20 Week Marathon Guide Graphic. Stick figure runners heading to the finish line.

Run your first marathon with the 20-week Marathon Training Plan for Beginners. Download our exclusive free printable or digital training plan.

In recent years, Marathons have gained popularity. Completing one can be incredible and give you tremendous pride and a sense of accomplishment. 

Training for a marathon can be overwhelming and daunting, especially for new runners.

That’s where our entire, free-to-download 20-week marathon training plan comes in.

I’m Stephanie Holbrook, and I have been coaching endurance athletes since 2008. I ran my first marathon over 15 years ago. Since then, I’ve run many marathons, triathlons, and ultra-marathons. None are as thrilling as the first, but all are wonderful.

Note

Before starting any intense fitness regimen like this, it’s always a good idea to consult healthcare professionals to ensure your safety.

I am delighted to offer you an exclusive Beginner Marathon Training plan inspired by the thousands of budding athletes who have transformed their lives by running and undertaking the challenge of their first marathon.

Our marathon training plan spans 20 weeks and is tailored toward new runners aspiring to finish a marathon. It involves a gradual growth in both mileage and intensity as you progress towards your goal.

The Plan has been designed to be easy to follow and well-organized. An online program using TrainingPeaks will automatically upload to your GPS Device if you choose.

Our tried-and-tested plans have been tried, tested, and proven by myself and my endurance community. They will get you to race day with confidence and over that finish line with a smile on your face. No words can describe crossing that finish line and feeling pride and accomplishment!

What’s in this 20-week marathon training plan

With this guide, you’ll have all the tools to start your marathon training plan and achieve your goal of crossing the finish line.

Who this 20-week Beginner Marathon plan is for?

If you currently engage in other exercises and have a decent fitness level but don’t often run, you can begin the 5-month Beginner Marathon training plan without needing extra preparation.

If you have experience with running but have taken a break, this 20-week Plan is suitable for you to make a comeback and prepare for your first marathon.

If you are not regularly running and aim to run continuously for 30 minutes, we suggest you complete our 8-week First Steps to 5k Training Plan before beginning the 20-week marathon training plan. 

The 8-week Plan is for you if you are not a runner or haven’t run for quite a while.

The 8-week Plan is a great start to get you up to running 30 minutes at a time. 

This will allow you to work up to that baseline and ensure you’re physically prepared before returning to the marathon plan.

The 8-week new runner training plan will help you progress from non-runner to full-fledged runner. The goal is to run your first 30 minutes (5k) nonstop; visit our Beginner 5k Plan.

If you’re an advanced runner, this Plan may be too easy for you. Check out our other marathon training plans for advanced runners.

For example, our 16-week Advanced Training Plan or 12-week Advanced Training Plan may better fit you.

If you want to run 5k, 10k, a half marathon, or even your first ultramarathon, head to our training plans homepage after reading this post.

Overview of the 20-Week Beginner Marathon Training Plan

This Plan is designed to help you train from the first steps off the couch to running a marathon.

There is no specific time goal for this Plan. You may opt to use the run-walk method of training. The beginner marathon training plan aims to get to the start line with confidence and to the finish line happy and free from injury.

If you have a time goal, go for it. Here is a pacing guide to reach your goal. If this is your first marathon with a time goal, it is good to enter a marathon with pacers.How the Plan is structured

This 20-week marathon training plan is the ultimate training guide for new runners.

As with our other marathon training schedules, the plan is structured so you can do several weekly runs of different durations and intensities. In this marathon training plan, you’ll do 4 runs a week.

The four runs include a long run, A HIIT run, and a Tempo Run.

Each run has its purpose to help you build speed and endurance. 

This beginner training plan also includes rest days and core or strength training. These are also essential components for your overall strength and recovery.

Heart rate zone training

Our marathon training plans use heart rate zones and heart rate training to ensure that you are working either too hard or too little.

Following your heart rate zone is an excellent way to monitor and track your training. This ensures that the program is designed to fit your where moment. As your fitness improves, your zones will change.

About the run-walk method

The run-walk method is an excellent approach to marathon training, especially for beginners who may need more experience.

We use this approach in our training plans for specific runs, for new runners, and for every training plan.

This allows you to alternate between running and walking regularly during your training. This will enable you to build the endurance you need for the event. 

The run-walk approach helps you build endurance gradually while reducing the risk of injury. 

Alternating between running and walking, you can allow your muscles to recover and recharge, allowing you to run more efficiently for extended periods.

Preparing for your first marathon

What is your current fitness level?

