The World’s Simplest Marathon Training Plan

Amelia Phillips

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Many people who have a dream of running a marathon push it to one side because they are filled with the fear that it’s too much training, they don’t have the time, or they aren’t fit/strong enough. Well I am here to dispel that fear by showing you in the simplest way possible a training program for anyone who can currently run 10km without stopping. If you are an experienced marathoner wanting to run a PB (personal best) then this program may not be detailed enough for you. But if you are a first time marathoner, or an amateur, then this program is exactly what you need to get fit enough to complete 42.2km.

The five ingredients for a successful marathon training program

1. The 10% rule: A good friend of mine David (who leads the Kirribilli runners) once taught me the golden rule of marathon training; only increase your miles/km 10% per week. This reduces the chance of injury and allows your body the time to acclimatise to the extra running.

2. One long run every week: As soon as you start running one long run per week, your body will become so much stronger. 30km (18.6 mi) is the magic distance. Once you can run this, you can run a marathon. The more long run’s you get in leading up to the race, the stronger you will finish.

3. Stretch: I will say this once: If you don’t stretch your entire body properly and deeply, you WILL get injured. I hate stretching after a run because I am tired, hungry, hot, thirsty, so I do what one would call a pseudo stretch (aka a pathetic attempt to stretch). It certainly isn’t good enough, therefore I go to a semi-private Pilates class twice per week. Yoga is also incredible for runners. Pilates should be a reformer class focusing on flexibility. Try before you buy because some Pilates studio’s don’t put enough emphasis on stretching. If you want to cut costs, buy a yoga DVD and follow that twice per week. Whatever it takes pleeease stretch, and not just a pseudo stretch!

4. Speed sessions: Not all your training runs will be long runs, in fact you will see that short speed sessions are part of your program. They will get you running faster and strengthen all your running muscles which helps cope with the longer distances.

5.  Join a running group: This will not only improve the quality of your training but it adds an essential fun, social aspect to running. I do a long run with the Sydney Striders every Sunday, and they put on a breakfast spread afterwards. I look forward to this run as much as I look forward to my Friday night pub crawls (well almost as much!). Google ‘running groups’ in your local area and find out the fitness levels catered for. If you are Sydney based, the Sydney Striders and the Kirribilli runners are fantastic running groups. They are also great for running visitors who want to see more of Sydney on foot.

The 16 week training plan in Kilometers

Click here to view a larger, printable version of this program.

The 16 week training plan in Miles

Click here to view a larger, printable version of this program.

Training notes:

  • Shorter distances are to be trained at a faster pace. Use Mc Millans calculator to determine your pace.
  • For longer distances do not worry about your speed at first, just get through the distances at a steady pace. It is about how long you run for, not how fast.
  • Pick one short run per week to be a bit of a time trial. Record your times each week and monitor the improvements. Don’t be alarmed if they don’t improve quickly, you won’t necessarily get much faster training for a marathon, but boy will you get fitter!
  • Fit in a second stretch workout somewhere in that program. I’d be tempted to do it on your shortest distance day, that way you have Saturdays off completely.

Training tools

  • Heart rate monitor with GPS: These can be expensive (around AU$400) but I wouldn’t train without one. Apple Watch is my fav but, Garmin 405Polar GPS are good too.
  • Map my Run: If you don’t want to fork out money for a gps, use Map My Run to map your routes so you know how far each workout is. It’s not hard and doesn’t take long. Create your own profile so you can save and share your runs.
  • McMillans Calculator: This is an awesome tool where you can punch in a time you did for pretty much any distance, and it will tell you how fast you should be running for other distances. You can read more on McMillans if you want. Minutes per Kilometer are the units we use, and that is what your heart rate monitor with GPS will use too. It’s runners speak, you’ll see!
  • Beep test: Or any running fitness test really. I suggest you do one at the start of your training so you know how much you have improved. Always record your heart rate at the very end and exactly 60 seconds after you finish. Sometimes fitness shows itself in the rapid recovery time more so than the test itself.

It’s as simple as that! Follow the training program but ultimately listen to your body. Occasionally you will need to skip a workout, and that’s better than having a slow, frustrating run. If you feel you need more guidance, you can use a marathon training coach to give you a specialized program.

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41 responses to “The World’s Simplest Marathon Training Plan”

  1. Sean says:

    Well done in Melbourne mate! Great effort to come third! Next time we can both crack three hours. Great effort again!

