If you’re a first-time marathoner, congratulations! We can’t tell you enough how excited we are for you.
Whether you’re already an advanced runner or just starting from scratch, you’re about to embark on a journey that will teach you so much about your strength and capabilities.
Running a marathon is always an achievement, but we’ll help with a 3-month marathon training plan to get you prepared to not just finish, but crush it.
In this article, we provide a three and 4-month training schedule PDF. Additionally, we’ll answer common questions like, “How long to train for a marathon” and “how to train for a marathon in three months.
It took me 33 years of life to commit to my first marathon. My excuse was always, “I just don’t have time for all that training.”
But after completing my first marathon in December 2021, I wished I had started sooner.
I am a rookie marathoner that had a phenomenal first-time experience. My goal with this article is to help you have a successful marathon so that running becomes your lifelong sport.
Since I am no marathon expert, this 3-Month Marathon Training Plan was written with Alex’s help (she’s run 6 marathons), her father, Randy (he’s run over 20 marathons and is still going strong at age 65), and guidance from other experienced marathon runners in our network.
This marathon training schedule (shown below) is what I used to run my first race, and I clocked in at 3 hours and 12 minutes.
Between all of us, we’ve totaled nearly 50 marathons and have a lot of different and helpful perspectives.
This plan is not for those who just want to finish. It’s for those who want to be proud of their race and leave it all on the course.
How to Train For a Marathon
The first and most important step is creating a schedule or a marathon training plan. For that, you’ve come to the right place. Once you have a schedule, all you have to do is sign up for your race and start training.
Additionally, there are some critical marathon tips that you need to consider, such as how to fuel for longer runs. But, my recommendation is not to spend too much time on Google reading up on how to run a marathon.
Instead, just go out, run, and spend time thinking. Thinking is somewhat of a lost art, and the beautiful thing about distance running is you’ll gain plenty of time to think.
While we’ll share some advice and strategy in this article, know that you’re capable of figuring out everything yourself. The experience of running a marathon isn’t one-size-fits-all.
When I signed up for my first marathon, I decided to follow a plan, listen to my body, and from there, basically wing it. I had confidence that everything would fall into place.
Only now as I write this article, 6 months after my first marathon, am I reading the top articles on the internet about marathon training and strategy. And I am glad I didn’t read anything during marathon training.
A lot of the marathon guides are very cautious and set the expectation that running the marathon is complex and if all the stars don’t align you’ll bonk.
Had I read these while I was training, I would have had doubts about the length of my training plan and my goal pace.
If you want to get inspired and informed about your marathon, I did enjoy legendary running coach Joan Benoits MasterClass on ‘A Runners Mindset.’ We include some of her philosophy here as well.
How Long to Train For a Marathon
If you type “How long does it take to train for a marathon” into Google, you’ll get a wide range of recommendations from a variety of experts. While I am not an expert, I am certain that there is no one formula.
So, here are the common recommendations in the order of most to least conservative.
Some people say you should run 20-30 miles a week for a year before attempting a marathon.
This is extremely conservative, but it gives you ample time to perfect your form and transform your body into a running machine.
We would amend this and say it’s better to get in a few weeks as high as 50 miles if possible. That way you’ll be confident enough that you can reach the mileage.
Timeline for Running Newbies
A very popular recommendation for how long it takes to train for a marathon is 4-6 months.
If you’re starting from absolutely nothing or you have a very low physical fitness level, this is a good range. Our recommendation from couch to marathon agrees with this, erring closer to the 6-month range.
For Semi-Experienced Runners
Running is kind of like riding a bike. If you have some experience running in the past, you have a leg up. Additionally, if you don’t have a lot of experience but you do have a base, 3-4 months is sufficient.
What does ‘having a base mean?’ If you can run 4 miles today, then running a marathon in three months is possible. It doesn’t matter if you plan to set a record or just want to finish.
This is what Joan Benoit, the first women’s Olympic Games marathon champion, uses as a rule of thumb:
“I look at the target date of the marathon and then I count backwards for three months and that is when I really start my marathon training in earnest.”
Fast-Tracked Marathon Training
Some people believe that if you’ve already run a marathon or you run regularly, three months is too long.
Instead, you can train for it in 2 months. We think this is valid, especially if you’re not so focused on your finish time.
If you only have two months to train for a marathon, peak with a 15-17 mile run rather than a 20-mile run. According to Joan Benoit, it’s no problem to go from 15 miles in training to crushing your marathon on race day.
However, 3-4 months is best because it gives you some wiggle room just in case a vacation or injury happens.
