How to Go From Zero to Marathon in Six Months

Weeks 20 to 25 (6 Weeks of Marathon Specificity)

This is the meat of the schedule. This six-week block will not only prepare you physiologically to handle race day, but also enable you to finish the race well and have a positive marathon experience.
  • Sunday: Run for 2 hours and 40 minutes to 3 hours and 30 minutes during weeks 20 and 23. This run should be relaxed in nature with a simple 1-minute surge largely at conversational pace. In the afternoon that same day, complete 30 minutes of a relaxed stationary bike spin or swim session. During weeks 21 and 24, reduce the volume of this long run by 15 percent. During week 25, there's no long run
  • Monday: rest day (no running); cross-training optional for 70 to 80 minutes
  • Tuesday: Run easy for 60 to 65 minutes with 8 x 100m strides to finish.
  • Wednesday: Warm up with 18 to 20 minutes of controlled running, then complete 6 to 8 x 100m.
  • Thursday: Run 3 to 4 miles, cross-train, or take a rest day.
  • Friday: Run 8 to 6 miles "as you feel." Finish with 10 x 200m accelerations on the track or on a flat bike path stretch. These 200s should be run at roughly 5K pace with 200-meter slow walk/jog between them.
  • Saturday: you-choose easy day—either run easy or cross-train 

I highly recommend using a longer race such as a 10-miler, half marathon or even a 25K (15.5 miles) one or two times in lieu of the longer run during this six weeks. Even if your marathon goal is simply a solid healthy finish, you will undoubtedly enjoy the experience more (and be more accustomed to racing) by having one or two race "situations" leading in to your marquee event.

Week 26: The Taper

Tapering for a marathon is the least scientific element to the event. Some athletes prefer a longer 2 1/2- to 3-week taper, and others prefer a shorter taper. I'd suggest a week-and-a-half taper for those following this marathon training plan.

The penultimate week of training should have a reduction of volume between 15 to 20 percent with an additional 20- to 30-percent reduction on the final week into race day. During the final week of training, there's no long run.

  • Sunday: Run controlled for 65 to 70. Finish with 8 x 100m accelerations.
  • Monday: rest day
  • Tuesday: Run relaxed for 35 minutes.
  • Wednesday: Warm up for 15 minutes, then run for 30 minutes at marathon effort. Cool down for 15 minutes.
  • Thursday: Run relaxed for 35 minutes.
  • Friday: rest day
  • Saturday: Run easy for 20 minutes with 6 x 100m strides to finish.
  • Sunday: race

There are a few key differences between the crash-course build-up, the traditional build-up and this long-term approach. In this plan, time rather than distance is used as the metric for this build-up. The reasons for this vary; however, with new marathon runners, or ones who have taken a significant break, using time rather than distance takes the pressure off of weekly mileage expectations, and allows runners to train by feel rather than hypothetical numbers.

This long-term approach may appear to be quite the commitment, but know that preparing properly for the marathon will allow you to start the race with greater confidence, and reduce the likelihood of you being a "one-and-done" marathoner.

READ THIS NEXT: What Happens When You Run a Marathon Without Proper Training?

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