How to Create a Marathon Training Plan

Hey gang! Hope everyone had a great weekend. I am sure you have heard by now that Shalane Flanagan won the New York City Marathon yesterday. The first US woman in exactly 40 years to win the coveted spot! Congrats Shalane! Feeling inspired by the NYC marathon, I wanted to write a post on how to build a marathon training plan. There are a TON of runners out there that don’t know where to start when it comes to actually creating a plan. Then they rely on generic plans they found online and wonder why they get injured.  That plan wasn’t created with YOU in mind!

Before I get into the details, there are 2 things I am assuming you know prior to following these instructions:

1) you know your current fitness level. I highly recommend you have at least done one half marathon prior to committing to a marathon.  You should not be following these directions if you are new to running.

2) you ideally know what days you like to run. If you currently run, you are familiar with how many days a week and what day you like to run.

Ok with those 2 things out of the way, let’s get started!

1) Pick your race.

This might be the most fun part! I recommend using a few sites to search for your perfect race. A few good ones are,,, and  Also be sure to check out my race review section 😉

2) Pick your goal.

Are you running for a PR?  Is this your first marathon? Are you returning to running after an injury?  These things may seem small but are critical when building a marathon plan. If this is your first marathon, you don’t want to pepper your plan with a ton of speed workouts and high mileage.

3) Use excel or a calendar to chart out your plan.

Personally, I find that creating an excel spreadsheet works best for me because I create additional columns for the week number (i.e. Week 1, Week 2, etc.) and Total Weekly Mileage.  If you google “Excel spreadsheet for marathon training” there are templates already available that you can use and customize. You will want at least 16 weeks to train properly for the marathon.

4) Work backwards.

Work backwards from the race date. Planning out the last month of training is key to setting the stage for your plan.  Plotting out your last 20 miler is THE most important part of the plan. That would take place 2 or 3 weeks prior to your race. The time between your 20 miler and the race is your taper period. This is the time to go easy in the plan. BONUS: About 4 to 6 weeks prior to your race, plan to race a half marathon.  It’s a great indicator to how your training is going in the cycle and could tell you if your training is going well (or not) for the full marathon.

5) Now start from the beginning.

With your current fitness level in mind, start with week 1. For week 1, I always maintain my current running level in order to give me a base to build on. Then for the next 2 weeks, increase your mileage by 10%. So for example, if your weekly mileage for week 1 was 20 miles, you will need to increase the next week’s mileage by 2 miles (10%).

6) Up 3, down the 4th.

In other words, you should increase mileage for 3 weeks and then decrease mileage for the 4th week. The 4th week your mileage should decrease by 15-20% of the previous week. So for example:

Week 1: 20 miles
Week 2: 22 miles (up 10%)
Week 3: 25 miles (up 10%)
Week 4: 20 miles (down 20%)

7) Now increase the following week by 10% using the highest weekly mileage in that cycle NOT the previous week.

So in other words:

Week 1: 20 miles
Week 2: 22 miles (up 10%)
Week 3: 25 miles (up 10%)
Week 4: 20 miles (down 20%)
Week 5: 28 miles (up 10% from week 3)

8) As you go along, add in rest days, account for vacations/other special events, and cross training.

As you can see, this is pretty complicated and there are a ton of different methods for building a marathon plan. Need help? Hire me! 🙂 Check out the coaching plans i have and pick the one you want.

Happy Running!