Free Marathon Training Plans For All Abilities

Welcome to our library of Free Marathon Training Plans for all levels!

The marathon training schedules we’ve developed have been refined and road-tested by thousands of runners – each comes with explanatory notes and guidance.   

With our wide range of plans to choose from, you can pick a training plan which reflects your current state of running fitness, the amount of time you have available, and your marathon goals. 

Our marathon training programs are split into three categories – novice, intermediate, and advanced. From here, you can base your marathon training schedule around a specific marathon time goal, training time, or skill level.

Jump To Whichever Category Of Plan Is Right For You:

Or, keep reading to get the low-down on how the training schedules work, who makes them, and how to pick the right one.

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How Long Is a Marathon?

A marathon is 26.2 miles, or 42.195 kilometers.

How Long Does It Take To Train For A Marathon?

You should spend at least three months training for your marathon, although most good training plans are generally four to five months in length. This allows sufficient time to build up the required mileage base, without ramping up too quickly.

A three month plan would be suitable to those who already have some running background (here’s my 3-month marathon plan).

The exact length of time it takes to train and prepare for a marathon depends on your current running abilities and your marathon goals.

How to train for a marathon?

To effectively train for a marathon, your training program should include four to five runs per week, although some plans may only include three runs per week. One of these runs should be a longer run that gradually increases in distance each week., and the others should be shorter training runs.

Most good training schedules will also include an additional day of cross training per week to help keep the body flexible, strong, and prevent injury.

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How Do I Choose A Marathon Training Plan?

Deciding which marathon training program is right for you is a personal choice – it depends on what your current running ability is, how long you have until your marathon, and what your marathon goals are.  

Whether you’re looking to train for your first full marathon after completing a half marathon, or you’re completely new to running – there is an option for you.

Check out the notes alongside each plan below to help you choose!

Customisable, Free Marathon Training Plans

At Marathon Handbook, our aim is to help you to run far.  

With that in mind, all our marathon plans are completely free and totally customisable.  

Do other commitments mean that you can only train on certain days?  

Need to trim a couple of weeks off the time schedule?

No problem, edit the plan as you see fit.  

Our training plans come in both Google Sheets and PDF format; feel free to grab a copy of the Google Sheet, edit it, download it to Excel, print it – do whatever you want!

Who Has Designed These Training Plans?

Hi!

I’m Thomas, a UESCA-certified running coach and ultra-runner. 

I’ve worked with hundreds of runners and developed these training plans through ongoing research, my work with other marathon runners, and personal experience.

We’ve shared our marathon training plans online for free since 2016.

We’re big believers in marginal gains and constantly improving what we do, so over the years we have continually revisited and refined each marathon training plan as our knowledge – and feedback from our runners – has improved.

These plans have now been used by over 30,000 runners – we share their success stories and testimonials over on Instagram.

We also have a dedicated Facebook group where runners discuss our plans, their challenges, and share their finish line photos!

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How Do These Plans Compare With Other Marathon Plans Available Online?

Alright, so you’ve probably googled ‘marathon training plan‘ and seen there are many sites offering plans.

We’re big fans, and friends, with many of these coaches . . . for years before I became a coach, I followed Hal Higdon‘s training plans for each of my marathons, and credit the Hal Higdon training plan for getting me through my first couple of marathons.

You’ll also find awesome plans from the likes of Runner’s World, Nike, Jeff Galloway, and major race organisers – I’d encourage you to check them out and compare them to our free plans before you commit to a specific plan. Always choose the plan that looks right for you.

Our plans differ from other plans you’ll find online in that they are:

#1. Customisable / Free To Edit

We’re big believers that there’s no one-size-fits-all training plan. You can grab a free copy of any plan and move things around to suit you using either Google Sheets, Excel, or similar software.

Want to cut off the first couple of weeks and jump in at week 3?

Need to move a weekly workout to suit your existing commitments or family?

Need to adjust things because of an illness, injury, or just feeling the need for a break?

