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Here's How Long You Need to Train for a Marathon (Depending On Your Experience Level)

Marathon training takes time regardless of whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced runner.

By Kristine Thomason, Team PelotonUpdated May 14, 2024


If you want to run a marathon, you can’t (or at least shouldn’t) go from 0 to 26.2 miles overnight, even if you’re a seasoned athlete. So how long does it really take to properly train for a marathon? The answer depends on a number of factors, from your base fitness level to your overall race-day goals. But with the right strategy, you can reach the finish line—no matter where you start from on day one of training.

Here, Peloton instructor Susie Chan discusses how beginner, intermediate, and advanced runners should approach marathon training and offers her tried-and-true advice for the weeks leading up to race day.

What's the General Marathon Training Timeline?

Training for a marathon isn’t something you can cram for at the last minute, especially if you want to reach the starting line injury-free. Most marathon training programs last approximately 14-20 weeks, giving your body time to gradually adjust to the increase in mileage. However, the specific timeline depends on your base fitness level and goals (more on that later). 

When it comes to how much mileage you should build each week, it varies person to person. Many marathon training plans, especially ones tailored for beginners, follow the 10 percent rule, which advises runners to increase their mileage by no more than 10 percent each week of training to prevent injury. So if you complete 18 miles (which may break down to a three-mile easy run, a five-mile tempo run, and a 10-mile long run) during your first week of training, then you should increase your mileage by 10 percent the following week and run a total of around 20 miles. And of course, you should fit recovery days into your plan too.

If you already clock a high volume of miles each week (think: 50), you may be able to get away with a slightly shorter marathon training plan.

Key Factors That Influence Marathon Training Duration

Here are some additional variables to consider while deciding how long you need to train for a 26.2-mile race.

  • Base running level: Are you starting from scratch, or have you recently completed other races, such as a half marathon? Your base level and running experience matter during the preparation process. If your body isn't used to running long distances, a more spread-out plan gives it time to adjust to the demands of marathon training.

  • Workout preferences: Do you want to stick to running on this plan, or would you rather cross-train? Depending on your preferences, you might choose a longer training plan that allows you to mix up your workouts while still fitting in your training runs.

  • Existing injuries: If you have any nagging injuries (example: your left knee flares up during intense runs), consider a longer training plan so you have ample recovery time between workouts. 

  • Lifestyle: One of the many challenging parts of marathon training is time management. After all, most of us have to squeeze running into an already busy schedule with competing priorities. The best thing you can do is be realistic about your availability. If you know you have a vacation planned in the middle of training or have back-to-back work travel leading up to race day, opt for a longer plan. That way, it's less of a big deal if you miss a few workouts.

Marathon Training Guidelines for Runners with Different Experience Levels

Regardless of whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced runner, you’ve probably done a mental calculation for how long it'll take you to train for a marathon. With Susie’s help, we take the guesswork out of the timeline, breaking down how many weeks you need based on your experience level.

Beginner Runners

Who falls into this category? According to Susie, a beginner is someone who’s never run a marathon.

Recommended training duration: 16-20 weeks

Your training plan: For beginners, the key is to make slow, steady progress throughout the training block. Rather than focusing on distance right off the bat, Susie recommends beginners run for a specific amount of time. For instance, rather than aiming for three miles, you can run for 30 minutes or opt for an hour of walking and running. “Maybe during that first time, you're walking more. And then the next week, you're running a little bit more,” she says. “But the crucial thing is to build up gradually.”

Once you feel more comfortable running, you can start incorporating more deliberate workouts into your plan. Susie recommends starting off with two to three runs per week and increasing from there. “The important thing is to have a bit of variety,” she says. That might look like one slightly faster run, one interval workout, and one endurance run (commonly known as a “long run”) per week.

Although it can be tempting to level up training quickly, especially as you start to feel stronger, Susie strongly cautions against it. Pushing yourself too hard in a short amount of time can lead to injury. And if you do face any concerning aches or pains while training, take a breather. “It’s better to have three or four days off than try to run with an injury and potentially be out for weeks—or even the entire race,” Susie says. “You can always stay active by riding your bike or doing a bit of weight training to get your body ready to be an overall stronger runner.”

Intermediate Runners

Who falls into this category? A runner with some racing experience who’s going into a marathon focused on their performance or a specific goal.

