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Marathon Training Guide Overview

Amanda Wendorff

In this complete guide, you’ll learn the answers to many questions beginner and experienced runners have about running a marathon race.

Specifically, you’ll learn the answers to the following questions:

  1. How long is a marathon?
  2. Can you walk a marathon?
  3. What’s the average marathon time?
  4. How long does it take to train for a marathon?
  5. Can you train for a marathon on the treadmill?
  6. What’s the weekly mileage you need to train for a marathon?
  7. How should you pace a marathon?
  8. What should you wear for a marathon?
  9. What are good things to eat and drink during a marathon?
  10. What should you eat after a marathon?
  11. What should you eat and drink while training for a marathon?
  12. What should you do before running a marathon?
  13. What should you eat before a marathon?
  14. Should you carb load before a marathon?
  15. What does a marathon taper look like?
  16. How do you recover from a marathon?
  17. How should you breathe while running a marathon?
  18. How should you train to run a marathon on trails?
  19. How can you improve your marathon time?
  20. How can you train to break four hours in the marathon?
  21. How hard is it to move up from a half marathon to a marathon?

We'll also give you a sample training plan with variations for beginners, intermediate, and advanced runners.  These plans are basic templates; for a personalized plan that matches your ability and goals, check out the training plans we offer in our MOTTIV training app.

MOTTIV app user James Chen is all smiles in the middle of his race.

Complete Marathon Race Guide

How Long is a Marathon?

A marathon running race is 26.2 miles or 42 kilometers long.

Read the full article here.

Can You Walk a Marathon?

You can walk some or all of a marathon. In fact, many experienced runners incorporate short walks into their marathons.

If you’re walking the entire marathon or a large portion of it, you will need to be aware of race cut-off times, which are usually between 6 and 7 hours.

Read the full article here.

What’s the Average Marathon Time?

The average finish time for a marathon is around 3 hours and 48 minutes. However, that takes into account runners of all ages, genders, and experience levels.

To determine a good marathon time for your age and gender, you can reference this article.

How Long Does it Take to Train for a Marathon?

Training for a marathon can take anywhere from a few months to close to a year. The number of weeks you should expect to devote to marathon training depends on several factors, including your existing fitness level, how many miles you’ve been running lately, and your goals for the race.

You can find out all the details in this article.

Can You Train for a Marathon on a Treadmill?

You can do a lot of your marathon training on a treadmill. Running on a treadmill has some distinct advantages, such as time efficiency and the ability to avoid adverse weather conditions. However, the treadmill also has some serious drawbacks. We would not suggest doing all of your training on a treadmill.

Read more about training on a treadmill here.

What’s the Weekly Mileage You Need to Train for a Marathon?

The ideal weekly mileage is individual for each runner, depending on their run experience, race goals, and experience with running injuries. More important than the actual number of miles run is whether you increase running volume gradually and carefully.

You can read all about the details here.

How Should You Pace a Marathon?

Pacing a marathon requires patience and good body awareness. For your best finish time, you should either aim to have the second half of the race be a little faster than the first half or aim to have even pacing across the entire 26.2 miles.

To properly pace a marathon, you should have a good idea of your goal pace before you start and practice running at that tempo many times in training.

You can read more about marathon pacing here.

What Should You Wear For a Marathon?

During a marathon, you should wear comfortable, temperature-appropriate, and sweat-wicking clothing that you’ve tried out in training. You also should wear running-specific socks and a good pair of running shoes.

See more details about what to wear when running here.

What Should You Eat and Drink During a Marathon?

To perform your best in a marathon, you should consume easily digestible carbohydrates such as sports gels, chews, or sports drinks. This will ensure you have sufficient energy to cover the 26.2 miles without bonking.

You can read about race day nutrition here.

What Should You Eat After Running a Marathon?

Almost immediately after a marathon, you should consume a snack or small meal containing carbohydrates and protein. A bit later, when your stomach has settled, have a well-balanced meal with at least 15- 30 grams of protein and 50 - 100 grams of carbohydrates.

We discuss all the options for post-marathon fueling here.

What Should You Eat and Drink While Training For a Marathon?

Because training for a marathon requires a lot of energy, it’s important to fuel your body with a well-balanced diet, making sure to eat enough to support your training load. It’s also important to stay hydrated between sessions, as dehydration can hinder training.

Read more about how to fuel your marathon training here.

