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How to Train for a Marathon

03 October 2022


Use these tips for a 12-week plan.


Training for a marathon distance is a major commitment, and cannot be taken lightly. 42km is a long way to run and therefore training requires dedication and consistency. Generally, you should allow 12 weeks to train properly. No single session will help you run the race faster or better. Consistent training in a controlled and well thought-out way is the key to completing the distance. The general rule of thumb is to increase weekly mileage by no more than 10% to avoid illness and injury from over-training.


Make sure you incorporate the following in your 12-week training routine: 


Long runs

Long runs are the foundation of all marathon training programmes. They are crucial for preparing the body for the demands of the marathon distance. Gradually increasing the long run week by week will both enhance the glycogen storing capacity of the liver and help muscles, ligaments and tendons to withstand mile after mile of pounding. They are also important in developing confidence in your ability to go the distance.


Tempo sessions and races

If you are aiming for a particular time in a marathon, then tempo sessions and races are a must. Tempo sessions will get you running at, or faster than, marathon race pace but over a shorter distance. Aim to reach no more than 20km in your tempo run during your build up to the marathon. They most closely simulate the conditions you will encounter in the race itself and as such are an invaluable part of training.


Speed runs

Along with tempo runs, speed sessions will push you to become faster and stronger. Vary your distances each week, start with 5 to 10 fast runs/sprints for 1 minute with a 2 minute recovery. Gradually increase the speed distances until you reach 1km with a 1 minute recovery. There is no doubt that these sessions are hard, but they are invaluable for strength and cardiovascular fitness. This is where you truly find out what your limits are, so make the most of it. Even better if you can find a friend or two to race against!


Hill runs

Running up hills is one of the best ways to increase strength. When performing these sessions make sure you warm up sufficiently by slow running for 2 to 4km. Try to find hills that take at least 2 minutes to get up. Run up the hill at a good speed – you shouldn’t be flat out or going too slowly, just get on your toes and push yourself. Once at the top, take a breather and slowly jog/walk back to the start, ready for the next repetition. Aim to complete each hill rep in the same time to make sure you are putting in enough effort. Aim to run 4 to 8 hills depending on your current fitness level.


Strength Training

One day a week should be dedicated solely to strength work. Leave the running shoes at the door and concentrate on finely tuning your body by doing weights. Weight training, in the form of lunges, squats, deadlifts and core work, is very beneficial to runners – not only to maintain muscle but also to strengthen the body and prevent injury.


Recovery Sessions

Recovery sessions are a very important part of the plan and as such, must be run at the right intensity. These runs will help clean out the lactic acid and rebuild the structure of the muscles after hard training. Under no circumstances should recovery runs turn into fast runs. You should be running slower than your long runs, preferably on a flat surface. Enjoy these sessions, and make the most of going slow!


Taper Weeks

The last 2 weeks of a 12-week training program are referred to as taper weeks. This is your opportunity to take your foot off the pedal, and completely scale back your running. Suddenly your 20km runs will become 6km. Many runners fall at this last hurdle, thinking that they should cram in extra miles. This is a huge mistake. Tapering is possibly the most important part of the plan. You want to arrive at the start line, chomping at the bit, full of energy and with fresh legs. Tapering gives you all these things.


During the last 2 weeks do not, under any circumstances, train more than the plan stipulates. This is when your body will replenish glycogen stores, as you eat carbohydrates, ready for race day and mentally you will have a break from running. Make the most of it, buy a book, sleep in and try not to over-think race day.


Finally, don’t forget to enjoy the race!






What’s your marathon goal this year? Or have you already competed in a marathon? Let us know on Facebook or in the comments below.