The 12-Week Marathon Training Schedule for Intermediate Runners

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So you want to run (another) marathon. You’ve come to the right place. Developed by running coach Michelle Portalatin, C.S.C.S. with inputs from Rebeka Stowe, C.S.C.S. and Nike+ Run Club coach, this 12-week training plan is designed for intermediate runners who have already run their first marathon and who have been consistently keeping up 25-mile weeks. (Don’t forget that mental training is just as important. See: Marathon Training for Your Brain)

Here, a break down of the various components that make up your marathon training plan (see below for the printable plan), plus how to determine your pacing.

Active Recovery/Rest Days

The day after your long run is all about rest and recovery. Yoga is great for runners because it counteracts the pounding, tightening, and shortening of muscles that happen while running. It’s also great for targeting muscles that you need to be stretched, like the hips and the hamstrings. (See: 11 Yoga Poses Every Runner Needs to Know) As an added bonus, yoga can help with your posture and keep your chest opened up so you can breathe better (aka more oxygen to your muscles and improved efficiency.) Yoga not for you? Use this day to go for a walk or take a rest day. Just be sure you’re incorporating stretching and some solid self-care into your plan one way or another to prevent overtraining or injury. (Related: 9 Running Stretches to Do After Every Single Run

Strength Training Days

Hitting the weight room is crucial for runners to boost performance, prevent injury, and keep you strong when you feel like you can’t lift your legs at mile 25. Experts recommend moves like squats and deadlifts that are great for firing up your hamstrings and glutes (important since runners tend to be quad dominant) and using free weights to activate your core muscles and challenge your balance, which can help prevent injury. (Related: Why All Runners Need Balance and Stability Training)

Cross-Training Days

The point of cross-training is to build up muscles that you wouldn’t normally use in running and increase your aerobic capacity to make you faster and more efficient. Some research has shown that doing HIIT training with minimal rest on a bike may be one effective way to do that, but if cycling isn’t for you, you can also try swimming, rowing, the stair-climber, or another activity that you enjoy. (Related: The 5 Essential Cross-Training Workouts All Runners Need)

Note: While day 6 of the plan indicates cross-training (30-45 minutes of an aerobic exercise that isn’t running) you can also opt for a rest day instead.

Hill, Speed, and Tempo Runs

This plan incorporates fartlek, hills, tempo, and interval runs to improve your endurance.

“Hills are a great place to begin training as they support development of leg strength, and benefit biomechanics by encouraging the use of the posterior chain. Often hills lead us to a more ideal ground contact time and increased cadence,” explains Stowe. Starting the first three to four weeks of training with hills is great, because of the developed strength and focus on effort versus pace, she adds.

Determining your pace

The easiest way to figure out your pacing for the tempo runs (which are crucial for training your body to sustain speed over any race distance) is to use a recent race performance or a one- or two-mile time trial result as a good place to start starting place, explains Stowe. A great resource is the VDot02 Calculator, which does the work for you to determine equivalent performance times to help you determine upcoming performance goals. You can then begin thinking in terms of ‘current pace vs goal pace’ or utilize the training paces they prescribe you for 10K pace, 5K pace, and interval/mile pace to support your training plan. The app will also give you an ‘easy’ pace that will allow you to still hold a conversation, comfortably. (And seriously, don’t be afraid to go EASY on easy days, says Stowe.)

Your 12-week Marathon Training Schedule

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  • By Kylie Gilbert @KylieMGilbert

THE 12 WEEK MARATHON TRAINING PLAN

Who Is It For?:

Runners who have established an initial running base, or have an existing good fitness level. You should be able to run 10km without stopping.

How Long?:

3months // 12 weeks.

Description:

This plan has you working out five days a week – four days of running and a day of cross-training, with two days off.

Given the short training time, the important thing to focus on building your stamina and endurance rather than speed.

There are 3 regular training runs per week, and a long run at the weekends. For your Long Runs, the aim is simply to get your body used to running for a long time – so take them easy, don’t push yourself. For your weekday runs, try and sustain a pace at which you could hold a conversation with someone.

The plan also features one day of cross training. Cross training is a great way to keep fit and ensure your marathon training does not negatively impact other parts of your body. Many runners have other sports and hobbies they don’t like to neglect when in training, so you can do these on Thursdays if you want. Cycling, swimming and yoga are all recommended cross-training activities.

Don’t overdo things – given you only have 12 weeks to prepare, speed is secondary to getting the miles in. If your body is worn out, allow it some rest. And good luck.

Get The Complete Guide

My guidebook, Marathon in 3 Months, is available now for instant download. It maps out the complete training strategy and rationale behind the 12 week marathon training schedule supplied. It walks you through your week-by-week training and preparation to get you to the finish line in under four hours.

No matter how seasoned of a runner you may be, getting ready for a marathon takes some work—most people can’t wake up on the morning of race day and clock in a cool 26.2 (although I actually did once have a boyfriend who did that, and it was one of the more impressive things I’ve ever seen in my life). Even if you are one of those people who can run a marathon like it ain’t no thang, your body—and the potential injuries you could wind up with—could certainly benefit from an appropriate amount of prep, so the pros recommend a 12-week marathon training plan to help get your body into tip-top shape.

