You’re ready to train for a marathon. Maybe it’s your first, or maybe you’ve already got a few under your belt. Either way, you’re wondering what the best training plan is and how long your training period should last.
As with any question about running, the simple answer is that it depends on where you’re at as a runner. It depends on your current fitness level, your running experience and your goals.
The best plan for an experienced runner who’s aiming to qualify for Boston isn’t going to be the best plan for a novice runner who’s working towards finishing their first ever marathon.
Training plans can last anywhere from 14 to 30 weeks. And if you’re starting from scratch you may need even more than 30 weeks to prepare (possibly 10 to 12 months according to Runner’s World coach, Jenny Hadfield).
The less experience you have as a runner, the more time you will need to spend training. You will need more time to build up to peak mileage, as well as more time for rest and recovery between workouts.
If you’ve been running for a few years or so, you’ll have a little bit more wiggle room and will likely perform well with a 16- or 18-week plan.
However, as Hadfield mentions, even experienced runners should caution against following shorter plans because they leave less room for life's curve balls.
If you choose a longer plan (20 or 22 weeks for example) you’ll have more time to bounce back from sickness, injury or simply having a bad training week.
“When I coach runners online, it is rare to have a season go by where they don’t get sick, have a family vacation, or just struggle through a week that gets mucked up from life,” Hadfield writes on Runner’s World. “For that reason, I develop most of my performance-based marathon plans on a 20-week cycle to allow for the flexibility to move long runs around or recover from illness, vacation, and more.”
Long story short: no matter your running experience, it’s a good idea to choose a plan that leaves room for flexibility, but ultimately the best plan will be one that suits your unique needs as a runner.