Check in and be honest. Ask yourself how you feel about training for a marathon. If in doubt, check with a medical professional before starting an exercise program.

If you’re entirely new to cardio exercise such as running, invest the time in an 8-week base building program to gradually get up to running 30 minutes non-stop. Check out our using our First Steps to 5k program before starting this Beginner Marathon Training Plan.

Let’s go shopping! Gear you need to run comfortably.

There are some essential items and gear to consider before starting a running routine.

I’ve compiled a comprehensive set of buyer’s guides based on our extensive experience. I’ve tested and reviewed everything from running shoes, clothes, and accessories. 

Check it out. Here is a list of essential items you’ll need for your marathon. Plus, some want to have. 

  • A quality pair of shoes
  • wicking socks
  • Tights or shorts
  • For women, a running-appropriate sports bra
  • A technical tee or vest
  • A watch with a wrist-worn heart rate monitor
  • A waterproof jacket
  • Sunglasses
  • A hat or visor

For cold-weather training, warm gloves, an insulated hat, and a warm baselayer, such as a Merino wool tee, are optional.

A good headlamp is essential for running in the dark, and a reflective vest is a good idea.

Scheduling Time to Train

Rule number one in endurance training. Consistency is the most crucial part of training. Workouts over time add up to produce fitness.

Look at your calendar and decide when you will schedule your runs and strength training over the next 20 weeks.

There are the early risers. The morning runners who head out before the work day. 

Others are night owls, who run at the end of the day after the sun sets. 

Lastly, are the lunch break trainers. Who trains in the middle of the day.

For the first few weeks, schedule what you think will work best. Feel free to change it to see what works best for you.

Make healthy lifestyle changes.

Training for a marathon is about more than just running or the combination of runs and other activities listed on our free training plan pdf below.

Lifestyle choices are just as important as the training itself. 

Here are steps you can take to develop a healthier lifestyle:

  • Eat real, unprocessed food. It isn’t for you if it has a label and is found in the middle of the grocery aisle.
  • There are few things worse than running with a hangover. Ditch the alcohol and opt for club soda watching the game with friends or on your next girls’ night. 
  • Rest and recovery are essential. Create an environment where you can get to sleep early and stay asleep.

These lifestyle changes will pay off in the long run (pun intended). You will feel better before, during, and after your marathon.

How to Optimize performance, improve recovery and avoid injuries. 

Get the most out of every training run and develop good habits.

Before your run: 

Prepare beforehand– get your clothes, shoes, socks, watch, and hydration set aside ahead. This is important if you plan to run in the morning.

Eat before your run – You will need fuel for any run longer than an hour and has intervals. For fat-adapted runners, choose the fuel high in protein and fat about an hour or two before you run.

Make sure the food is digested before you start training. This will help you sustain your energy throughout your training session.

Stretching – isn’t essential but can help you avoid injuries if you are ramping up your training. A 5-10 minute dynamic warm-up will help you stay limber while working hard with your training.

During your run: Technique, heart rate monitoring, and nutrition

Develop good running technique – Good technique will improve your

running experience. Proper running technique is essential. During your run, check-in. Think about your run form, your cadence, if you are stiff, and how you feel during running.

Monitor your heart rate – our marathon training plans decided to use a monitor. 

Your heart rate zones help you customize the training plan to fit you and where you are at with your training. 

This ensures you use the correct intensity during your training session for every run.

Fuling is essential for a good running experience. I suggest bringing water with you on every run, except for shorter runs in cold weather. You can use a running belt or hydration pack to carry water.

Taking the time to learn what to eat during long distances and tempo runs will help you on your running days to dig deep.

Long runs are considered runs for more than one hour in duration. Energy gels and chews are simple and easy to use.

After your run: Injury prevention routines.

Static stretches – Increase flexibility and recovery with static stretches. Here is a guide.

Post-run recovery shake – a good quality protein shake will make a big difference after your run. Protein is the building block of your muscles and will help you recover. Get at least 25 grams of protein after your training runs.

Rest and recovery– another proven way to help recover quicker; Get to bed early and stay asleep. That sounds easier than it can sometimes be. Check out our sleep guide for good sleep hygiene. 

Tips for Race Day

You’ve been training and putting in the work. That doesn’t mean you won’t be nervous. It is normal to be anxious about your first marathon or your thirtieth. 

Here are my top tips for race day success. Feel free to bookmark this port as your race day approaches.