“Twelve weeks is the magic number; it’s neither too long or too short,” explains Jon Ackland, co-founder and chief science officer of Performance Lab, the company behind running and coaching app Podium. “Your body needs at least six weeks to develop a base level of fitness, and you need a longer timeframe to increase training volumes gradually, without massive jumps in the duration of your long workout. If you make that jump too quickly, you’re more at risk of injury or illness.”

The problem with attempting a program that’s longer than 14 weeks, is that you may wind up with cumulative fatigue or losing motivation before you actually reach race day. “The thing I love about a 12-week plan is that it jumps right into the meat of training,” says coach Melanie Kann of New York Road Runners, who offer their own version of a 12-week marathon training plan. “With a 20-week plan, there’s a longer aerobic base-building phase involved, and a gradual introduction of speed work before really piling on the mileage. That’s wonderful if you’re coming from a place where you need to build that foundation, but if you’ve already got that deep base in place and if you’re already doing some sort of speed work weekly, you’ll require a shorter ramp up and can dig right in without running the risk of overtraining.”

While a 20-week regimen is a solid option for first-time marathoners who are starting from square one, a more confident runner should start their program 12 weeks out, especially if they’ve already done a half marathon. If you’re already able to run continuously for 60 minutes, you’re likely a good candidate for the 12-week plan.

What does a 12-week marathon-training plan entail?

For starters, a lot of running. But running isn’t the only thing that a 12-week marathon training plan requires: There are a few other things you should plan to build into your program, too. First up? Cross training. “While training for the marathon, we also recommend not doing additional exercise that’s hard on your legs, such as weightlifting or excessive plyometrics,” says Ackland, suggesting that you use your non-running days to focus on building strength in your core and upper body. “A strong core will strengthen the platform which you run off (your pelvis) and translate to your running efficiency.” Just be sure to leave a solid time gap between an intense core session and a big run so that it doesn’t affect your training.

And as with all fitness modalities, recovery is critical when it comes to running a successful marathon. “When you train, you create load on the body. When you recover, your body is able to adapt to that load to increase your abilities,” explains Ackland. “If you don’t recover, you end up tired and your body has a hard time absorbing the training you’ve done.” If you’re on a good program (like the one Podium has shared with us, below) rest days and recovery are already built in. To be sure you’re getting the most out of it, it’s also important to integrate stretching, foam rolling, and maybe even some sports massage into your routine.

How to stay motivated throughout your 12-week marathon training plan

Throughout the 12-week marathon training plan, you’ll rely on both internal and external factors to keep you from burning out. You’ll want to be sure you’re genuinely passionate about the goal you’ve set for yourself, which will help you work toward the finish line. And having a support system to rely on throughout the process doesn’t hurt either. “Find someone who has been there before to help guide you—like a coach or personal trainer—who can personalize the training and provide valuable feedback on your performance,” says Ackland. Also, consider finding a running buddy, because as Ackland puts it, “Training for an event like this can be a great opportunity to share a unique experience with your friends and bond over the shared sweat sessions.”

Surfing the web can help, too. “The internet is an incredible resource—so, use it,” advises Kann. “Study your course map, the elevation changes, see if anyone has posted a video online of the course.” He’s also a fan of going old-school and putting a calendar up on the wall so that you can put an X through every day that you’ve run “See how may Xs you can rack up. I bet you won’t want to break that chain,” he says.

And on race day, Ackland has one critical piece of advice that will help keep you going. “It’s useful to think of it as a 18-mile warm up and 8-mile running race,” he says. “You can go into it knowing that around the 18 mile mark there’s going to be an ambush, and you have to have run at a pace that will prepare you for the hard bit. It’s a good way to approach the event in terms of how you think it will play out.”

How to read your 12-week marathon training plan

Unlike traditional marathon training programs, the one Podium created for us clocks your runs as duration instead of distance so that you’ll be able to know exactly how to fit them into your schedule. You’ll work through “mesocycles” (aka your week-to-week recoveries) and “microcycles” (aka day-to-day recoveries) to make sure you have time to absorb the training and move through any accumulated fatigue.

There are five different training phases laid out in the 12-week marathon marathon training plan, according to Ackland:

Training Phase 1- Technique: The first week focuses on your running form and helping you find the optimal step rate. Good technique helps you become a more efficient runner, with a lower chance of injury.

Training Phase 2- Endurance: This phase is all about improving your ability to ‘last the distance’. Your long runs (Sunday) are some of the most important workouts in your plan, so try not to miss them.

Training Phase 3- Strength: The next step is about increasing your ability to sustain energy during the event. We do this with hill training. Focus on shortening your stride and keeping your leg turnover up. People often run harder on hills than they need to.

Training Phase 4- Speed: These runs involve speed intervals and will improve your ability to get used to “racing” in the event. Speed work is taxing and should be done sparingly, that’s why it’s introduced at the end in preparation for the event.

Training Phase 5- Taper: The final phase involves backing off slightly to make sure you’re rested for race day. The workout intensity is kept up but volume drops off, to help you physically and mentally recover for the event.

This is what running the 2019 New York City Marathon taught our fitness director, Ali Finney, about her body. Plus, advice every marathon runner should read the week before their race day.