The Best Training Duration
Alex trained for all of her marathons in 3-4 months. I trained for mine in 4 months.
Four months was a good amount of time for me because I had an injury from the past that I had to deal with. However, I really only needed three months to train.
Frankly, you might burn out if you train for longer than 4 months if you already have a decent running foundation.
Therefore, we provide a free 3-month marathon training plan and a bonus 4-month training schedule.
Both schedules peak with a 20 mile run before the taper. We think it’s helpful to run a 20-miler several weeks before the race, however, it’s not required.
3-Month marathon Training Plan
Again, congrats on committing to a marathon. It’s an incredible experience and accomplishment. For me, it was a bucket list item that was totally worth the effort.
Before we dive into our 3-Month Marathon Training Plan, let me share some crucial advice.
If you haven’t already signed up for your marathon, do that right now. Until you sign up, it’s not real. If you start training without signing up, you’re not committed. Or worse, you’re not confident that you can do it.
And you can do it, especially following our marathon training plan for beginners. So, seal the deal and sign up already. Also, included in our 3-month marathon training plan PDF is a half marathon, so be prepared to sign up for one of those too if you can.
It’s always more motivating (and a better learning experience) if you can run an official half marathon race during training. You feel the energy and the atmosphere, while likely running faster than you normally would if you were just running 13.1 around town.
Running at speed like this helps you learn a lot. Did your shoes give you blisters? Was there any chafing? Did you start out too fast? How was carrying a water bottle?
What to Expect From The 3-Month Marathon Training Schedule
There are a ton of marathon training plans out there that will get you to the finish line.
Like them, we list the mileage you should aim to hit, day-by-day, and when the optimal weeks are for your long runs.
What separates our plan from theirs is that you get a printable schedule with speed work, hills, long runs, and professional active recovery and strength training workouts.
Yes, we include ALL the cross-training workouts you need.
The professional workouts we chose for cross-training are the best we’ve found (and we’ve done hundreds of streaming workouts over the years). They’ll guide you through the most effective moves specifically for runners, including:
- Rolling to keep muscles loose
- Dynamic stretching for mobility
- Unilateral and explosive strength training
Our free 3-month marathon training schedule is perfect for beginners who want to finish the marathon feeling strong or intermediate to advanced runners who want to set a PR and qualify for the Boston Marathon.
Step 1: Download the plan
You can download our marathon training plan PDFs in the below form where we’ll email you the PDF.
Feel free to reply to that email with any questions you have, or, better yet, comment on this article so the discussion can help other readers.
Step 2: Print the PDF
Once you download the training schedule, we highly recommend printing it.
Then you can record your mileage, pace, and take notes about your runs. It’s also an amazing feeling to check off the days as you progress.
Step 3: Pick a day for long runs
It’s important to plan for your weekly long runs, as they will take several hours.
For most, the weekend is ideal. After my long runs, I was usually dead to the world so it was nice to have the rest of the day Sunday to recover.
Step 4: Remember, it’s a fluid plan
It’s not required that you follow this plan to a “T.” If you find yourself on the verge of injury, break the plan and heal. Conversely, if the plan is not challenging you, go harder.
As long as you’re not hurting yourself, there is no such thing as running too fast or too far.
Step 5: Start running and access the running workouts
Start logging miles and checking off the days.
As Alex’s high school track coach used to say, “Every mile is like depositing money in the bank, adding up bit by bit so it’s ready for when you make a big withdrawal.”
In the next section, we’ll talk more about the importance of active recovery workouts, rolling, and strength training. This aspect of our training plan is highly recommended, but optional.
That’s because, again, every runner is different. I know my body, and I know that it would fall apart without these exercises. I couldn’t have run a marathon successfully without them.
However, Alex’s body is more robust. She has naturally strong legs and can run long distances pain-free, no stretching or strengthening necessary.
These exercises are beneficial for everyone, however, if you’re like Alex you can get away with skipping them (or doing them less frequently) if you don’t have the time.
The strength and active recovery workouts included in this plan are our favorite ones streamed virtually with Beachbody On Demand.
This does require a paid membership to Beachbody On Demand, available to those of you in the US, UK, Canada, and France. We found them to be the best of the best.
After downloading the 3-Month Marathon Training Plan below, continue reading for essential marathon training tips for beginners.
The 3 & 4 Month Marathon Training Plan (PDF)
Download and get instant access to the printable marathon training schedule for beginners and intermediate runners.
TIps on how To train for a marathon in 3 months
You’re the CEO of your race. To set yourself up for success, consider these marathon training tips for beginners and use what works for you.
Here is our best advice on how to train for a marathon from scratch.
