The Ultimate Guide: How to Train for a Marathon (and crush it!)

Running a Marathon is hard. If done right, training for a marathon is harder. I’m sure you have heard this before, but it pays to hear it again, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or insane.

So you’ve decided to bite off a marathon? 26.2 miles of pain, pride, toughness, and character building. You’ve heard one hundred times that it’s not your local 5k, not a trot in the park 10k, or even an easy half. It is the distance that has long been considered the pinnacle of the sport.

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Hopefully while you are reading this, you have a small pile of race bibs or finisher medals, along with plenty of old shoes somewhere in your past, indicating a significant amount of running and racing. If not, we highly recommend you pick a race shorter than a marathon for your first race. Perhaps run a couple of 5k’s, move up to some 10k’s, and even try a half marathon before you bite off the big one. Don’t see this as weakness either, getting all those training miles in your legs for shorter races will help you immensely when it comes time to race a marathon.

Even if you are well experienced with shorter races, there are a host of new problems you will face in a marathon. Many of these issues you will not be able to avoid, but being knowledgeable before you tackle your training, and especially before you tackle your marathon, will go a long way (hopefully 26.2 miles) towards making sure that your marathon experience is a good one.

Base Training

In order to be ready to run a marathon, you must be able to run a consistent amount of miles. Elite marathon runners run more than 100 miles every week. They spend many weeks building up to their peak mileage, then they run about that same mileage for a couple of months or more before they reach the final stages of their training. While that is a bit extreme for most runners looking to complete a marathon, the idea is the same.

You want to start with a low amount of mileage each week. If you are an experienced runner, pick a mileage 10-15 miles per week behind what your peak mileage was for your last race (assuming it was shorter than a marathon). If you are a new runner, you may want to start with 15-25 miles per week. From there, link consistently good weeks together until you reach your peak, adding just a couple extra miles each week. A general rule is that you don’t want to increase your mileage by any more than 10% from week to week. Personally, I would argue that you should do even less than that, unless every run is feeling remarkably easy.

Then, you want to slowly build to between 40-60 miles per week, depending on your level of experience, running 4-6 days a week.  When you reach this mileage, you will want to hold it for 6-12 weeks consistently so that your body can adapt to the kind of mileage a marathon requires. (We’ll refer back to this later as your “mileage hold.”) Remember, however, not to increase your mileage quickly from week to week, your body will take time to adapt to this new stimulus and if you don’t treat it right, you will quickly find yourself injured and unable to run at all.

You may have given a second glance moments ago when we said consistently “good.” “Good? Why good? Why not great?” you might ask. The idea behind this is runners from the newest to the most experienced, have a tendency to overrun when they feel good.  If you have a 5 mile easy day, and you run most of your runs around 9 minute mile pace, it doesn’t matter how good you feel, you don’t need to go run 7 minute miles on your easy day, as this will set you up for failure on your next few runs. Therefore, if you feel good on a run, that is great, but stay within yourself keeping in mind the goal of consistency throughout your training plan.

The Long Run

Arguably the most important part of any training plan, especially for those looking to complete a marathon, is the long run.  A long run should make up 20-25% of your weekly mileage (If you are running a 40 mile week, your long run should be 8-10 miles) but may begin to take up more than that as you near the end of your training and begin doing race simulations.

Race Simulations

With these, we recommend that once you reach your mileage hold, you should begin doing race simulations every other week.  (If you are looking at your long run day for a period of 10 weeks while you are “holding” at 40 miles per week, we recommend it look something like this: Week 1: 10, Week 2: 14, Week 3: 10, Week 4: 16, Week 5: 10, Week 6: 18, Week 9: 10, Week 10: 20).

These race simulations are an excellent time to prepare for race day, which will be discussed later. Do not do a race simulation within 2 weeks of your marathon, however, and try to give yourself an off day, and a couple of easy days after each one to allow your body to properly recover.

Why Long Run?

 A long run for marathon training has quite a few training benefits that are very hard to replicate with anything else.

First and foremost, the long run prepares you mentally for the kind of grind and unique species of pain for which you have signed up. Doing at least one run between 18 and 22 miles will help your mental preparation tremendously. Even shorter long runs (Between 20-25% of your weekly mileage) have tremendous physiological advantages.

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With the distance associated with a long run, your body begins to train different muscles as the run progresses, teaching your body to activate and utilize muscle fibers that will be necessary for a marathon, but will likely not be activated on shorter runs.

Additionally, you will likely be more sore after the long run than any other run in your training plan (unless your plan includes some faster interval workouts), this soreness will help your body adapt to longer runs and will also serve to make the recovery period after your marathon a little easier to cope with.

How do I approach a long run?

How to Train for a MarathonThis question depends highly on how you are approaching your marathon.  If you are not concerned about time and more concerned about completion, there is no reason to run your long run particularly fast.  Take it nice and easy and pick a pace you can sustain with relative ease, grab a buddy, and do as much of the run as you can while keeping a conversational pace.