Marathon Training Guide (Advanced – 12 weeks)

Download your training guide here

If you’ve got a couple of marathons under your belt and now you want to push yourself further, this is the training program for you. Over 12 weeks, you’ll build your strength, speed and endurance to hit a new personal best.

This training guide is just that, a guide, so feel free to be a little flexible with it and make it work for you. Mix up days and runs when you need to, and if you miss a session you can make it up. The real aim is to be consistent with your training, and the overall details won’t matter as much.

Training days explained

Long runs: The key to the guide is the long run on weekends, which ranges from 16 km to 32 km. Consistency and quality is the goal of these long runs – run at a comfortable pace, find your rhythm and enjoy building your endurance.

Run consistently: Do your long runs at a comfortable pace – do not run at your goal marathon pace as this will cause too much regular stress on your body, leading to fatigue and increaing your risk of injury.

Run home: On the long runs, use your experience as a runner to determine how you are feeling. If you feel fresh and have a good amount of energy, having run at a comfortable pace, you can slightly increase your pace and rhythm to cover the last of the distance. Keep in mind that consistency is more important than speed on your long runs.

Midweek training: Sessions during the week should be done at a solid, consistent pace – below race pace.

Hill runs: Hill runs are mixed in with tempo and interval runs for variety, which is key to endurance training. Hills will strengthen your quadriceps muscles. There is also less impact running up a hill than running fast on the flat. Find a hill roughly about 400 m long, run up the hill solidly, with a sustained and consistent effort, then jog (or walk) back down and repeat.

Interval training: Best completed on an athletics track, but can be done anywhere, interval training in this guide is designed around longer, sustained, speed efforts of 800 m. Run the 800 m at faster-than-marathon pace, rest by jogging and/or walking 400 m, then start again.

Tempo runs: A tempo run is a continuous run with a buildup in the middle. The peak speed will last for about 3-6 minutes in the middle of the run. A 30-40 minutes tempo run would start with 10-15 minutes easy running, build to peak speed during the next 10-20 minutes and finish with 5-10 minutes easy running.

The pace buildup should be gradual, not sudden, with peak speed coming about two-thirds into the workout and only for those few minutes mentioned above. You should feel fresh after a tempo run, not fatigued.

Pace: Most of the Saturday runs are done at race pace. This is defined as the pace you need to run to achieve your personal best. If you are aiming to beat a 3:30 marathon time then your pace would be 4:58 / km. Therefore when you run your pace runs you need to run them at this speed.

Rest: Days designated to rest are very important. Muscles regenerate and get stronger during rest, and rest helps prevent injury. The key to this guide is consistency – so if you are feeling particularly tired at any stage, take an extra rest day and get your energy back to keep going.

Don’t forget to stretch

It’s important to start each training session with some stretches and gentle movement to prepare your body for your workout. After your session, cool down with more stretches to help with recovery.

Download the full guide here.

12 Week Sub 2:55 Advanced Marathon Block – Sunday Race

Summary

12 Week Sub 2:55 Advanced Marathon Block | 70-80 miles per week

“It’s not what you get from your training, it’s what you become from your training”

Built for athletes who are looking to achieve a NYC Marathon qualifying time or dip in under the 2:55 mark at their next marathon. The marathon block is big on miles, big workouts, and is for athletes looking for a good challenge.


Created by USATF Level 2 Endurance Coach and Athlete Andrew Simmons. This plan is built on the knowledge gained from years of coaching, and 10+ years as an amateur elite runner (36+ Marathon or longer distance race finishes, 10+ sub 2:50). Andrew has a passion for coaching that is evident in not only his personal performances but in the success his athletes see on race day.

This plan delivers a 12 week training schedule that will have you training 8-10+ hours per week with a standard 4 week periodization schedule. Each week follows a familiar pattern with recovery running days balancing your workout days. This plan focuses extensively on building your ability to manage your goal race pace. This includes implementing 2 speed or tempo workouts per week as well as integrating race specific workouts where you will run at or below race pace for extensive periods. This plan can be set to start on any Monday and will run for 12 Weeks.

Before you jump in you should be able to complete:

  • A challenging mountain 50K
  • Be confident with basic strength training movements
  • Marathon or longer nutrition and hydration strategies
  • You can find us on the web at lifelongendurance.com or email Coach Andrew directly at :[email protected]

    A comparison of the best marathon training plans

    What’s on your bookshelf? I’ve looked at a many of the popular marathon training plans so you don’t have to.

    This comparison covers many of the most popular marathon training plans, and has a short description of the plan, a list of the key attributes and a high level summary of each level of the plan. For the Long Runs, I start listing the lengths with the first run of 16 miles or longer and do not include the taper period. You can find more details on each plan in these sub-pages:

    • FIRST’s Run Less, Run Faster
    • Jeff Galloway’s Marathon – You Can Do It!
    • Hanson’s Marathon Method
    • Hal Higdon’s Ultimate Training Guide
    • Jack Daniels’ Running Formula
    • Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning
    • Waitz’s Run your first marathon

    If you’ve used a Marathon training plan in the past then please fill in the Marathon Survey.

    1 The purpose of this comparison

    This comparison should not be used to choose a plan by itself. The goal is to provide you with some guidance around which plans are candidates so you can do further research. The comparison is also based on the plans themselves, not any supporting information such as the training methodology or other advice. This comparison does not attempt to be comprehensive review of all plans, but to cover a few of the most popular plans.