1. Set a Goal
Would you tell your boss, “My goal is to get through the workweek?”
Would you tell your spouse, “My goal for us is to not get a divorce?”
No, of course you wouldn’t. Therefore, if your goal is “just to finish the marathon,” I challenge you to do better.
While finishing the marathon is an incredible achievement itself, it’s important to give yourself a goal to chase. This will make your training more productive, your mindset more determined, and race results more rewarding.
If you need help setting a goal, you can use this marathon pace comparison tool. Just enter your age and sex and it will chart the average marathon pace.
As you can see in the chart, the average pace for my age group is 9:26 minutes/mile which comes out to 4 hours and 7 minutes.
If your goal is to run a sub 4 hours marathon, ours is the best marathon training plan.
Listen To Your Body
For beginners who want to train for a marathon in 3-4 months, listening to your body is massively important.
Let’s face it, the probability of injury is a coin flip. Some people can run all day every day and not get hurt. I am married to one of those people. Conversely, I have past injuries that make me injury prone.
If you’re like me, you need to listen to your body. When you start running for several hours per week, it will have a lot to say. Complaints, most of the time. Can you blame it?
Listen to these complaints and act quickly. Maybe an Achilles tendon is flaring up because of a calf muscle imbalance, a quad is more muscular than the other because you’re favoring one side, or a hamstring tendon hurts because you can’t touch your shins.
Those were all complaints I heard and because I didn’t address them all right away, I lost valuable training time.
Don’t run through the injuries. I learned this the hard way. If you have aches, pains, or strains that are putting a damper on your training, active recovery and strength training are non-negotiable.
If that doesn’t fix it, see a PT. Sometimes no amount of rolling, stretching, strengthening, or DIY physical therapy helps. Just go see the professionals.
I dealt with pain while running for a month before seeing a Physical Therapist. They helped me pretty quickly and I felt pretty dumb.
If you haven’t yet tried minimalist running shoes, now is a good time to transition them into your training. For most, these shoes encourage a more natural running form and are beneficial for injury prevention.
In our experience, this is true. We love the Vibram toe shoes, but any minimalist running shoe is great. Just remember to transition gradually.
You’ll likely need to do more than carbo-load the night before your race.
Our body is fueled by carbs while running. If we run out of carbs, our bodies start burning fat and our muscles drop into low gear because they are glucose deficient.
I just asked Alex if she needed to fuel during any of her marathons. She said, “Sometimes I would have a gel on the day of the race just for fun.”
For me, I would stiffen up and fall on my face at mile 17 without fuel. As with injuries, Alex and I are opposite sides of the spectrum regarding fueling for running a marathon.
Fueling during the run was something I completely overlooked. I think most rookie marathoners make this mistake.
When I got into my double-digit runs, I started losing too much weight and burning out during my runs. Once I started fueling, I was able to maintain my weight, keep hydrated more consistently, recover faster, and my leg muscles were able to perform for the entire run.
I experimented with a bunch of different fuels. The best I found was GU. For me, the orange flavor was most edible. Make sure you train with the same fuel that you will consume during the race.
Fueling every 20-45 minutes is recommended. I rewarded myself with a GU every 3 miles, which was about every 22 minutes.
I repeat, get your fuel figured out by month two of training. You can’t wait on this until race day.
Before and After Running
In training, it works well to have a small snack or a banana before the run and then a feast shortly after.
Just like you have to practice fueling with gels during your long runs, you should have an eating routine that you follow leading up to your long training runs. I always feasted on pasta and vegetables the night before a long run.
On race day, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to overeat or undereat. So, the night before, make sure your last supper is a tried and true meal. Whatever you do, don’t introduce new foods before the marathon.
To ensure you’re eating enough calories (and the right foods) during marathon training, we recommend you use our 30-Day Weight Loss Challenge Tracker.
Hydration can make or break your performance during a run.
Sure, no one wants to queue up for a port-a-potty in the middle of a race, but dehydration is always a bad idea. Not only does dehydration lead to muscle cramps, but research shows even small amounts of dehydration reduces running performance.
We try never to stop in the middle of a race to go to the bathroom, and we do this by experimenting with our water intake beforehand, as best we can.
Want to know if you’re drinking enough? Check your sweat rate.
Weigh yourself before and after a long run. How much weight did you lose? Then, make sure to take in that much fluid during the next run, hopefully timing it so that you don’t need to stop for a bathroom break.
While it’s never entirely possible to guess what the weather will do on race day, we also recommend hydrating a lot in the days leading up to your race.
While you could write splits on your arms, they likely won’t match up with the race timer anyway.