On the other hand, if you are trying to run a personal best, you may want to approach your long runs, and especially your race simulations a bit more aggressively.  One common approach is taking the first half of the long run at an easy and conversational pace, then spending the second half of the run at goal marathon pace, maybe even getting down to 10k pace over the last mile or two.  This strategy teaches your body to run fast when it is tired. This has enormous benefits both mentally and physically.

Either way you should start every long run with food in your belly, some hydration (either on a belt or in water fountains along your route, and perhaps a small glycogen heavy snack or two.  These runs are an excellent time to practice your hydration and nutrition strategies for your marathon.

Additionally, after the run you should immediately begin replenishing your glycogen stores (eating) and rehydrating (drinking). Even if you don’t think you can eat anything after a run, we recommend getting something into your body within 15 minutes so that your body can kick-start the recovery process.  Even a banana or a couple of peanut butter crackers will do an enormous amount to help your body get the most out of all your hard work.

As for rehydrating, a good strategy is to have a water bottle mixed halfway with a sports drink like Gatorade or Powerade and the other half with water. The sodium in the sports drinks will help your body hold on to the water you are drinking since your long run has likely depleted your sodium stores quite heavily.

Furthermore, we recommend doing your long runs at about the same time of day and over similar terrain, as you will encounter over your marathon. We implied it earlier, but we’ll emphasize it more heavily now, long runs are an excellent race simulation.  They are the closest thing to your marathon that you will do in your training and therefore, you want to use these to practice everything you’ll be doing in the marathon.

As you may have heard from other sources, maybe your runner friend who has already done a marathon, maybe a coach, or maybe another article like this, you never want to try anything new on the day of your race.  So any warm up, hydration plan, bathroom strategy, etc. should be practiced on your long run so that you will be as close to ready, both mentally and physically, as you can before your race.

Staying Healthy

Doing anything new to your body runs (get it?) the risk of energy. But do not let that discourage you, even if you never complete a marathon, training for it has enormous benefits for your health and if done right, can be a great way to achieve a healthy lifestyle. Of course though, you want to stay healthy.

While nothing you do will 100% protect you from injury, there are many steps you can take to reduce the risk.  First, avoid doing too much too soon. If you have never ran more than 15 miles a week in your life, don’t start with a training plan that has you doing 30. Also, avoid plans that have you jump to high mileage very quickly, remember the 10% rule mentioned earlier.

Second, avoid doing multiple hard days in a row, each hard day should be followed by an easy day. In marathon training as with all other types of physical training, your body needs time to recover, not just so you feel better, but to absorb all the benefits of the hard work you put in. Without recovery days, you are wasting your own hard work.

Third, training for a marathon should not solely involve running. To be a successful runner, take a couple leaves out of the books of the elites. Pick up a foam roller and a stretching band from your local running store, learn how to use them, and use them repeatedly. Ideally you stretch comprehensively after every run and also do a light stretch when you wake up and before you go to bed. This will go a long way to keeping you healthy.

Fourth, incorporate strength training, especially core work.  Remember though that your core does not only include your abdominal muscles, it also includes your lower back, hips, and glutes. These are arguably the most important muscles for running. Especially for longer distances like a marathon, they will be crucial for holding your form together late in the race, not only making it easier to run, but also to reduce your risk of injury.

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Lastly, eat right and drink right. There’s a phrase tossed around every now and then that claims if you are running, you can metabolize anything. While you can definitely metabolize it better than people who aren’t working out, that doesn’t mean it is a good thing.  If you don’t give your body the proper fuel, it will be much more difficult for you to recover from your training.  Eating right, with lots of fruits and vegetables, a good mix of carbs and proteins, and lots of water, will make a big difference for feeling healthy and strong on your runs. Not to mention, eating the right foods will help you stay lean and looking good.


Nearly everything you do in life requires the right equipment. Training for and running a marathon is no different. From head to toe there are quite a few pieces of gear that you cannot live without and others that we highly recommend you invest in before you begin your marathon training. This doesn’t mean you need to dish out hundreds of dollars, however, as most of the gear can be acquired for a reasonable price.


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Invest in good running shoes. If you are going to skimp on everything else, you can get by, but do not skimp on shoes.  Go to your local specialty running store and find the shoes that are best for your foot structure and running form. That does not mean the best-looking pair. Looks won’t prevent an injury. Also remember you will likely be running a lot of miles during your marathon training, so be sure to switch out your shoes periodically. Most shoes can handle between 300-500 miles, but that depends on the model of shoe and your own running form.


We’ll start from the ground up here, which is also the order of priority I would give them.  Also keep in mind with all of these, there are plenty of expensive options at your local running store that will look great, but there are also some very affordable options at your local Walmart that will do the job just fine.