    2 Unique Aspects of the Plans

    This summary attempts to distill each of the plans into their unique points.

    • Jack Daniels. These plans specify two runs per week, a long run and a speedwork, with the rest let up to the individual.
    • FIRST. Three runs per week; Tempo Runs, Interval Training and Long Runs, plus 2 days of cross training.
    • Galloway. All plans use Walking Breaks and some include training runs longer than the marathon distance.
    • Hanson. The Long Runs are limited to 16 miles but they include shorter mid-week marathon paced running.
    • Higdon. The easier plans are ‘vanilla’, while the harder ones include back to back long runs.
    • Pfitzinger. Plans for experienced runners, including some high mileage plans with multiple runs per day.
    • Waitz. Only a single, simple plan for first time marathon runners.
    • Lydiard. Created for elite runners, these plans have a lot of hard running.

    3 The Will to Win

    As Juma Ikangaa said, “The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.” The plans below can work, but they are not guaranteed to produce success, as long distance running requires a big commitment of time and effort. It is vital to count the cost that this training requires; none of these plans will help you if you don’t follow them.

    4 Mid Plan Adjustments and the Golden Rule of Training

    The Golden Rule of Training is “to stay injury free so you can continue training”. While this sounds obvious, it can be hard to follow. If you are struggling with a particular training plan, either unable to complete the workouts, or the workouts leave you feeling wiped out, then it’s probably better to change your plan than to continue on. It’s far better to arrive at the start line slightly undertrained than burned out or injured. You may have to find a different plan, or modify the workouts in your existing plan, though the latter can be tricky. Depending on how far through your training cycle you are, and how badly your suffering, the adjustment varies. Here are some possible modifications.

    • Drop cross training activities.
    • Reduce the length or skip entirely some of the shorter easy runs if your plan has those.
    • Reduce the length or decrease the pace of some of the speed work. If your plan has more than one speed work session per week, consider dropping one session.
    • Reduce the length of the Long Runs or add in Walking Breaks.
    • Change to a completely different plan. Consider
      • The Galloway plan could reduce your training stress significantly, but if you’re not used to Walking Breaks you will have to ease into this gently. While walking may seem trivial compared with running, the transition between the two states can cause some unexpected stress.
      • The Jack Daniels Plan A could be viable if you use it on three days a week, though the long runs are quite intense on this plan.
      • The Hanson plan has found success with runners who have previously burned out on other plans, but it’s unclear if it would be viable to swap that Hanson plan part way through a training cycle.
    • Depending on the severity of your problem it may be better to give up on your chosen race, and restart your training cycle, targeting a later date.

    5 Tweaking the Plans

    It is quite possible to use one of these plans as an initial basis and then tweak it to your particular needs. There are trivial tweaks, such as doing the Long Run on a different day, to major changes. Changes such as swapping out runs that are not key workouts for cross training or rest can be done quite easily. However, the more extensive the change, the more experience you need to understand the implications. I’ve added some notes on each plan where I believe modifications are advisable.

    6 Modifying the Plans for Continuous Training

    The vast majority of these plans assume you’re starting off from a low level of training. One of my Top 10 Marathon Training Mistakes is detraining between marathons. If you race a marathon every six months and your training pattern is to have a two month gap between finishing one race and starting doing your Long Runs for the next race, you will lose a disproportionate amount of your fitness. Instead, I would recommend that after you have recovered from a race you quickly return to doing 16+ mile Long Runs. Most of the plans shown here can easily be adapted this way. Simply ignore the weeks leading up to the first 16 mile Long Run, and start your training at that point for the next race.

    7 Difficulty and Benefit

    Different people will respond differently to any given training plan. Some people will respond well and become fitter, some will not be stressed enough and won’t improve, while others will be stressed too much and become injured or unable to Supercompensate. A plan that has a higher level of training stress will produce a greater benefit in the subset of the population that can withstand the stress, but will have a larger number of people that become injured or unable to adapt. Thus, a harder plan may have strong advocates, but it may not be suitable for a wider population.

    8 Want to Look for in the Marathon Training Plan

    Marathon training plans differ but at least partly because there is no consensus on what is best. I think however there are some key attributes to consider.

    • Length. The longer the plan, the more time you have to adjust to the training load. However, a longer plan also requires a greater time commitment.
    • Starting Mileage. A marathon training plan needs to start with an initial mileage that matches your current fitness. However, you can skip the first few weeks of a plan if you are fitter than the initial few weeks call for. In fact, it can be important to skip these weeks, otherwise you may become detrained.
    • Ramp up. The quicker the plan ramps up the mileage, the less time you have to adapt and Supercompensate. A faster ramp up generally indicates a higher risk of injury or burn out.
    • Rest. One of the most important, and often overlooked, aspects of marathon training plans is the amount of rest and recovery you get. Without sufficient rest, you won’t be able to adapt and Supercompensate. I believe that running 3-4 days/week is optimal.
    • Monotony. The ratio of training days to rest days, or easy to hard days, can be evaluated with Training Monotony. High values of monotony are associated with reduced fitness benefits and increased risks of Overtraining Syndrome.
    • Days/Week and Easy Days. To keep Training Monotony low and get the best recovery, running 3-4 days/week is probably optimal. If you prefer to run more frequently, then it is critical to keep the easy days as easy as possible.
    • Longest Run. There is some controversy over the length of the longest Long Run. I believe that it is better to have a longer longest run as this provides better preparation. However, this is only true if you build up to these longer runs gradually enough that you can recover well. A Long Run that leaves you overly fatigued will not benefit you. It’s better to reach the start line slightly undertrained, than injured or burned out.