It’s best to wear a watch that can tell you your distance, average pace, rolling mile pace, and time.
Your brain will not have enough oxygen to think during the race, so this information on your wrist is helpful to measure progress and see if you’re on pace to hit your goal.
We use the Apple Watch and activity tracker to track our runs and it works great. Fortunately, I learned on the day of the race that my watch was accurately measuring distance.
One mile must equal one mile on your device. If one mile equals 0.98 miles, you’re going to be way off by Mile 26.
The next point is an even better reason to embrace technology.
Listen to (Fast) Music
I have always been the type to run and think or run and listen to a book. Alex shared with me the importance of an upbeat, pump-up playlist and I was hesitant at first.
Once I started training with music, there was no going back. I immediately saw my pace quicken and it felt like I was putting in less work. They say the right music can increase your pace by 25%. They’re right.
Trust the Taper
Maybe you can’t wait for the taper and will have no problem scaling back the mileage and resting. Or, maybe you’ll feel guilty and lazy like you’re flushing your hard work down the toilet.
If it’s the latter (like me), you NEED to trust the taper and give your legs some time to rest and refresh.
Scientifically speaking, tapers allow glycogen stores to replenish while the body works on muscle repair.
Plus, according to Runner’s World, bearing down and running hard in your final 2-3 weeks won’t have a positive impact on race day. This is because physiological adaptations to training take a few weeks to come to fruition.
Follow our marathon training plan PDF and you’ll be strong and ready to race.
“The marathon performance that you are wanting or desiring can be lost if you don’t taper appropriately.” – Joan Benoit
Be a Creature of Habit
On race day, don’t introduce anything new. Just as you don’t want to test a new food the night before the race, you don’t way to try new equipment on race day.
- No new shoes.
- No new energy gel.
- No new water bottle.
- No new clothing.
Don’t do anything new that you haven’t already practiced on several runs. If you want to run the marathon with sunglasses, make sure you also train with sunglasses.
In a nutshell, don’t be like me and forget to pack your running shoes in your luggage (true story). I had to wear brand new shoes on race day.
What you should do, is embrace the routine that you have created over the last three months. That means…
- Drink the right amount of water.
- Have a coffee before the race if that’s your thing.
- Do your stretch and warm-up routine.
- Visualize the race you have trained to crush!
After following our three or 4-Month Marathon Training Schedule, this should be easy!
After much experimentation, these are my 5 must-haves on race day.
1. Minimalist shoes (we prefer the ones with toes)
2. Fuel (GU Mandarin Orange)
3. SPI Belt (don’t buy a cheap Amazon ripoff version) for fuel, keys, phone, and TP
4. Easy open water bottle with a wide mouth
5. Distance and pace tracker (my Apple Watch Series 3 was perfect)
First, get there early. The bathroom lines will be very long
Second, the start line is overwhelming. There’s going to be an enormous amount of energy and chaos.
Therefore, you must have a plan so you don’t get caught up in the excitement.
Here’s the plan we recommend. Get as close to the front of the pack as possible. That means at the start line or at the front of your wave. The goal is to have people passing you at the start, not the other way around.
Next, when the gun goes off, stay calm, stick to your pace, and focus on breathing. If (when) people are passing you left and right, perfect. You’ll reel them in one by one later on in the race.
Once you know which wave you’ll be in and have decided on your starting pace, do some visualization to cement your plan.
Plan ahead where your cheer squad will be. It’s a huge boost and something to look forward to. And we seriously mean that.
When Alex ran the Great Wall Marathon, I linked up with her around Mile 20 and joined her for a mile.
Her feet were killing her from the rocky trails but she was so excited to see me that she picked up the pace and continued it all the way to the end (finishing 11th overall for women!)
Later, we checked her Apple watch and were stunned. Before I saw her, she was stumbling through an 11:00 min/mile pace. After she saw me and I ran with her, her next mile clocked in at 7:30!
Running a marathon is an incredible achievement. With these tips and our marathon training schedules as your guide, we hope you have a successful marathon.
Remember, there is no finish line. Once you check a marathon off your bucket list, set a new goal. Maybe a faster marathon or a new benchmark to hit, such as running an ultramarathon.
Do you have any questions or feedback? Do you need advice on how long to train for a marathon? Feel free to ask in the comments.
Or, if you have tips on how to train for a marathon run in three or four months, please share in the comments and we look forward to the discussion.
The 3 & 4 Month Marathon Training Plan (PDF)
Download and get instant access to the printable marathon training schedule for beginners and intermediate runners.
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The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”
After eight years working in the corporate world as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.
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