That’s why a customisable, dynamic training plan is so important – your training plan should work for you, not the other way around.

#2. Include Extensive Guidance Notes

Each plan includes a page of notes that walk you through the rationale of the plan, and how to perform every single workout.

We tell you how hard to push it (either in terms of a specific pace or RPE) and give you tips for how to do each and every workout, and walk you through how to train towards your marathon pace.

#3. We Follow Up With More Helpful Material (All Free)

We’ve been helping runners get through their marathon training for many years now, so we know all the main sticking points and common problems that are faced.

So when anyone signs up for one of our plans, we stay in touch – after you get your plan, we’ll pepper your inbox every couple of days with tips and training strategies specific to your marathon journey. Not interested in extra material? Just unsubscribe at any time.

#4. We Want To Keep Getting Better

We’re constantly getting feedback from runners on our plans – everything from the workout frequency to the clarity of information to the suitability of the runner’s experience level. We also work hard on the plan format to ensure it’s clear, easy to follow / edit / print off, and is best-suited to the runner.

That’s why we’re constantly revisiting our plans; we did a major overhaul in 2021 and are constantly making small tweaks to improve them.

#5. We Are A Support Community

Through our in-house coaches and runners, our Facebook group of over 7000 marathon runners, and our Instagram community, we want to make sure you’ve got the support you need as you take on your marathon training journey.

Don’t You Have a Marathon Training App?

Actually, we do!

We’ve partnered with TrainingPeaks to offer all of our marathon training plans through their app, where you get more in-depth information about each workout, can follow along with target pace / exertion levels in real-time, and log your training directly in the app itself.

We do charge for these premium training plans – but it’s less than half the price of a pair of running shoes, so if you’re interested, check out our TrainingPeaks Marathon Training Plans.

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If All This Is Really Free, How Do You Folks Make Money?

We keep ourselves going by charging for a couple of premium products we’ve put out there: our TrainingPeaks Training Plans , and our Marathon Training Masterclass.

The Masterclass is designed for any runner who really wants to dive deep into their marathon training: it includes over 6 hours of video tutorials on everything from injury prevention, nutrition, race day strategies, and more.

But – feel free to just grab a free training plan and be on your way!

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BEGINNER AND NOVICE MARATHON TRAINING PLANS

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Couch To Marathon Training Plan

Our Couch to Marathon Plan is perfect for new runners, or runners with a little experience under their belt! 

Assuming you’re already an active person, you can go from couch to marathon in as little as six months.

The training plan comes in four goal-based stages, for example running a 10k. If you follow each of the training plans consecutively with no breaks in-between, it’ll take you 6 months to get marathon-ready.

The key is simply in ramping up your endurance – the amount of time you can continuously run for.

We want to do this as efficiently but also as safely as possible; that’s why it’s important to follow a training plan with a good structure, like ours. It will guide you through every training run while gradually adding the mileage in a sustainable way.

Ramping up your mileage too fast, or without structure, often leads to over-training injuries and burnout.

Who is it for?: Inexperienced runners. It certainly helps for you to have some existing fitness, either from other sports or from simply being an active person.

Everyone starts marathon training from different backgrounds and ability levels, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

You should ideally already to run continuously for at least 5-10 minutes. However, our training plan starts off with walk/run sessions, where you run for a little while, then walk. This way, you can gradually build up the ability to run continuously.

How Long?: Six months, or 24 weeks, minimum. If your only objective is to complete your marathon comfortably, and you have six months (or more) to prepare, this is the plan for you!

The Couch to Marathon plan is split into 4 distinct sections; each of these is a separate stage, and should be treated as such. Feel free to pause between training plans.

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6 Month Marathon Training Plan

Our 6 Month Marathon Plan is great for both new runners, and those will a little bit of experience under their belt. 

With 6 months to prepare, we focus on very gradually increasing the weekly mileage at a manageable rate, so you don’t end up burning out.

If you have 6 months or more before your marathon, this is an awesome plan.

Ideally you should be able to run 2-3 miles without stopping before you begin this plan, but you can choose to adopt a run/walk strategy too!