    9 Suitability Comparison

    The table below gives some high level guidance as to the suitability for the different plans for different types of runner. In the table, the numbers 0-5 indicate suitability with 5 being more suitable. There is a lot of individual variability, so a plan that is marked low for a particular type of runner does not mean it won’t work for anyone in that category, but it’s less likely to be a good candidate. Likewise, a rating of 5 does not mean it will work, just it’s a better candidate. As always, I’d like to hear from anyone that disagrees ;}

    FIRST
    Marathon
    FIRST

    Novice

    Jeff Galloway’s
    You Can Do It!
    Hanson’s
    Marathon Method Just Finish
    Hanson’s
    Marathon Method Beginner/Advanced
    Hanson’s
    Marathon Method Elite
    Jack Daniels
    4Week
    Jack Daniels
    2Q
    Jack Daniels
    Plan A
    Jack Daniels
    Elite (AKA 12 Week)
    Pfitzinger’s
    Advanced Marathoning
    Hal Higdon’s
    Ultimate Training Guide
    Waitz’s Run
    your first marathon
    Running With Lydiard
    Beginner 0 2 5 2 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 3 2 0
    Novice 1 3 4 1 1 0 3 1 2 0 0 3 1 0
    Ringger 2 4 2 0 2 2 3 3 4 1 1 2 0 2
    Maintenance 2 2 3 2 2 0 3 2 2 0 0 4 0 0
    Improver 4 3 3 0 3 0 3 4 4 3 3 2 0 1
    Enthusiast 4 2 3 0 2 1 3 5 5 4 3 2 0 2
    Elite 3 0 1 0 1 3 1 3 3 4 3 0 0 3
    Limited Training Time 4 4 0 3 2 0 5 5 5 4 0 2 2 0
    Traditionalist 2 2 2 0 0 2 3 3 3 3 4 4 4 1
    Triathlete/Multisport 5 5 4 0 0 0 5 5 5 3 0 2 3 0
    Prior Overtraining 3 3 4 1 4 1 5 4 4 0 0 0 0 0
    Sub 3:00 5 5 2 1 2 3 4 5 5 5 4 2 0 3
    3:00-4:30 5 5 4 2 3 0 5 4 5 3 3 3 2 1
    4:30-5:30 3 3 5 1 2 0 2 2 3 0 0 2 2 0
    5:30+ 0 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Like Speedwork 5 5 0 0 3 3 5 5 5 5 3 1 0 5
    Hate Speedwork 0 0 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 4 5 0
    • Beginner: A first time marathon runner with no background in speedwork or hard racing at shorter distances.
    • Novice: A first time marathon runner, or someone who not run a marathon for some time, but has some experience of speedwork or racing at shorter distances.
    • Ringer: A first time marathoner who has lots of experience and talent at racing shorter distances.
    • Maintenance: A regular marathon runner who is looking to keep their performance, but not intending to work hard on improving their time.
    • Improver: A runner who has run several marathons and is hoping to improve their performance. An improver will have not trained hard in the past, so may have the ability to improve significantly.
    • Enthusiast: This is a runner who has trained hard for marathons in the past and is looking for ways of optimizing their performance.
    • Elite: A runner who is prepared to work ‘as hard as it takes’ to improve performance and typically is a faster marathon runner.
    • Limited Training Time: Here I’m thinking of time for training during the week, rather than the number of weeks to the race.
    • Traditionalist: this is someone looking for an established, traditional plan with no particular innovation and novelty.
    • Triathlete/Multisport Athlete: These athletes need to have time to dedicate to overtraining, so I plan that has days that can be used for other exercise methods is particularly applicable.
    • Prior Overtraining. Some runners have trained for marathons on plans that have resulted in them feeling overtrained. This can be due to a lack of rest, or the training stress ramping up too quickly. The Overtraining could be Overuse, Too Much Too Soon, or full Overtraining Syndrome. These runners may benefit from a much lower intensity training plan, or one with much more rest, especially if they can carry some of their endurance forward from their prior training.
    • Time categories: Some plans are better suited to faster or slower runners.
    • Like or hate speed work: Some plans include a lot more speed work than others, and different runners either enjoy or hate doing speed work. Also some runners find themselves easily injured by speed work, and need to avoid it.

    10 Characteristics

    The table below looks at the general characteristics of the various plans.

