26-Week Marathon Training Schedule: How To Prepare For Your First Marathon

You’ve watched in awe how thousands of normal, everyday folks complete the New York City Marathon. Such a feat must entail a grueling 26-week marathon training schedule. If they can do it, so can you, right?

Witnessing such determination and grit stirs up something deep inside us all. Maybe you’re ready to take the plunge. You want to run your first marathon.

Is it possible to prepare for your first marathon in only six months?

If you’re new to distance running, maybe you’re seriously beginning to doubt your own ability. Is it even possible? Can anyone really conquer 26.2 miles?

The good news is that it is doable. Here’s how to safely prepare for your first marathon in 26 short weeks.

Experts advise against choosing a marathon as your first race. Most recommend starting small and gradually working your way up to longer marathons.

Having said that, with consistent, yet conservative preparation over a six-month period, you should be able to safely prepare your body for the rigors of marathon running. So where do you start?

Finding The Right Training Program

Firstly, you need a good training program. Different people look for different things in a training program. It’s important to find one that suits your current fitness level, running goals, and lifestyle.

We do, however, believe that the following program by Pete Rea, elite athlete coach, is both easy to follow and customizable to adapt to your own lifestyle and needs.

Rea recommends spending at least the first six weeks of your marathon training period focusing on aerobic development. Frustrating as this might seem, this build-up period is vital for building a solid running foundation. It should not be neglected or altogether skipped by newbie runners.

Also, note that if you don’t feel ready to do the workouts as stipulated in Weeks 1 to 6 below, it is a good idea to start with a good Couch to 5K program first. This will give you a solid base for tackling the distances below.

26-Week Marathon Training Schedule

Image Source Flickr user Peter Mooney

Weeks 1 to 6

  • Sunday: Easy run at a conversational pace for 45 to 50 minutes. Follow with 35 to 40 minutes of non-running exercise, such as cycling or swimming.

  • Monday: Rest day (no running!). Optional cross-training.

  • Tuesday: Easy run at a conversational pace for 35 to 40 minutes.

  • Wednesday: Run for 30 minutes. Add 30 to 35 minutes of cross-training.

  • Thursday: Off day. Complete rest.

  • Friday: Easy run at a conversational pace for 35 to 40 minutes.

  • Saturday: Cross-training (no running!) for 45 to 55 minutes.

If, after six weeks of following the above schedule, you feel that you haven’t quite mastered the workouts listed, spend up to six more weeks in this build-up phase. Don’t be discouraged; you’ll reap the benefits later.

After confidently completing the initial build-up phase, long runs and some early elements of anaerobic threshold training will slowly be introduced to your training schedule during Weeks 7 to 12.

Weeks 7 to 12

  • Sunday: Slowly build up to running at an easy pace for 70 to 90 minutes (long runs should last 90 minutes by weeks 10, 11 and 12). Include moderate 1-minute pick-up runs every six minutes for the last hour. Conclude with 6 x 100 m strides to improve running economy.

  • Monday: Rest day (no running). Optional cross-training for 55 to 65 minutes.

  • Tuesday: Easy run at a conversational pace for 45 minutes. Complete the run with 8 x 100 m strides.

  • Wednesday: Run easy for 15 to 18 minutes. Follow with 6 to 7 moderate 2-minute pick-ups, with 2 to 3 minutes of easy jogging in between pick-ups. Cool down for 10 minutes.

  • Thursday: Off day. Complete rest.

  • Friday: Easy run at a conversational pace for 45 minutes. Conclude with 8 x 100 m strides.

  • Saturday: Cross-training (no running!) for 60 to 70 minutes.

Up until now, your body has simply been “training to train”, i.e. you’ve simply been preparing for the rigors of marathon training. In Week 13, actual marathon training will commence.

Weeks 13 to 19

  • Sunday: Slowly build up to running at an easy pace for 1 hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours and 25 minutes with two to three surges at marathon pace during the final hour of the run. (These “surges” can, for example, consist of 3 miles at marathon pace, followed by 2 miles at marathon pace, with 15 to 20 minutes of easy jogging in between.) Shorten this long run by 20% every third week during this training block.

  • Monday: Rest day (no running). Optional cross-training.

  • Tuesday: Easy run at a conversational pace for 50 to 55 minutes.

  • Wednesday: After warming up for 15 to 20 minutes, run 3 miles at approximately 15 to 20 seconds per mile slower than your 10K race pace. Then run slowly for 5 minutes to recover before doing 6 x 4-minute pick-ups at 10K race pace. Run very easy or walk for 3 minutes to recover for 3 minutes to recover between each pick-up. Cool down for 15 to 25 minutes.

  • Thursday: Run easy for 30 to 40 minutes. Follow with 45 minutes of cross-training.

  • Friday: Run for 60 minutes. Run the final 30 minutes at a moderate pace.

  • Saturday: Cross-training (no running).

Week 19 should be a planned “down” week with no long run. This will give your body a break before starting with marathon-specific training in Weeks 20 to 25.

Weeks 20 to 25

  • Sunday: Run for 2 hours 40 minutes to 3 hours 30 minutes during weeks 20, 22, and 23. This run should be easy, with 1-minute surges at a conversational pace. On the afternoon of these days, do 30 minutes of relaxed swimming or stationary cycling. For weeks 21 and 24, reduce the long run distance by 15%. For week 25, there is no long run.

  • Monday: Rest day (no running). Optional cross-training for 70 to 80 minutes.

  • Tuesday: Easy run at a conversational pace for 60 to 65 minutes, ending with 8 x 100 m strides.

  • Wednesday: Warm up with 18 to 20 minutes of steady running, and then do 6 to 8 x 100 m strides.

  • Thursday: Run 3 to 4 miles, cross-train or rest.

  • Friday: Run 6 to 8 miles, whatever feels best. Finish with 10 x 200 m 5K pace accelerations. Jog or walk for 200 m between each interval.

  • Saturday: Run easy or cross-train.

It is a good idea to substitute one or two long runs for a 10-mile race or half marathon during this training block. This will give you a good opportunity to get used to the race-day experience, as well as to test out your planned race gear, nutrition, and hydration.

Week 26: Taper Week

  • Sunday: Run controlled for 65 to 70 minutes. End up with 8 x 100 m accelerations.

  • Monday: Rest day.

  • Tuesday: Run easy for 35 minutes.

  • Wednesday: Warm up for 15 minutes. Run 30 minutes at marathon pace, followed by a 15-minute cool-down.

  • Thursday: Run easy for 35 minutes.

  • Friday: Rest day.

  • Saturday: Easy run for 20 minutes, finishing with 6 x 100 m strides.

  • Following Sunday: Race day! Good luck!