26 week marathon training plan

The objective: Complete a marathon race in your personal target time.

Start point:  Basic running fitness base evidenced by consistently running at least two hours per week over 3 or 4 training sessions.

Phase 1 (1- 9 weeks) :

Do a long run, a medium length run and two shorter runs, one of which should be done at a good tempo (perhaps your target marathon race pace) and the other would be a gentler recovery run. The “rest” days might include other activities such as walking, swimming or cycling.  You should plan to gradually increase the length of each run as you progress through this phase. It would also be a good idea, during the latter weeks, to do some competitive races, perhaps 5k or 10k road races, or cross-country events. Any race would replace the tempo run in the schedule, as that is effectively what it is.

Middlesborough Parkrun


Possible schedule progression during Phase 1

This, and those for the later phases, are example schedules and you should adapt these to your own needs. Consider, however, that the principle of training for periods of time rather than distance is applied, so stronger athletes will get more mileage from the same program. See my article Train for minutes not miles for the rationale behind this.

Week 1

45 mins steady run (long)

35 mins steady run (medium)

25 mins tempo run

30 mins recovery run

Week 9

90 mins steady run (long)

60 mins steady run (medium)

40 mins tempo run

45 mins recovery run

Phase 2 (10-14 weeks): 

Maintain the duration of runs from week 9, but introduce hill training in lieu of, alternately, the medium length run and the tempo run. Hill training is like interval training, but the intense efforts are uphill, which develops leg strength but at a moderate pace, thus reducing the chance of injury, especially muscle strains. Read my article on Hill training for more information. Aim to do a couple of races, up to no more than 10 miles, during this phase.

Hill training

Two week example schedule for phase 2:

Week 10

90 min steady run

50 min hill session

40 min tempo run

45 min recovery run

Week 11

90 min steady run

60 min steady run

50 min hill session

45 min recovery run

Phase 3 : (15 to 18 weeks):

  1. Increase the length of the long run, but only on alternate weeks. On the other weeks maintain the duration of week 9.
  2. Alternate the hill sessions with interval training. Be cautious when beginning intervals, ensuring that you gradually become accustomed to running at a faster pace, and do the sessions on a soft surface such as grass, sand or dirt-track.Interval training heart rate graph

(Diagram shows how the heart rate might alter during an interval session.)

Half marathon paceband

  1.   Add an extra recovery run every two weeks, perhaps between the tempo run and the interval session.
  2.    Target a half-marathon race at the end of this period.


Two week example schedule for phase 3:

Week 17

110 min steady run

45 min tempo run

40 min recovery run

8 x 5 mins intervals  with 2 mins jog recovery

45 min recovery run

Week 18

90 min steady run

60 min steady run

60 min hill session

45 min recovery run

Phase 4: (19-23 weeks)

Continue to build the long run every two weeks, and replace the hill session with pure intervals on the flat (unless you are doing a particularly hilly marathon!). A 10k, 10 mile or even a half-marathon race at some stage would be recommended.

Two week example schedule for phase 4:

Week 22

90 min steady run

10 x 5 mins intervals at just under race pace with 2 min jog recovery

60 min steady run

45 min recovery run

Week 23

150 min steady run

40 min recovery run

45 min tempo run

40 min recovery run

4 sets of (6 min 4min 2 min) with one min jog recovery within sets and two min between sets.

45 min recovery run

Phase 5: (24-26 weeks)Take it easy

The final straight. Here you should be focusing on winding down and ensuring that your muscles are fully recovered, allowing you to show the full benefit of all the training you have been doing. If you want a prep-race, do it at least two weeks before the main event.

Cut the mileage down to about 75% of the week 23 maximum on week 24, then drop this to 50 % and then 30% in the final two weeks. The key is to reduce the volume, but not the pace, as this should ensure you maintain a good stride length and tempo without building up fatigue, and ensuring that you arrive at the start line fresh as a daisy and raring to go!

Week 24

80 min steady run

8 x 5 mins intervals at just under race pace with 2 mins jog recovery

50 min steady run

40 min recovery run

Week 25

50 min steady run

30 min tempo run

2 sets of (6 min – 4min – 2 min) with one min jog recovery within sets and two min between sets.

30 min recovery run

Week 26

40 min steady run

20 min tempo run or 4 x 5mins intervals with 2 min jog recovery

30 min recovery run

26.2 mile race (Don’t forget this!)









So what’s stopping you?

I hope you have found the above suggestions of interest, and are keen to target a marathon and carry out an appropriate training plan.   If you want a more in depth guidance, then the Hanson method  (below) is favoured by many.

Whatever the details of your final training schedule, please listen to your body and be prepared to ease off when it is telling you to to slow down or stop.

Good luck!

8 Replies to “26 week marathon training plan”

  1. I have been a long distance runner for many years however the I have never runner anything more than 5 kms.
    I never knew that you needed to train like this for a big race like marathon.
    This has opened my eyes with marathons which I will do in the future.

  2. Hiii, Great tips in this article. I’ve done a half marathon 2.5 years ago. After that I aimed for a full marathon, but unfortunately I didn’t follow a professional plan like this and I was wearing out my body which resulted in injury after injury. It took me about 1.5 years to fully recover, but now I’m getting back on track for my second half marathon. One day I will run my first marathon. I will save your training schedule for the runs. Personally I have added strength training and runners yoga to my weekly training schedule as well. Do you do that too?

    1. Hi Angelique. Glad you liked the training tips. I’m sure that the regular strength training and and runner’s yoga will have a significant impact in terms of injury prevention. I probably should, but I don’t usually do a specific strength session. Instead, I usually do a few exercises, with a particular emphasis on core strength, following most of my training. These include pull-ups or chins when hanging from a tree branch in my garden, and press-ups. I have also recently made a point of using a massage roller for about ten minutes after each run, systematically working through calves, hamstrings, glutes and quads, and process of doing these exercises also makes some demand on the core muscles. Its early days yet, but I feel much less muscle stiffness since I began doing this, and personally I find the massage exercises are more effective than stretching routines, which don’t seem to help me that much.

  3. I would love to do a marathon. I have an uncle who has run marathons for years and I’ve always admired him. I do get caught up in thinking I’m too old and definitely not fit enough, but I know this is a cop out and one can become fit and age is no barrier. You just have to start. The marathon training plan you provide is an excellent guide for someone with no idea where to start. Thankyou

    1. Hi Martine. Thank you for your positive comments and let me know if you decide to get started (I’ll do the same if I get going with the meditation). Note my point about not having to do a full marathon and setting shorter distance targets at least in the first instance.

  4. This is great! I ran my very first marathon about a year ago. I was hoping it would really motivate me to keep running, but I thought the training was so hard and I felt burned out afterwards. I really like the way your structured the training here and all your recommendations. It’s very different from the training plan I followed. Part of me wants to try a marathon again because I would love to finish it faster. I think I will definitely consider this training plan! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Manuela. Thanks for the positive comments. I can relate to your story. It has taken me a long time to understand and accept that sometimes less is more. Around Christmas/New year I was feeling quite sluggish on my training runs, so I just put in one or two extra rest days (something I wouldn’t have done in the past) and I’m now feeling much stronger. You’re also risking injury by training too hard. Let me know if you decide to give it another go, be it another marathon or a shorter event.

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