    Plan name Duration Min Days/week Max Days/week Min Cross Training days Max Cross Training Days Speedwork Long Run Pace Long Run Speedwork
    FIRST’s Run Less, Run Faster Novice, Marathon 16 3 3 2 2 2 MP+15 to MP+45 Yes
    Galloway You Can Do It Beginner, To Finish 26 6 6 0 0 0 Not Specified No
    Galloway You Can Do It Fat Burning 26 5 5 2 2 0 MP+120 No
    Galloway You Can Do It Goal based plans 26 4 4 2 2 0 MP+120 No
    Galloway’s Book On Running Goal based plans 32 4 7 0 0 1 MP+120 No
    Hanson’s Marathon Method Beginner and Advanced 18 6 6 0 0 2 Scaled (MP+50 to MP+30) No
    Hal Higdon’s Ultimate Training Guide Novice 18 4 4 1 1 0 NS (MP+30 to MP+90) No
    Hal Higdon’s Ultimate Training Guide Intermediate 1/2 18 5 5 1 1 0 NS (MP+30 to MP+90) No
    Hal Higdon’s Ultimate Training Guide Advanced 1/2 18 6 6 0 0 1 (Ad1), 2 (Ad2) NS (MP+30 to MP+90) No
    Jack Daniels Running Formula To Finish, Novice 18 3 7 0 0 1 MP+90 to MP+120 Yes
    Jack Daniels Running Formula Plan A 24 3 7 0 0 1 MP+90 to MP+120 Yes
    Jack Daniels Running Formula Elite, 12 Week 24 3 7 0 0 1 MP+90 to MP+120 Yes
    Jack Daniels Running Formula 2Q 18 2 7 0 0 1 MP+90 to MP+120 Yes
    Jack Daniels Running Formula 4Weeks 26 2 7 0 0 1 MP+90 to MP+120 Yes
    Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning <55/18 week 18 5 5 0 1 1 MP+10% to MP+20% Yes
    Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning <55/12 week 12 5 5 0 1 1 MP+10% to MP+20% Yes
    Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning 55-70/18 week 18 6 6 0 1 1 MP+10% to MP+20% Yes
    Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning 55-70/12 week 12 6 6 0 1 1 MP+10% to MP+20% Yes
    Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning 70-85/18 week 18 7 7 0 0 1 MP+10% to MP+20% Yes
    Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning 70-85/12 week 12 7 7 0 0 1 MP+10% to MP+20% Yes
    Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning >85 (105)/18 week 18 7 7 0 0 1 MP+10% to MP+20% Yes
    Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning >85 (105)/12 week 12 7 7 0 0 1 MP+10% to MP+20% Yes
    Waitz’s Run your first marathon RYFM 16 4 4 0 0 0 Not Specified No
    • Plan. I have generally used the last name of the primary author of the plan, except where the plan is better known by another name.
    • Name. This is the name of the plan with the in the book, or in the case of Jack Daniels the parameters used to generate the plan.
    • Min/Max Days/week. The minimum and maximum number of days per week that the plan prescribes for running. For the Galloway plans are considered any day the prescribes walking as part of the running days and was Galloway is using a run/walk approach.
    • Min/Max Cross Training days. This is the minimum and maximum number of days per week that the plan prescribes for cross training, rather than the number of days that the plan would allow for cross training.
    • Speedwork. This is the number of days where the plan prescribes speed work such as intervals or at tempo runs. Any speed work performed as part of the long run is not included in this total.
    • Fitness Based Paces. Both Jack Daniels and FIRST define all training paces based on your current fitness level, but other plans do not. (Note that the Hanson plans do prescribe training paces, but this is based on your goal rather than your proven fitness.)
    • Long Run Pace. While only Jack Daniels and FIRST give fitness based Paces, most of the plans give at least a broad guidelines as to the appropriate long run pace. These training paces are specified as a number of seconds per mile slower than marathon pace, or occasionally as a percentage slower. (For example, MP+10% for a 6:00 min/mile marathoner: 6:00 pace is 360 seconds per mile, 10% of 360 is 36, so the pace would be 6:36 min/mile.)

    Some of the plans have different number of days assigned to different activities as the plan progresses, in which case I’ve used a rough approximation.

    11 Long Run Analysis

    This section provides some detailed analysis of the long runs in each of the training plans. While some of the information is self-explanatory, some may require you to read the notes below the table. Only a subset of the plans for lower mileage, 4 hour marathoners is include’d’. For a complete table, see Full Characteristics Table