Who is it for?:  First-time marathon runners! It’s best suited for those runners who don’t have an ambitious finishing time in mind, as the focus is not on speed but on gradually – and safely – building that mileage up.

How Long?: Six months, or 24 weeks. If your only objective is to complete your marathon comfortably, and you have six months (or more) to prepare, this is the plan for you!

The plan doesn’t have a speed or pace focus at all – the objective is to get the required mileage in. It includes 3 mid-week runs, to be performed at a comfortable pace, and one long-slow run each weekend to build your max mileage.   The plan includes one cross-training day per week and two rest days. 

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20 Week (5 Month) Marathon Training Plan

Our 20 Week Marathon Plan for Beginners is well-suited for new runners, or runners who are used to shorter distances. It’s designed to get you to the finish line, and hopefully to run the whole 26.2 miles. 

Who is it for?: First-time marathon runners! Novices, beginners, people who have been running for less than a year. 

How Long?: Five months (20 weeks). This allows for a very gradual increase in mileage in preparation for the marathon.

The plan doesn’t have a speed or pace focus at all – the objective is to get the required mileage in. It includes 3 mid-week runs, to be performed at a comfortable pace, and one long-slow run each weekend to build your max mileage.   The plan includes one cross-training day per week and two rest days. 

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16 Week (4 Month) Marathon Training Plan – Ideal for First Marathons

Our 16 Week Marathon Plan is designed for runners with some short-distance experience . . . perhaps you’ve run a few 5k’s or 10k’s and want to push yourself.

Who is it for?:  People with some running experience, looking to ramp up their training for a marathon. Perhaps it’s your first marathon, perhaps you’ve run a couple; this plan is designed for people who can currently run continuously for one hour.

How Long?: 16 weeks // 4 months. 

The plan focusses on building your strong running base and adding mileage.

The ‘training runs’ should be done at a comfortable, sustainable pace – their purpose is to help you get the miles and time on your feet in.

The ‘race pace run’ is designed for those who have a specific target finish time in mind: during these runs, stick to your target marathon pace. If you don’t have a target marathon pace, maintain a comfortable, sustainable pace.

Long runs are there to increase your maximum mileage and time on your feet. The whole purpose of these is to run slowly – at a conversational pace – no faster. If you are struggling during these long runs, feel free to take walking breaks – no worries.

The plan includes one day of cross training and two rest days.

What Is The Best Training Plan for Beginners?

If you have plenty of time, I would highly recommend the 6 month marathon training plan we have. It’s designed so very gradually build up the mileage volume, so you shouldn’t get overwhelmed by the crazy training schedule.

Each of our beginner / novice training plans are designed with running in mind, but equally if you are struggling then it’s totally fine to adopt a run/walk strategy. I’d recommend running for 2 minutes and walking for 1 minute. 

Why Is There No Speed Work in the Beginner / Novice Plans?

Speed work (interval training, repeats, Yassos, etc.) are excellent for improving your marathon pace, but they add a lot of intensity to an already busy marathon training schedule.  For novice runners, adding speed work exponentially increases the risk of injury – for that reason we don’t include it in our novce training plans.

INTERMEDIATE MARATHON TRAINING PLANS

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Sub 4-Hour Marathon Training Plan

Our Sub Four Hour Training Plan has been backwards-engineered from the goal of crossing the finish line in less than four hours.

Who is it for?:  Runners who have established an initial running base, or have an existing good fitness level – and want to beat the 4hr time.

How Long?: Five months (20 weeks). This allows time for the runner to strengthen their base of running fitness then add mileage at a manageable rate.

The plan focusses on developing a strong running base, while increasing mileage. This plan has higher weekly mileages than the novice plans, in order to strengthen the running base which helps with running a consistent pace during your marathon.

The training schedule has been designed backwards from the goal of a sub-4-hr marathon. So the amount of training and pace is all building towards that single goal. 

