, and cross-training. With this approach, your body will have time to adapt to the increases in running each week and properly prepare you to finish a marathon.

In week 12, I introduce you to workouts that will help you to improve your speed and endurance. If this is your first time incorporating structured workouts at a faster pace, follow the descriptions closely, and always listen to your body. You can achieve your first marathon goal without these workouts. However, these workouts can greatly improve your comfort level with running longer distances.

This marathon program includes two optional cross-training workouts per week. These cross-training sessions allow you to incorporate other activities you enjoy with this training plan. Cross-training activities may include cycling, yoga, elliptical, swimming, or weight-lifting.

Individuals will want to choose the Beginner Marathon program if they have been running 3 to 4 times per week for 40 to 50-minutes each time for at least the last six months.  If you are currently running less, that is okay!  Consider starting with the Beginner Half Marathon Plan and building your fitness up to take on this marathon plan.

At a glance

  • Length: 20 weeks
  • Typical Week: 4 Day Run, 2 Day Cross Train, 1 Day Speed Workout, 1 to 2 Day Rest
  • Longest Workout: 20 Miles
Download 26.2 Beginner Plan
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Beginner Full Marathon Training Plan Terminology

The terms in the Beginner Full Marathon training plan are defined inside the downloaded plan, but let me define them for you here as well.

Warm-Up: Walk for 5 minutes at an easy effort before every workout (run-walk days and cross-training days). A proper warm-up will help to gradually increase heart rate, improve circulation, loosen up muscles, and prepare you for the days workout.

Cool-Down: Walk for 5 minutes at an easy effort after every workout (run-walk days and cross-training days). A proper cool-down will help to gradually bring your heart rate and breathing rate back down to normal levels after the days workout.

Perceived Effort: A way to rate your effort level based on your feelings about the level of intensity on a scale from 1 to 10. 1 is considered ‘At Rest’ and 10 is considered ‘An All Out Level.’ Use this scale to stay in the correct range listed in the training schedule for a given day (i.e. 6-7).

Heart Rate: If you have access to a heart rate monitor then use this device to stay in the correct range listed in the training schedule for a given day (i.e. 60-75% of maximum heart rate).

Cross-Training: Include activities other than running and walking in your training plan. If you are completely new to exercise, then you may want to wait until weeks 4 or 5 to add in a cross-training workouts. If you are already active 3 to 4 days per week, then start the cross-training as scheduled in the plan. Activities for cross-training may include cycling, elliptical, rowing, strength training, swimming, and more. Cross-training allows you to rest your running muscles and work opposing muscle groups. These activities will help to reduce the impact on your body and the risk of injury. Cross-training can also speed up recovery time between run-walk workouts. Cross-training workouts should be done at a moderate level, Perceived Effort of at least 7, or a Heart Rate of 75-80%.

Strength Training: A form of cross-training, strength training can be a great way to increase lean muscle and boost metabolism while at rest. Strength training can be completed using free-weights, resistance bands, weight machines, or classes such as pilates, yoga or cross-fit. Include exercises for upper body, core, and lower body. Warm-up with a walk or another form of cardio. If you are new to strength training, then start with 1 set of each exercise for 12-15 repetitions. The goal is to work your muscles to fatigue or until you can no longer maintain proper form during the exercise. Continue with 1 set of each exercise for weeks 1 through 4, then progress to 2 to 3 sets of each exercise for 8-12 repetitions.

Flexibility: Stretch lightly after every warm-up period. Stretch again after every workout to improve flexibility, increase circulation, and reduce the risk of injury.

Easy Effort: Easy pace/effort is considered slightly above what you can maintain a conversation, 70-75% of maximum heart rate, and 6 to 7 on the Perceived Effort scale.

Moderate Effort: Moderate pace/effort is where you can hear your breathing, but you are not breathing hard, 75-80% of maximum heart rate, and 7 to 8 on the Perceived Effort scale.

Long Runs: The training plan calls for running longer miles on Saturday each week. These runs will build both your endurance and mental confidence in knowing you can cover the marathon distance. The pace for these long runs should be kept easy, meaning you should be able to maintain a conversation while running. You should aim for 45-60 seconds per mile slower than goal race pace.

Speed Workouts: Warm-up with 10-15 minutes at an easy pace. Then complete the appropriate speed workout for the day. All hard efforts are considered 90-95% of heart rate, 9+ Perceived Effort. You should be able to hear yourself breathing hard. It is very important to make sure your easy recovery effort is truly easy. Running to fast during the recovery can have a negative impact on your performance during these workouts and throughout the other parts of the training plan.

Training Plan Structure

The following Full Marathon Beginner schedule is only a guide. Feel free to make minor modifications to suit your work and family schedule. You will find more information on half marathon training in the the FREE downloadable file.

Download 26.2 Beginner Plan