    Plan name # Runs
    16+
    # Runs
    20+
    Total Miles
    Over 16
    Starting
    Mileage
    Weeks
    To 16
    Weeks 16
    To Max
    16 To
    Race
    Max To
    Race
    Initial Ramp
    (First To 16)
    Core Ramp
    (16 To Max)
    Overall Ramp
    (first to max)
    FIRST’s Run Less, Run Faster Novice 3 1 6 8 8 4 7 3 0.88 0.90 0.75
    FIRST’s Run Less, Run Faster Marathon 8 5 25 13 2 1 13 12 2.00 3.00 2.30
    Galloway You Can Do It Beginner 4 3 22 3 14 8 11 3 0.60 0.52 0.51
    Galloway You Can Do It To Finish 4 3 22 3 14 8 11 3 0.66 0.47 0.53
    Galloway You Can Do It Fat Burning 4 3 22 3 14 8 11 3 0.58 0.53 0.49
    Galloway You Can Do It Goal 4:00 5 4 34 7 11 11 14 3 0.51 0.54 0.44
    Galloway’s Book On Running To Finish 6 4 30 2 16 10 13 3 0.61 0.82 0.64
    Galloway’s Book On Running Goal 4:00 6 4 30 4 18 10 13 3 0.34 0.83 0.32
    Hanson’s Marathon Method Beginner 3 0 0 4 10 0 7 7 1.16 0.00 1.16
    Hanson’s Marathon Method Advanced 3 0 0 8 10 0 7 7 0.63 0.00 0.63
    Hal Higdon’s Ultimate Training Guide Novice 3 1 6 6 10 4 7 3 0.97 1.00 0.89
    Hal Higdon’s Ultimate Training Guide Intermediate 1 4 2 11 6 9 3 8 5 0.99 0.40 0.96
    Hal Higdon’s Ultimate Training Guide Intermediate 2 6 3 16 10 6 4 11 7 0.79 1.00 0.95
    Hal Higdon’s Ultimate Training Guide Advanced 1 6 3 16 10 6 4 11 7 0.79 1.00 0.95
    Hal Higdon’s Ultimate Training Guide Advanced 2 6 3 16 10 6 4 11 7 0.79 1.00 0.95
    Jack Daniels Running Formula To Complete (4hours, 50miles/week) 0 0 0 3 9 No 16+ miler No 16+ miler 0.96
    Jack Daniels Running Formula To Complete (4hours, 90miles/week) 0 0 0 3 15 No 16+ miler No 16+ miler 3.30
    Jack Daniels Running Formula 2Q (4hours, 35miles/56Km) 3 0 1 11 10 5 8 3 0.48 0.07 0.39
    Jack Daniels Running Formula 4Week (4hours, 35miles/56Km) 0 0 0 8 8 No 16+ miler No 16+ miler 0.15
    Jack Daniels Running Formula Plan A (4hours, 35miles/56Km) 4 0 5 3 16 5 7 2 0.74 0.19 0.71
    Jack Daniels Running Formula Elite (4hours, 35miles/56Km) 16 12 74 3 6 12 18 6 1.98 0.51 1.26
    Jack Daniels Running Formula Scaled Elite (4hours, 35miles/56Km) 0 0 0 3 11 No 16+ miler No 16+ miler 0.85
    Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning <55/18 week 10 3 18 12 4 3 13 10 1.00 1.80 0.90
    Waitz’s Run your first marathon 3 1 6 5 11 2 5 3 0.96 2.00 1.11

    Notes on the columns

    • # Runs 16+. I consider that the 16 mile mark defines the beginning of “the long run”. While this is somewhat arbitrary on my part, I believe that counting the number of long runs that are 16 miles or more is a useful metric. The first run the diesel 16 miles or more is highlighted in green in the weekly section.
    • # Runs 20+. There is some limited evidence that suggests that runs over 20 miles provide important adaptations for marathon running, and help prevent “hitting the wall”. This column gives account of the number of runs that of 20 miles or more.
    • Total Miles Over 16. Another way of evaluating a training plan is to look at the number of miles run in excess of 16 miles. For example an 18 mile long run would count as 2 miles in excess of the 16 mile Mark. This metric reveals some dramatic differences between some of the advanced plans.
    • Starting Mileage. This column shows the mileage of the first long run, and may be useful in selecting a plan based on your current fitness.
    • Weeks To 16. This is the number of weeks from the start of the plan to the first 16 mile long run. This section of the training plan I’ve called the “initial ramp up” that brings a runner from their initial level of fitness to what I consider the threshold of performing long runs.
    • Weeks 16 To Max. This is the number of weeks from the first run of 16 miles or more to the longest run in the plan. If the longest run is repeated more than once, I use the first instance, which is highlighted in red in the weekly section.
    • 16 To Race. The number of weeks from the first run of 16 miles or more to the race itself.
    • Max To Race. The number of weeks from the longest long run to the race itself.
    • Ramps. One key aspect of any marathon training plan is how quickly it increases the mileage. It seems likely that one of the biggest factors behind excessive fatigue and injury from the long run is at this rate of mileage increase. Therefore I have attempted to quantify this rate of increase as a “ramp”, which is approximately the number of miles per week the long run is increased by. (For those interested in the details I use the least squares approach to calculate an approximate slope between the two points on the training plan. This approach has some obvious limitations when the training plans have cut back weeks.)
      • Initial Ramp (First To 16). This is the ramp from the first run to the first 16 mile or longer run.
      • Core Ramp (16 To Max).This is the ramp from the first 16 mile or longer run to the longest run.
      • Overall Ramp (first to max). The ramp from the first run to the longest run.

