Marathon training plan: How to prepare for your best race ever

Our expert coaching team will help you create a programme that works for you.

When it comes to running, the marathon sits at the top of the mountain for achievement. It is tough, time consuming, and requires a great deal of dedication but, most important of all, it benefits from a marathon training plan.  

Which is where Saga Exceptional comes in. We’re here to help you, inspire you and motivate you as you embark on your marathon journey, and guide you on how to train for a marathon. 

A mature woman takes a drink after a hard runCredit: PeopleImages.com – Yuri A/Shutterstock
With the right preparation, the marathon is fun and achievable

Create a plan

Prepare for marathon success

There are six elements to include if you want to make sure your 26.2-mile run (42.2km) is as enjoyable and rewarding as you expect it to be. 

  • Get a support team around you. That could include a masseur, or a physiotherapist, who you should visit once a fortnight. Or invest in something like a massage gun, which can help relax your muscles after a long run. 
  • Create two goals you want to achieve on the way to your marathon. That can be to run a certain distance or race a certain time. I recommend a half marathon after six weeks’ training and then a fast 10k race in the final month. Choose what works for you. 
  • Prioritise three one-hour slots a week when you will either go for a run or, if you’re feeling low energy, a walk. If there was ever a magic ingredient, it should be consistency. Plans aren’t about one or two weeks; they are about the total.

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  • Give your nutrition some thought. Marathons are as much about the recovery process as they are the actual running. So, think about carbohydrates and, for older runners, it’s good to understand the importance of protein in helping muscles repair. 
  • Along with running, fit in one strength training session every 10 days or so.
  • Invest in a good pair of running shoes. “It’s worth spending as much as you can afford,” says Eamonn Martin, winner of the 1993 London Marathon.  

Key elements

How to structure your marathon plan

Now you have all the marathon training elements in place, it’s time to think about how you’ll structure your fortnight. As older runners, forget a seven-day plan, as physiology will confirm you need more time to recover. In fact, make rest a priority, plus each fortnight should have some strength training and, most important of all, your plan must be flexible.  

Written plans are massively influential in ensuring success, as they add a little structure to your running. It’s easy to get a bit demotivated, but with a clear path to follow, you will feel there’s purpose to what you’re doing. Although, I must stress plans aren’t set in stone. Life gets in the way.  

Your plan should include the following:

Easy runs

These are key to your success. Its vital they are nice and slow – as slow as you like. And yes, that does involve walking. Essentially, the science behind it all is that youre helping your capillaries become more receptive to carrying oxygen. And to do that effectively, you need to run slowly. Too many of us (and I include myself here) clip along at too fast a pace, which in turn slows your musclesability to repair. Be confident in going slow. It will pay dividends.  

Tempo runs

Another way to describe a run like this is to say, “not fast, but not slow either”. Basically, if youre running 30 minutes, youre going to try and run the middle 15 minutes a bit faster. That may sound a bit simplistic but its what the best runners in the world are doing, for distances anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes or so.

Work out the speed by imagining that if you had to, you could do it again at the same pace. That thought process controls your initial enthusiasm.

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Intervals

Using intervals means your body will adapt to stress and learn to run faster, more efficiently. In short, running will start to feel easier. These runs are all about moving faster for a shorter distance, resting and then repeating it all five or six times.

There are no definitive distances or times for intervals, but a good guide is to decide how far youre going to run using minutes. So, for example, a marathon runner would run intervals such as five times five minutes with one minute recovery. Another great marathon workout would be three times eight minutes with two minutes recovery.

Long run

No marathon plan can ignore the long run, its important for so many reasons. 

A selection of marathon medalsCredit: Some pictures here/Shutterstock
Your marathon medal collection will grow rapidly – ask any runner

The workouts

Your 90-day marathon plan

“Over weeks and months, the body adapts, in both speed and endurance, just as it always did. In fact, I’ve been surprised at 80+ at how quickly it gets better at the job. I haven’t yet found the limit.” Roger Robinson. 

These 10-day blocks will help to build your stamina:

 

   
Day 1  Easy run up to 45 minutes. 
Day 2  Rest. 
Day 3  Yoga, Pilates or gym work. 
Day 4  Easy run up to 45 minutes. 
Day 5  Rest. 
Day 6  Rest. 
Day 7  Faster run up to 30 minutes. 
Day 8  Yoga, Pilates or gym work. 
Day 9  Rest. 
Day 10  Longer run up to around 75 minutes. 

