Marathon training: choosing a training plan

16 November 2017 by
First published: 7 February 2018

Marathon training: choosing a training plan

We’ve all heard the saying, ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail,’ and nothing could be truer when it comes to running a marathon. So we talked to running coach George Anderson for his top tips when it comes to planning your marathon training.

Build your base

Marathon training is tough, so you want to make sure you’re in the best possible shape before you start. George explains that the purpose of base training, or what he refers to as a pre-programme programme, ‘is to get you to the start line of your full programme feeling not only strong and prepared, but niggle-free and energised.’

A typical pre-programme programme includes a variety of running sessions and lots of conditioning to make sure your body is up to taking on 26.2 miles. It’s important not to overdo things though – you don’t want to go into training fatigued, and George explains that ‘even if you feel OK, it will catch up with you later on.’ And of course you want to be on top form to enjoy your marathon journey!

How much time do you have?

How long you need to train for a marathon will depend on your experience and fitness level. We reckon someone who’s been running for about a year and completed a half marathon or two needs 16 to 18 weeks to train – and that’s not counting the pre-programme time George recommends.

You do need to reflect honestly on where your fitness is at in relation to the time you have before race day, and to ask yourself if you really do have time to get there. Don’t worry if you don’t have enough time, most races will let you defer your place, so your marathon dream isn’t over!

Mix it up

A good training plan should be made up of a mixture of different sessions – tempo runs, hill sprints and long runs. Yep, some of these sessions will be hard (we’re looking at you, hill sprints!) but they’ll get you fitter so that you can smash that marathon PR and enjoy doing it! Plus, the long, slow runs each week are the perfect excuse to get out and explore (and to then reward yourself with brunch!).

It’s not all running

Marathon training is not all about running, and George advocates ‘lashings of body conditioning work alongside the actual running.’ In fact, he’s so passionate about conditioning that he once trained for a marathon by running just twice a week – the rest of his time was spent in the gym! We’re not suggesting you take it to that extreme, but putting time in to build your strength, flexibility, balance and core stability once or twice a week will pay off. If you’re not sure where to start, George has a great selections of mini-programmes you can check out.


It’s difficult not to get over excited when you’re taking on a challenge like a marathon, but as George points out, ‘the more we train, the greater our risk of injury.’ If you go hard everyday in the hope that you’ll smash your race, you’re risking putting yourself on the bench for days or weeks while you nurse an injury, which is no fun! We can’t emphasise the importance of rest enough. George puts it best when he says, ‘we don’t get stronger during training; it’s when we’re recovering that the body adapts and we experience growth.’ So it’s really important that you make sure whatever programme you choose includes lots of time to put your feet up.

Think you could be overtraining? Check out these 6 signs you’re overtraining.

Want to up your workout game? Our ultimate guide to nutrition can help.