    Below is the list of the long runs for a sample of the plans. Only a subset of the plans for lower mileage, 4 hour marathoners is include’d’. For a complete table, see Full Long Runs Table

    Plan name W:32 W:31 W:30 W:29 W:28 W:27 W:26 W:25 W:24 W:23 W:22 W:21 W:20 W:19 W:18 W:17 W:16 W:15 W:14 W:13 W:12 W:11 W:10 W:9 W:8 W:7 W:6 W:5 W:4 W:3 W:2 W:1
    FIRST’s Run Less, Run Faster Novice 8 9 10 11 12 14 10 15 16 12 18 13 20 13 8 race
    FIRST’s Run Less, Run Faster Marathon 13 15 17 20 18 20 13 18 20 15 20 15 20 13 10 race
    Galloway You Can Do It Beginner 3 5 3 6 8 3 9 3 11 4 13 4 15 4 17 4 20 6 6 23 6 6 26 6 6 race
    Galloway You Can Do It To Finish 3 5 3 6 8 4 9 4 11 5 13 5 15 6 17 6 20 6 7 23 6 7 26 6 7 race
    Galloway You Can Do It Fat Burning 3 5 6 3 8 4 9 4 11 4 13 4 15 4 17 4 20 5 6 23 6 6 26 6 7 race
    Galloway You Can Do It Goal 4:00 7 7 8 9 4 11 5 13 5 15 5 17 4 20 6 6 23 8 6 26 10 6 28 12 7 race
    Galloway’s Book On Running To Finish 2 3 4 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 6 12 6 14 7 16 8 18 9 20 10 22 11 24 12 26 13 12 race
    Galloway’s Book On Running Goal 4:00 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 12 12 12 12 12 12 4 14 6 16 2 18 4 20 6 22 6 24 6 26 6 12 race
    Hanson’s Marathon Method Beginner 4 4 5 5 6 8 10 10 15 10 16 10 16 10 16 10 8 race
    Hanson’s Marathon Method Advanced 8 8 10 8 12 8 14 10 15 10 16 10 16 10 16 10 8 race
    Hal Higdon’s Ultimate Training Guide Novice 6 7 5 9 10 7 12 13 10 15 16 12 18 14 20 12 8 race
    Hal Higdon’s Ultimate Training Guide Intermediate 1 6 9 6 11 12 9 14 15 11 17 18 13 20 12 20 12 8 race
    Hal Higdon’s Ultimate Training Guide Intermediate 2 10 11 8 13 14 10 16 17 12 19 20 12 20 12 20 12 8 race
    Hal Higdon’s Ultimate Training Guide Advanced 1 10 11 8 13 14 10 16 17 12 19 20 12 20 12 20 12 8 race
    Hal Higdon’s Ultimate Training Guide Advanced 2 10 11 8 13 14 10 16 17 12 19 20 12 20 12 20 12 8 race
    Jack Daniels Running Formula To Complete (4hours, 50miles/week) 3 3 3 12 12 12 12 12 5 14 14 11 10 14 12 10 11 5 race
    Jack Daniels Running Formula To Complete (4hours, 90miles/week) 3 3 3 14 14 14 14 14 10 14 14 11 10 14 14 10 11 10 race
    Jack Daniels Running Formula 2Q (4hours, 35miles/56Km) 11 11 10 11 11 11 12 13 12 15 16 14 16 14 14 17 11 8 race
    Jack Daniels Running Formula 4Week (4hours, 35miles/56Km) 8 9 8 0 8 11 8 0 11 13 4 0 11 14 6 0 12 15 9 0 12 14 13 0 8 race
    Jack Daniels Running Formula Plan A (4hours, 35miles/56Km) 3 3 3 6 6 6 7 6 11 8 10 12 9 15 15 9 17 17 14 17 14 19 10 race
    Jack Daniels Running Formula Elite (4hours, 35miles/56Km) 3 3 3 6 6 6 18 16 18 20 17 20 22 22 20 22 22 22 23 22 22 22 19 8 race
    Jack Daniels Running Formula Scaled Elite (4hours, 35miles/56Km) 3 3 3 6 6 6 10 11 10 11 12 11 12 13 11 12 12 12 12 12 12 12 11 8 race
    Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning <55/18 week 12 13 14 15 16 12 18 20 16 14 20 17 18 17 20 16 12 race
    Waitz’s Run your first marathon 5 5 6 8 6 9 10 12 13 10 14 16 18 20 13 10 race

    12 Best Plan for First Time Marathoners

    It is hard to recommend the best overall plans for first-time marathon runners because their situation and objectives can vary so widely. First-time marathon runners could be highly experienced at racing shorter distances, or completely new to structured training. They could be aiming for a competitive finish, or just hoping to survive. Therefore, I’d recommend you read the suitability comparison above, and understand how I’ve characterized each type of first-time runner.

    • If your predicted marathon finish time is 5:30 or longer then I believe Galloway or a similar run/walk approach is by far the best approach. If you can predict your marathon finish time from a shorter race using my VDOT Calculator. A 5:30 marathon finish is about a 35:00 5K.
    • For those with a predicted finish time of 4:30-5:30 (28:30-35:00 5K time) then Galloway is still probably your best bet, but you could consider the Higdon’s Novice plan, or Jack Daniels Plan A.
    • If your predicted finish time is faster than 4:30, the best plan will depend on your objectives.
      • If you just wish to finish, then yet again Galloway is a great option, or you could consider the Higdon’s novice plan.
      • If you’re hoping to perform well then look at Jack Daniels Plan A or FIRST.

    13 Individualized Plans

    I have not included any individualized plans. This approach allows you to input things like a race goal, your weekly mileage, training effort, schedule length and when you want to start. This is partly because these plans require a fee for each set of inputs, making them extremely expensive if you want to get an overview of different paces and weekly mileage. The other major problem is that because they are customized, the algorithm for generating the plans can also change without notice.

    30 week marathon training

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