How to Choose a Marathon Training Plan

An expert coach explains why customized plans are best for marathon training

Aside from actually signing yourself up for the race, the very first step in preparing for a marathon is deciding on a training plan to follow.

Well actually, before you even pay a fee to claim your bib, you should first be sure that you’re physically ready to start training for a marathon, says Jason Fitzgerald, a 2:39 marathoner and the founder of Strength Running.

“Your weekly mileage should be at about 20 and hopefully your long run is in the double digits about 16 weeks before the race,” he said.

At this point your body will be ready to take on the many miles you’ll need to cover to prepare yourself for a 26.2-mile race, and based on this “pre-training” you’ll be better able to pick a plan that will best fit your needs and abilities.  

Fitzgerald says you should first look for a plan that starts at a mileage level similar to what you’re currently running. However, he strongly suggests that most runners should eliminate the guesswork of training for a marathon by seeking out a customized training plan.

“Invest in a custom training plan from an accredited coach who can tailor it exactly to your individual fitness level, goals, injury history, schedule, and background,” he said.

He warned against the many free “stock” marathon training plans available online.

“They over-simplify marathon training, don't include injury prevention measures or strength training, and often aren't written by certified running coaches,” Fitzgerald said.

Instead, he strongly recommends working with a coach that you trust so you can get a training plan that will prioritize your specific interests and goals.  

“Buying a personalized training plan is an enormous advantage over a stock plan for any runner who has a specific time goal or has struggled with injuries in the past,” Fitzgerald said. “The coach writing your plan will have you answer an extensive questionnaire, tailoring the program to your specific needs, strengths, and weaknesses.”

Some other benefits of a customized plan that he mentioned include: elimination of the need to worry about whether you’re doing the “right thing”, knowing with confidence that every workout was designed specifically for you, and race results that will be significantly better than what you’d get with a standard training plan.

“Working with a coach is taking your training to the next level,” Fitzgerald explained. “In addition to getting a training program fully personalized for your needs, you'll get access to a coach who can help you with race strategy, injury rehab and prevention, accountability, and who's available to answer any questions you might have throughout the training cycle.”

He noted that with the growing popularity of online coaching services, working with professionals to train for a marathon has become much more affordable for recreational runners who want to see what they’re really capable of achieving on race day.   


Jason Fitzgerald is a 2:39 marathoner, USA Track & Field certified coach, and his company Strength Running is one of the largest online coaching sites for runners. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Competitor Magazine, Health, Outside, and many more.