  2. Thanks Sean! It’s a deal. Next time we can cross the finish line holding hands!!!

  3. Alice Priest says:

    Fantastic Marathon effort Amelia! So exciting to see you getting such a competitive PB. What would you say you’ve done in your training/approach to be making such improvements in you second, and now your third marathon times?
    As for me, I had my first “DNF” in Melbourne. Knee went at 12ks after a really positive start, pulled out at 13k. Think I’ve got some serious time on the road to recovery ahead of me.

  4. Hi Alice,

    You poor thing having a DNF (did not finish) in the half. It looks like this summer will be spent in some serious rehab. Don’t worry, I was plagued by injury in my first year of running, and once I ironed out all the bumps, I’ve never looked back! Your issues are muscle balance mostly so they will improve I promise.

    As for my PBs, the improvements in my marathon times I can attribute to two things:
    1) sprint training: I now do two sessions per week of dedicated sprint work. I do 3 x 1km, 4 x 400m and a resistance circuit. It’s not a lot but it’s really helped me.

    2) Focus on race day: Even over that distance every step counts. I used to daydream a bit or allow myself to get distracted and slow down. This time I had my pace I wanted to maintain and I tried not to falter from that at any stage. I have a set of mindset processes I do while I run and they keep me focussed, in good technique and help to dispel all those nasty negative thoughts that can ruin a run.

    James will be able to give you some guidance around rehab but If you need a hand with finding physios/pilates, let me know.

  5. […] up into one sprint session at the oval, one 30km run, and various other tempo sessions. Usually my marathon programs start 16 weeks out so it was pretty heavy going on both of us at […]

  6. jim says:

    Thank you for that great program. I’m up to 20kms every 3 days and wonder where I should start on the program – looking forward to my first marathon!
    Any advice on what to eat/drink and when as I’m nnot sure how long it takes to digest different foods etc

  7. Sean Muller says:

    Hi AB – you coming to Canberra now that it is back on?

  8. Jim says:

    Thanks for the fantastic info. I completed my first marathon in 4h10m which is due to following your advice. I’ll be 50 next marathon and am hoping to move up the ranks. Jim

  9. Nicki says:

    Thanks for this Amelia, I have ben trawling through lots of running sites trying to get advice and just ended up more confused – this simple plan is just what I need – hopefully it will get me to the Sydney marathon in september!

  10. Amanda says:

    Hi Amelia,

    I’m looking at using your training program to do my second marathon. I’m hoping to run sub 4 hours. Fingers crossed!


  11. Treadmills says:

    marathons are fun and some great training tips here.
    as i work long hours i am currently training for my next marathon doing all my training on a treadmill

  12. Mark Falkingham says:

    Awesome training plan and other training info. It helped me knock almost 50 min off my PB (now down to 3h 17m) in this year’s Melbourne marathon. I’ll definitely be using it agian next year, and aiming to go under 3h.
    Thank you Amelia.

  13. MG73 says:

    Hi – I’ve just signed up for the Canberra Marathon and there are 79 days to go. I’m in decent shape and have completed the 2010 Sydney half marathon in 1hr 32m and City2Surf in 62mins. However, after a big Nov/Dec and early Jan with little exercise I’m a bit worried as this weekend will be my first run in quite a while. I’m 37 also so not exactly young…Is 11 weeks going to be enough training to get me in under 4 hours?

    Cheers – Michael

  14. Darren Holland says:

    Hi Amelia,

    I havent run more than 2 kms for a couple of years… but used to do short distance tri’s and hvae done 2 halfs about 5 years ago.

    i turn 40 next year and become a Dad for the first time and have always wanted to do a marathon.

    How much training in weeks will i need from a standing start and what is the Great Ocean Road run like as a first go-it looks scenic??

    Excited and confronted…Darren

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  16. Vicki says:

    Hi Amelia
    I’ve just completed my furthered run yet- a half marathon in far north qld. I used a 6 wk training program similar to the one youve provided here.
    I’m really keen to try and tackle a full marathon in early 2012, thought it might be a nice thing to do in the year of my 30th!
    I’d really like to do a marathon in sub 4hrs. I did the half Mara in 2hrs 10min so I’d need to speed it up a fair bit. Do you have any recommendations or tips for training to achieve sub 4hrs?

  17. Toohs says:

    This program is completely unrealistic and disregards the 10% rule. 30k to 80k per week in 10 weeks is asking for trouble unless you’ve been averaging 60 per week before starting.
    Sunday long run progression 11-20-25-30? Is that code for shin splints or total breakdown?

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