  

First phase  Build endurance 
Day 11  Rest. 
Day 12  Yoga, Pilates or gym work. 
Day 13  Tempo run up to 50 minutes. 
Day 14  Short jog of around 15 minutes. 
Day 15  Rest. 
Day 16  Yoga, Pilates or gym work. 
Day 17  Easy run of around one hour. 
Day 18  Rest. 
Day 19  Medium length run of around 30 minutes. 
Day 20  Longer run up to 75 minutes. 

  

First phase  Build endurance  
Day 21  Rest. 
Day 22  Yoga, Pilates or gym work. 
Day 23  Tempo run up to 60 minutes. 
Day 24  Short jog of around 15 minutes. 
Day 25  Rest. 
Day 26  Yoga, Pilates or gym work. 
Day 27  Easy run of around one hour. 
Day 28  Rest. 
Day 29  Medium length run of around 40 minutes. 
Day 30  Longer run up to two hours. 

  

First phase  Build endurance 
Day 31  Rest. 
Day 32  Yoga, Pilates or gym work. 
Day 33  Tempo run up to 70 minutes. 
Day 34  Short jog of around 25 minutes. 
Day 35  Rest. 
Day 36  Yoga, Pilates or gym work. 
Day 37  Easy run of around 75 minutes. 
Day 38  Rest. 
Day 39  Tempo run of around 20 minutes 
Day 40  Longer run up to two hours. 

  

 

Rest phase Time to recover 
Day 41 Rest.
Day 42 Rest.
Day 43 Rest.
Day 44 Long run of around 60 minutes.
Day 45 Rest.
Day 46 Yoga, Pilates or gym work.
Day 47 Short, fast run of around 30 minutes.
Day 48 Easy/slow run of around 45 minutes.
Day 49 Rest.
Day 50 Yoga, Pilates or gym work.

 

Second phase Build speed
Day 51 Warm up 10 minutes then
10×1 minute intervals
with 1 minute rest. Cool down 10 minutes.
Day 52 Rest.
Day 53 Rest.
Day 54 Slow jog of around 25 minutes.
Day 55 Rest.
Day 56 Yoga, Pilates or gym work.
Day 57 10 miles where every three miles is one minute
faster than the previous three.
Day 58 Rest.
Day 59 Rest.
Day 60 Longer run up to two hours 30 minutes.

 

Second phase Build speed
Day 61 Warm up 10 minutes then 8x 2 minutes
intervals with 2 minutes rest. Cool down 10 minutes.
Day 62 Rest.
Day 63 Rest.
Day 64 Slow jog of around 25 minutes.
Day 65 Rest.
Day 66 Yoga, Pilates or gym work.
Day 67 10 miles where every three miles is one minute faster than the previous three.
Day 68 Rest.
Day 69 Rest.
Day 70 Longer run up to one hour 40 minutes.

 

Third phase  Test time 
Day 71 5k race or very fast 20-minute run.
Day 72 Rest.
Day 73 Rest.
Day 74 Slow jog of around 25 minutes.
Day 75 Slow jog of around 25 minutes.
Day 76 Rest.
Day 77 Rest.
Day 78 Tempo run of around 20 minutes.
Day 79 Rest.
Day 80 Rest.

 

Fourth phase Ease off and race
Day 81 Slow jog of around 25 minutes.
Day 82 Rest.
Day 83 Rest.
Day 84 Rest.
Day 85 Slow jog of around 15 minutes.
Day 86 Rest.
Day 87 Rest.
Day 88 Slow jog of around 10 minutes.
Day 89 Rest.
Day 90 Marathon.

 

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Paul Larkins

Written by Paul Larkins

Updated:

Paul Larkins has been a sports journalist for more than 30 years, covering two Olympic Games, one Paralympics, numerous World Championships and, most recently, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022. He’s also been a magazine editor, heading up titles covering everything from running to cooking and buying tractors. But his real passion is running. As a former GB International athlete and sub-4-minute miler in the 1980s, Paul has a great understanding of life-long fitness and the benefits it can provide.