How Long to Train for a Marathon: What Runners Advise

Prepare for the unknown with this marathon training guide.

Jamie Bichelman - Author

May 29 2024, Published 12:41 p.m. ET

A group of older adult runners celebrate as they cross the finish line of a marathon.
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From dogs running (and finishing) marathons to stories of agonizing heartbreak and breathtaking personal achievement, marathons encompass a wide range of emotions for runners and observers alike.

If you are eager to run your inaugural race — or your first one in a while — you'll want to make sure you have proper shoes, sustainable running apparel, and the knowledge below to pace your marathon training plan.

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As you prepare to increase your aerobic endurance, find the perfect plant-based protein to fuel your energy and recovery, and immerse yourself in running culture, we encourage you to do so responsibly and safely. Working with a professional, such as a legitimate trainer with educational credentials, and consulting with a medical professional, will help you avoid common pitfalls that lead to unnecessary injuries.

That said, read on to learn more about how long it will take to train to run a marathon.

A mother and her two children smile as they run on a dirt trail surrounded by trees.
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How long to train for a marathon:

Although there is no one-size-fits-all plan for every runner's unique needs, Runner's World suggests training for at least four to five months. You'll want to give your body sufficient time to adapt to the changes it undergoes while training for a marathon, which includes a stronger heart that supports enhanced aerobic capacity and stronger muscles.

If this is your first marathon, an emotionally and physically demanding journey awaits; you may want to give yourself six months to train.

Asics echoes that four to five months is the standard amount of training required for a marathon, but anywhere from three to six months could work, depending on your situation.

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And all that time practicing your running, endurance, and other important skills have various benefits.

One study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that older, slower first-time marathon runners experienced a reduction in their "vascular age" equivalent to that of four years. Translation: your cardiovascular and overall health are likely to benefit greatly if you follow a training plan outlined by a professional in conjunction with regular check-ins with your doctor.

Throughout the next half-year of training for a marathon, you will want to ensure you place an emphasis on your recovery regimen. By rushing your training plan to fewer than 16-20 weeks or forgoing the requisite time to allow your body to heal, you significantly increase the chance of developing an injury that may very well sideline you from the marathon altogether.

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“Taking enough time to properly train will help fully prepare you for race day, but it will also decrease your chance of getting injured during your training, which often happens when runners increase their intensity too quickly,” licensed strength and running coach Jess Movold told Runner’s World.

Smiling older adults practice running together in the rain beside trees and a lake.
Source: iStock
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How long to train for a half marathon:

While an REI blog post likewise pegs the training time for a marathon around 20 weeks, they suggest running shorter races, like half marathons, as a strategic way to build up to the full 26.2-mile marathon.

The comparatively more doable half marathon, at 13.1 miles, is a somewhat less daunting challenge that Strava estimates should take around four months of training.

Throughout these 16 weeks, Strava recommends dividing your time into four phases lasting four weeks apiece. The first stage, preparation, includes introducing the body to longer, easy runs, cross training, and ample rest and recovery to avoid shin splints.

In the next phase, runners seek to build upon the foundation of the first four weeks, ramping up the distance, and listening closely to the body when it needs rest.

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In the "peak" phase, higher-mileage runs and higher-intensity training sessions challenge the body in newly grueling ways. With the concluding four weeks, Strava recommends runners "taper" off gradually from the highest intensity workouts before race day.

Ultimately, whether you find your training takes a mere few months or a year or more, be sure to practice gratitude for your unique body, its health, and its role supporting your fitness goals.

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