A few days before

  • Eat clean and drink clean, the saying goes, nothing new on race day. This applies to the week before the race. Eat foods you are familiar with that settle well with your stomach. Avoid spicy food
  • Connect with your support system. It is great to have spectators on the course. Check with the race guide to decide where you will plan to see your friends and family on the course. It is even better to plan on specific landmarks where you can look for them. Motivational signs help, especially when you are digging deep.
  • Plan where to meet post-race. The festivities can be busy. Making a reservation at a nice restaurant or having a meal prepared at home is an excellent way to celebrate your big day.
  • Keep the Expo Visit Short. Expos are always fun but can be draining. Get into the expo, get your number, do a small amount of looking around, then leave. Avoid all new food at the expo. 

The night before race day.

  • Plan ahead. 
  • Prepare a drop bag. Put essentials in the drop bag. Changing clothes, sandals, snacks, phone chargers, and cord and baby wipes are good options. If it is a cool race, warm clothes. 
  • Set an alarm. One is good, two is better. 
  • Pre-make breakfast. 
  • Check the WEATHER.
  • Plan your parking and route to the start line. ‘Race day morning can be overwhelming. Check out the marathon guide for your race. Allow plenty of time to park, get to the race start area, drop off your drop bag, then get to your start area.
  • Know your projected time. Knowing your projected pace and start time will help you find the corral you need on race day.
  • Have a relaxed evening, and get to bed early. 

Race Day!

  • Eat breakfast around 2 hours before the start.
  • Leave early. Give yourself time to park. Read the race bike to know where to drop off your bag, visit the bathrooms, and get to your corral in enough time that won’t give you extra stress before the start of the race.

Running the marathon

  • Stay calm. It is usual for your adrenaline to be racing. The feeling can be intense. Hey, isn’t that why we are doing this. Remember to check your heart rate. Take deep breaths and smile. You made it to the start line. And 26.2 miles later, you will cross the finish line. Stick to your heart rate zones and enjoy your day.
  • Smile. You put in the work. You are doing the thing! That is huge in itself. Smile, meet and chat with your fellow runners and enjoy every step. There may be dips in how you feel, but that is ok because, at 26.2, you will feel amazing.
  • Stop your GPS device. It is easy to forget that you have a clock on your wrist after race day. 

Check out the FREE downloadable Plan.

Companion guide for training.

The Beginner’s w0-week training plan is designed to be simple to follow. It is easy to use and prioritizes running consistency and the importance of your weekend-long run to train yourself to run the total marathon distance.

It also includes milestones for the first 10k of your training program, and the first half-marathon distance, which is 12 weeks into the 20-week Plan, is excellent for first-time marathoners.

Finding a local half-marathon race to sign up for that weekend could be a good idea. It is more fun than running alone, and you will get a feel for race day. 

Train using heart rate zones.

Many runners go by the rate of perceived exertion. This may work when you are getting started, but adrenaline can throw off what a comfortable pace means.

Heart rate zones help you monitor how you are doing. Adenarine can change your rate of perceived exertion.

Here is a guide on how to calculate your heart rate zone.

A heart rate monitor is not required but is helpful. But you will need to go by effort. This is more challenging than looking at your heart rate monitor. RPE can change my factors. 

Warm up and cool down

Before every run, for at least 5 minutes, do a warm-up, including dynamic stretching at a comfortable pace.

After every run, spend 5 minutes cooling until your heart rate is comfortably in Zone 1. Then spend the next5 minutes doing static stretches. This helps with range of motion and flexibility. 

Check out the static stretch guide.

Core and Strength Exercises for the 20-Week Marathon Training Plan

Tuesday and Thursday are your training plan’s ‘core and strength’ days. This session should be 30-45 minutes. It focuses on stability and strength. This helps you build strength and prevents muscle imbalances caused by repetitive movements like running.

Here are some basic exercises that you can do for core strength. 

Three times at ninety seconds will help you maintain your core and prevent injury.

  • Step-ups
  • Hops
  • Bodyweight squats
  • Lunges
  • Bird-dog
  • Bicycle abs
  • Fire hydrants
  • Planks
  • Side planks
  • Glute bridges

Rest days

Mondays are your rest days. This is an important day in marathon training.

This implies you shouldn’t munch on popcorn during lengthy Netflix marathons.. The movement is good. Getting a massage or an ice bath are good. Cross-training, like yoga or breath work classes, are a good option on rest days.

Happy training

20-Week Marathon Training Plan

I’m glad that you’re starting your first marathon training journey at a comfortable pace. I hope you’ll find our beginner marathon training program easy to follow and enjoyable as a helpful companion!

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