Recommended training duration: 14-18 weeks

Your training plan: As an intermediate runner, you may have a couple of marathons under your belt, and your goals likely transcend simply finishing the race. Perhaps you’re hoping to shave a few minutes off your time or looking to feel stronger during every mile. Regardless of what motivates you, Susie says it’s important for intermediate runners to focus on consistency, balance, and variety throughout training.

Incorporating cross training, particularly strength training and mobility work, can make a big difference in your overall marathon performance. “It doesn't have to be lifting really heavy weights or spending an hour in the gym. It can literally be 10 minutes, three times per week.” 

Another crucial aspect of improving your time or performance is “working on your weaknesses,” Susie says. Can you improve upon something from your last race? For example, if you hit a wall or didn’t drink enough water, consider fueling differently during your upcoming marathon and focus on proper recovery. 

Susie also recommends taking time to warm up and cool down your body. Take a couple minutes to stretch before each run, and once you wrap up, practice some yoga. Giving your body the care it needs throughout training can really make a difference on marathon day.

Advanced Runners

Who falls into this category? “Advanced marathoners are definitely goal-focused,” Susie says. “They want to get in under a certain time.”

Recommended training duration: 14-18 weeks

Your training plan: For many experienced, advanced marathoners, speed is more of a concern than endurance. “The distance isn't necessarily what they're after—they’re chasing a time,” Susie says.

Since an advanced racer has likely grown comfortable going on long runs, Susie says their training can focus on tempo runs (running at threshold for longer periods), intervals, and general speed work. That said, it’s important to be careful during these more intense workouts. “Because, for me personally, the faster I run, the more prone to injury I am. So make sure you're really balancing out those tougher workouts with recovery and strength training.”

With this in mind, Susie recommends advanced marathoners do one or two tempo runs per week, one interval run, one long run, and one recovery run.

It’s also essential not to peak too soon. “You want to steadily increase your training, and give your body time to taper down,” she says. “Ideally, you’ll feel at your absolute strongest training point three to four weeks out from race day.”

What’s more, if you’re targeting a specific marathon time, Susie recommends finding a proper pacer during the race or running with a friend who’s a bit faster than you. And for the three to four nights leading up to the race, try to get to bed a bit earlier. “You're likely going to sleep awfully the night before, so give yourself some time to relax, recover, and bank some rest,” Susie says.

Train for a Marathon with Peloton

Feeling inspired and ready to log some miles? Here’s how Peloton can help you cross the marathon finish line.

Peloton’s Resources and Tools for Marathon Training

Peloton has an 18-week training program available through the Peloton App. Suitable for beginner and intermediate runners, it incorporates a mix of outdoor running sessions along with cross training. (And no, you don't need a Peloton Tread or Peloton Tread+ to follow the plan).

Before you start the program, keep in mind that we designed it for runners who can comfortably run three to four miles without stopping, and we recommend starting it at least 18 weeks before race day.

How to Integrate Peloton Workouts Into Your Training Plan

Outside of running workouts, your marathon training plan should incorporate cross training and plenty of recovery. Peloton’s training program includes strength training classes, but you can also take a DIY approach using the Peloton App. 

In the App’s strength section, you can filter “Strength for Runners” to find workouts that focus on both full body strength and core strength. And of course, don’t forget recovery. Search “Yoga for Runners” in the App to discover Focus Flows that Peloton designed to aid your recovery.

Final Advice Before Starting Your Marathon Journey

Whether you’re running your first or fiftieth marathon, Susie says it’s crucial to remember that you’re going to have some off days during training. Maybe the weather is terrible, you didn’t sleep well the night before a long run, or your legs feel extra heavy

“It happens to every single runner who trains for a marathon,” Susie says. “They've all had one day, two days, or even several days like that. And it's just part of the journey.” Don't put too much pressure on yourself and remember that there will always be another run and another race. If you follow a long marathon training plan, having one (or a few) of these off days won’t affect your long-term success.

It’s equally important to bask in your progress throughout training. “It can be so easy to worry about your next big run on Sunday or that the race is now six weeks away or how you've had to skip a training run because you were tired,” Susie says. “It's OK. Just remember how far you've come and give yourself a pat on the back.”


Featured Peloton Instructor

Susie Chan Instructor Headshot

Susie Chan

Susie, a four-time Marathon des Sables finisher and a world record-breaking treadmill runner, is one of the most recognisable faces in the British running community.


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