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Even if you have the best shoes you can buy, if you don’t get a good pair of socks you will quickly find yourself with a variety of blisters, busted toenails, etc. Find a pair of quality running socks that fit your feet well and feel comfortable even 10 miles into a run. Personally, I’m a big fan of DeFeet and Balega and have been running in their socks for years, but many of my running buddies also like Swiftwick, Adidas, CEP, and other brands. Keep in mind comfort is your priority.


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Next are your bottoms. I say bottoms here because there is a decent range of clothing you can use here.  Regardless of your choice, we recommend you select dri-fit options and avoid cotton. In hot weather, ladies are likely choosing between shorts, spandex, and maybe running skits, and men are choosing between shorts and half tights. In cooler weather (below 45 degrees, if not colder) you may be looking at running tights.

Keep in mind that women’s tights tend to be a bit thinner then men’s, so men you may want to stay in your shorts or half tights in temperatures where women are already switching into ¾ or full tights.

Also remember that at the beginning of your run though, that your body will warm up when you start moving and each person’s body is different, it will require trial and error to determine what you want to wear in each kind of weather. Again, this is a matter of comfort, not looks. When you are 15 miles into your marathon, you’re not going to give a damn how you look, but you’ll certainly care how you feel. So pick the brand and style that is the most comfortable for you.

You may also want to select a pair of bottoms that have pockets, especially for longer runs if you plan on carrying a car/house key, nutrition, or other items with you.


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Ladies will need to invest in sports bras. Again, you want to avoid cotton here and invest in a synthetic material that advertises itself as dri-fit.  This will help wick moisture, keep your body cooler, and after a few months of training in them, will not smell nearly as bad. It also reduces the risk of chafing.

The same goes for shirts. Like bottoms, these are weather dependant.  If you are running in warmer temperatures you may be able to get by with a tank or even running shirtless, but cooler temperatures will require long sleeve shirts, half zips, or maybe even a running vest or jacket.

 The #1 Best Insoles for Foot Pain

If you have plantar fasciitis, high arches, flat feet, or other foot support issues, but would rather not purchase a new pair of shoes – add the Tread Labs Stride Insole to your existing shoes. The Stride Insole is biomechanically designed to support your arch and cure/prevent plantar fasciitis. Simply remove the factory insole from your favorite shoes and replace it with the Stride. The Stride comes in four different arch heights for each foot size, offers a lifetime guaranteed arch support and has a removable top cover. Take the Tread Labs Fit Quiz now and get THE BEST possible support for your feet.

#1 Best Support - Tread Labs Stride Insole

  • THE BEST support to prevent/cure Plantar Fasciitis.
  • Lifetime Guaranteed Arch Support.
  • Replaceable Top-Cover
  • Free shipping both ways.

Read Why Stride Insoles are the Best

We would also recommend investing in a waterproof running jacket.  You can’t outrun the rain forever, so investing in a jacket that keeps you dry will be a lifesaver when you are getting into longer runs, especially in cooler weather.


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Especially for longer runs during the day, it is important to protect your eyes. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it is important to be able to see where you are going when you are running. It is also nice to be able to keep things out of your eyes, notably bugs and dust (not kidding here, one of my running buddies had a fly go right into his eye in the early miles of a 14 mile run and he was downright miserable the whole time).

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By no means do you need to invest in the $160 Oakley’s that you see on Olympians, but we highly recommend picking up a $10-$25 pair of athletic sunglasses that do a good job of covering your eyes, stay tight on your face, and don’t bounce around too much.


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Like sunglasses, these are by no means required, but you may find that hats and visors do a great job of protecting your face and eyes from the sun along with wicking sweat from your face to the back of your neck where it won’t get into your eyes.  They also may prove useful for storing an extra gel, not to mention keeping your hair out of your face.


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Personally, I can’t go out for a run without a watch.  Sometimes I turn the GPS function off, but I always like to know how long I have been running.  Depending how statistically oriented you are, you may want to keep track of time, mileage, heart rate, and other things with a GPS watch or smart phone, some may just want a simple stopwatch and others may want nothing at all. This depends on your personal preference.


Long runs drain you of your food and hydration stores.  This is a good thing, as it prepares you for what you will face in a marathon. But that does not mean you should allow yourself to run dehydrated and depleted. A gel, some snacks, and a handheld bottle can help a lot with making the last few miles of your long run a little bit easier.  Especially if you plan on using them in a race, practice using them on your longer runs so your body is used to ingesting them and your brain is used to remembering when and how to use them.

Final Thoughts

Lastly, to reiterate a theme that has been touched on throughout this article, make sure that you do everything you can in training to mimic what you will be doing in a race.  That means training in the same clothes, practicing your nutrition/hydration plan, running in similar conditions over similar terrain, even practicing your pre-race meal before a long run so you know how your body will react when it comes to race day.


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