What Should You Do in the Days Before a Marathon?

In the few days before a marathon, you should focus on getting lots of rest, eating well, planning out your race day, and doing some shorter run workouts.

All the details of what to do on the day before a marathon are here.

What Should You Eat Before a Marathon?

In the days before a marathon, you should increase your carbohydrate intake while still eating balanced meals with protein and fats. As the race gets closer, change your diet to more bland, easily digestible foods that you have practiced with in training.

This article discusses pre-race fueling a bit more.

Should You Carb Load Before a Marathon?

Because your body relies largely on carbohydrates for energy, carb loading is a good idea to set yourself up for a fast marathon. Carb loading is more than just a big plate of spaghetti, though—it’s a multi-meal approach to ensuring that your glycogen stores are topped up without making you feel bloated.

All the details on carbohydrate loading are here.

What Does a Marathon Taper Look Like?

Generally, a marathon taper lasts 10 to 14 days. During this time, you should decrease your overall training volume while still maintaining some small doses of speed work.

Read about a few approaches to the marathon taper here.

How Do You Recover From a Marathon?

Recovery from a marathon starts the minute you cross the finish line. It’s important to eat a combination of protein and carbohydrates shortly after your race to jump-start the recovery process. Additionally, incorporate active recovery, rehydrate, and get plenty of rest.

Some tips on post-marathon recovery are here.

How Should You Breathe While Running a Marathon?

Learning how to breathe properly while running can really enhance your performance. Read this article to learn more about various breathing patterns that you can try during your marathon.

How Should You Train to Run a Marathon on Trails?

Training for a trail marathon is much like training for a marathon on the roads, with a few additions. If you have a trail run coming up, you should spend more time off-road, learning to navigate unique terrain while also incorporating plenty of hill climbing.

Read more about training for a trail marathon here.

How Can You Improve Your Marathon Time?

Once you have completed a marathon or two, you may want to focus on improving your time. Improving your marathon time means training smarter, using proper training zones, and incorporating lots of different intensities in your weekly mileage.

This article has lots of tips on how to get faster over the marathon distance.

How Should You Train to Break Four Hours Marathon?

Training to break four hours is a great goal. It requires smart, focused training and spending plenty of time practicing at your goal marathon pace.

Read more about how to structure your training to get your four-hour marathon finish time here.

How Do You Progress From a Half Marathon to a Full Marathon?

Training for a marathon is not too different from training for a half marathon. The major differences are the overall volume of training (marathon training will take a few more hours a week) and the length of the long run (marathon training includes long runs of up to 20 miles). Other than that, recovery and nutrition take on heightened importance when you’re preparing for a marathon.

Here’s a bit more on the major differences in preparing for 26.2 vs. 13.1.

Marathon Training Plans

Beginner Marathon Training Plans

Beginner runners are people who fall into one of the following categories:

  1. You have never run before and have very little fitness background
  2. You want to train as little as possible
  3. You just want to finish a race and don’t care at all about the time

You can see a beginner marathon training plan here.

Intermediate Marathon Training Plans

Intermediate runners are people who fall into one of the following categories:

  1. You have a strong fitness background in another high-level sport
  2. You want to train a moderate amount, but not to huge levels
  3. You want to finish the race in a solid time

You can see an intermediate marathon training plan here.

Advanced Marathon Training Plans

Advanced runners are people who fall into one of the following categories:

  1. You have an elite fitness background in other endurance sports
  2. You’ve been running and competing in running races for quite a while.
  3. You don’t mind training as much as reasonably possible
  4. You want to finish the race in as fast a time as you possibly can.

You can see an advanced marathon training plan here.


Read through this marathon training guide and you’ll learn what it takes to finish a full marathon race feeling great! You can also check out the Learn to Run guides on our website and our complete  5k, 10k, and half marathon training guides. For a free personalized run training plan, be sure to check out our app!

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Amanda Wendorff

| Author

Amanda Wendorff is a professional triathlete, focusing on the 70.3 and 140.6 Ironman distances. In the last several years she’s competed in multiple gravel bike races. Top Achievements: Top 3 Ironman Ireland and Ironman 70.3 Coquimbo, Multiple time top-5 finisher, 3rd Overall at Moran 166 Gravel Race in Michigan, Age group podium at Gravel Worlds, Big Sugar, and Ned Gravel in first year of gravel racing.

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