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12 Week Marathon Training Plan

Our 12 Week Marathon Schedule is designed for those on a tight training schedule. 12 weeks is the shortest timeframe we’d generally recommend for anyone preparing for a marathon, as sufficient time is required to build up the base mileage without cramming in too many miles and causing overtraining injuries.

Who is it for?: Runners who have established an initial running base, or have an existing good fitness level. You should be able to run 10km without stopping.

How Long?: 12 weeks // 3 months.

This plan has you working out five days a week – four days of running and a day of cross-training, with two days off.  

Given the short training time, the important thing to focus on building your stamina and endurance rather than speed.   

There are 3 regular training runs per week, and a long run at the weekends. For your Long Runs, the aim is simply to get your body used to running for a long time – so take them easy, don’t push yourself. For your weekday runs, try and sustain a pace at which you could hold a conversation with someone. 

ADVANCED MARATHON TRAINING PLANS

Sub 3 Hour Marathon Training Plan

Our sub 3 hour marathon program is backwards-engineered around beating the three hour mark.

This goal isn’t for the faint of heart…be prepared to train 6 days a week, including several strength training sessions and speedwork sessions.

Who Is It For?:

Experienced runners – good if you’ve already run a sub 4 hour marathon and have the time and motivation to really push your limits!

How Long?: 

Five months // 20 weeks.  

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20 Week Advanced Marathon Training Plan

Our 20 week advanced marathon training schedule is designed for experienced runners who are really looking to push their limits; whether it’s a new PB or another ambitious target, this training program is intense from week 1 and rachets things up from there. Note that it starts with a 10 mile long run, and includes 3 x 20 mile long runs.

Who Is It For?:

Runners who have a good existing running base and want to really push their limits in their marathon effort. Perhaps you’ve already run a few marathons and are looking to set a new PB. You should already be capable of training several times per week, and run 10 miles continuously. 

How Long?: 

Five months // 20 weeks.  

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20 Week Advanced 2 (INTENSE) Marathon Training Plan

Our 20 week Advanced 2 Marathon Plan (INTENSE) is our toughest training plan.

It is based on the Advanced Plan, but replaces one of the rest days with an extra speed work day. This means two days of speedwork per week; 5 days of running, one day of cross-training, and one rest day.

Note: this plan is for people aiming to crush it and reach for the ‘elite’ section. Even if you’ve run several marathons before, this training plan might not be for you. If you’re training for Boston or to truly compete, then you’re in the right place.

Who Is It For?:

Ambitious, experienced runners who are looking to train for the fastest marathon of their lives.

Runners who have a good existing running base and want to really push their limits in their marathon effort. Perhaps you’ve already run a few marathons and are looking to set a new PB. You should already be capable of training six times per week, and run 10 miles continuously. 

How Long?: 

Five months // 20 weeks.  

Description: 

This plan starts off with a good level of intensity, and continually rachets it up. 

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Proven Training Plans by a UESCA-certified Running Coach 

Every one of our training plans has been developed by Thomas Watson, a UESCA-certified running coach.

Thomas is also a podium-finishing ultra-marathon runner, and has dozens of marathons under his belt.

Each training plan has been road-tested by hundred of runners, refined and improved – and are free to download and customise to suit your needs!

Training Plan Elements Explained:

Training Runs

These are standard runs, typically of 3 – 6 miles in length.  They are used to build running form and time-on-your-feet. They should be performed at close-to your target race pace, or at a conversational pace if you have no target speed. 

Long Runs

These are longer distance runs, designed to increase your stamina.   They are purely about building up the length of time you can continue running – don’t worry about your pace, keep it an easy conversational level (more info).

Speed Work / Interval Training

Run workouts designed to increase your speed!  These come in various forms – Yasso’s, intervals, Fartleks, etc.   They are useful if you have a speed-based goal, but if you don’t then no need to focus on them – they can be tiring (more info).

Cross Training

Any form of exercise which does not involve running, and preferably one which is low impact (avoid contact sports).   Good forms of cross training include yoga, swimming, and strength training.