16 Week Marathon Training Schedule – Your Roadmap To Finish Your First Marathon

When will runners search for marathon training schedule? Probably they have decided to run a marathon, and better have already pick a race. If you are one of them, congratulation! You have made the right decision for a personal challenge that less than 1% of the U.S. population have accomplished.

While most training schedule for marathon ranges from 12 to 20 weeks, I have designed a 16-week training schedule specific for first time marathon runners. Ideally you should have 3 month easy running experience for 12-15 miles (20-24 km) per week, and better finished one 5k or 10k run.

Training ABC – Why You Need a Training Schedule

You may be wondering why you need a structured training schedule. Let’s make it simple so you can easily keep in mind.

A – Aim

Before going for your training, you should know what you are aiming for.

Set your time goal, be clear about it – Training for a sub-3 hour marathon and just finish a race is totally different. As a first time marathoner, it is crucial you aim for a realistic time goal to avoid injuring yourself during the training, otherwise it will devastate your whole plan for the race.

Do simple math, know your pace of running comfortably, set your realistic target marathon pace. Reduce the gap between your current pace and target pace throughout the training schedule. Finalize your target marathon pace before the race.

Injury-free is another important goal to keep in mind. Fatigue can recover very soon, injury could take time and hinder your progress during training. For marathons with time limit 6 or 7 hours, properly trained runners without major injuries have a good chance to finish the race.

Your final aim: enjoy the race, and have fun!

B – Build

Running a marathon is a rigorous challenge to your body and mind, proper training helps to build up the strength and endurance of your muscle, mental toughness, cardiovascular fitness and lung capacity to reach to the point of peak performance on the race day.

There is no overnight success, it can only be achieved by building up progressively. Our training schedule is designed to help you on this.

C – Consistent

Building up is like turning a flywheel, it gains momentum only through consistency. If you stop for some time, you need much more efforts to resume and regain to the last point, and it disrupts your progress as a whole.

The key for consistency is to build a routine, develop a habit to beat procrastination and stick to the training schedule. Running consistently will also build up your discipline and help you avoid those pitfalls during the race.

Training Schedule in Detail

A Few Terms to Know

Before going through the schedule, here are a few terms that you need to know:

  • Pace – minute per mile or km
  • Race pace – your target pace during the race day
  • Long run – this is the key to finish your first marathon. Don’t skip!
  • Tempo run – running shorter distance at higher than race pace by 5-10%,this will increase your muscle strength, cardio and lung capacity
  • Easy run – you are still able to hold a conversation and breathe smoothly
  • Rest – no running, let you body recover, prevent injury and burn out, prepare yourself to get ready for the next run in the training cycle

Phase 1 – Week 1 to 4

The purpose is to adapt yourself to the training as something different from your leisure or random runs, and build a routine to develop your habits in running as planned.

Phase 2 – Week 5 to 13

This is the longest and most important phase in the schedule. Training is intensified gradually in this phase, strength and endurance of your muscle and mind, cardiovascular fitness and lung capacity are built up, and prepare you for peak performance during the race day.

Phase 3 – Week 14 to 16

Also known as the “tapering” phase, when you have to slow down gradually, reduce your weekly mileage and shorten the long runs.

Some runners could be tempted to strengthen by working harder at this phase. Don’t!

If you have been following the schedule in the first 2 phases, you are already in good state for the race. Increasing training in tapering phase will have the opposite effect on your race day result.

The Weekly Cycle

You will have a routine of same activity on the same day of the week, so you won’t mix up the sequence which is important for building up your strength and endurance. Weekly mileage, long run distance and your pace are gradually increasing until week 13, which is the end of phase 2.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the activity for each day:

  • Monday – rest
  • Tuesday – run 3-6 miles
  • Wednesday – tempo run
  • Thursday – run 3-6 miles
  • Friday – rest
  • Saturday – run 4-5 miles (13 miles for week 13)
  • Sunday – long run 5-20 miles

Weekly mileage – 18-45 miles

Click here for the weekly details and download a printable version.

Things may happen inevitably during the training leading you to skip some session or fall behind, be patient and catch up gradually.

And remember to do warm up and stretching cool down for each running session.

Track Your Progress

Your target marathon pace at the start of the training may not be the final target, all depends on your progress. It is important to keep track of your progress, whether using paper log, computer or mobile apps.

Once you reach the end of phase 2, adjust for a more realistic target marathon pace based on your last long run, and do the math again to estimate your finish time, so you know how much buffer time you have before the race time limit. Knowing your buffer time can ease your mind in case you fall behind during the race.

Should I Run On Treadmill?

Running on treadmill is not as effective as running on road in building muscle strength. So if you are aiming to run your WHOLE training schedule on treadmill, Don’t!

However, sometimes treadmill has its own merits including:

  • able to control a steady speed, so you know more clear about your current pace
  • able to adjust inclination, which is good for training for race course with uphill
  • it’s indoor, you have less concern about weather
  • you run on rubber belts, which has less impact on legs and soles
  • you can put water bottle aside, no need to carry on your body
  • rubber belt is soft, so less wear and tear of running shoes

So my advice: slot some sessions to run on treadmill with a good reason, such as adverse weather or you want to train for uphill, but NOT for the 2 critical long run in week 11 and week 13.

Now You Are Ready

Congratulation for your decision to run your first marathon. A structured schedule will help you develop the habit and discipline for the training and the race.

Keep the Training ABC (Aim, Build, Consistent) in mind, follow the 3 phases to adapt, build up and taper as closely as possible. In case you skipped a session inevitably or fall behind, catch up gradually.

Find a method to track your progress and adjust your final finish time after week 13. Run on treadmill only with a reason.

While finishing your first marathon is challenging, with a good training schedule and aim for a realistic finish time, you will have a good chance to finish the race. And it can be fun!


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4 thoughts on “16 Week Marathon Training Schedule – Your Roadmap To Finish Your First Marathon

  1. I have been running for 6 months with weekly mileage around 20 miles but without joining any race before. I plan to join my first marathon in Jan 2019. Is your 16 week training schedule good for me. Thank.

    • Hello Newbie,

      As you have been running for 6 months with weekly mileage 20 miles, I believe you are ready for the training though you haven’t joined any race before. The first few weeks may be easy for you. You can run a little faster than your normal pace in the first 3 to 4 weeks, then pick up your pace in the weeks after.

      Wish you every success in your first marathon.


  2. Good post for beginners that want to do their first marathon and keep the ”pace” for many years. Ive used 16 weeks program for my first marathon and it worked perfectly. I finished it in 4h09. Not bad at all! 🙂 Im aiming to go 4h less for my next one in September (Montreal marathon). Im adjusting my pace this time!
    Have a good one. Fitness Wearables. Al

    • Hello Al,
      Thank you for dropping by and your comments.
      Glad to know you are a marathon runner. Finishing in 4h09 is a great achievement for first marathoners. It’s better than the average finish time 4h22 of U.S. marathoners.
      Best wishes to your success in next marathon and finish in less than 4 hours.

      And most importantly enjoy the race!


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