Training for a marathon in 6 months might sound like plenty of time or not enough time – depending on your current fitness level and mindset. However, regardless of whether you’re already a seasoned distance runner or are starting from square one, in most cases – it can be done.
Is 6 months enough time to train for a marathon?
Deciding to train for a marathon in 6 months usually provides plenty of time to work up to the distance. Beginner runners will require this entire time frame to create a fitness base, and then build up distance and endurance.
If you are planning to train for your very first marathon (and race) in 6 months, you should be prepared to diligently follow the training plan and stay consistent with your workouts. New runners often find it most beneficial to head into their first marathon with no time goals, and instead focus solely on completing the distance.
Seasoned distance runners can often complete marathon training plans in 4 months of less, depending on their base level of fitness at the start.
How to Train for a Marathon in 6 Months
Assuming this will be your first marathon, you’ll want to spend the 6 months training as efficiently as possible. Committing yourself to the goal won’t get you very far if you don’t put in the work and effort during training.
Unlike most other races, the marathon is not one in which runners can show up for and successfully complete when undertrained. There is no such thing as “winging it” when it comes to the marathon – so understanding exactly how to train for a marathon in 6 months is key if this is your plan.
6 Month Marathon Training Structure
Many new runners are surprised to learn that marathon training involves so much more than simply completing a weekly long run. Not only does each run have an individual purpose, but there are scheduled workouts that don’t even involve running to begin with.
Here are some of the staples in a 6 month marathon training plan – each has a specific purpose and is essential in any runner’s training to complete the distance.
- Easy runs – usually the shorter, mid-week runs; miles with no pace goal, completed at a conversational pace
- Long runs – completed once a week at a pace slower than easy; beginning around 6 miles in length and working up to 20 miles
- Speed workouts – not included in the first 2 months of the 6 month marathon training plan (the base phase); completed once a week after week 8: intervals, strides, hills or tempo at harder paces sandwiched between a warm up and cool down
- Rest days – at least one complete rest day included every week
- Cross training – activities that work the cardiovascular system but do not involve running: swimming, biking, the elliptical, bodyweight HIIT workouts, etc.
- Strength training – resistance or weight training exercises designed to build muscle; either weight bearing or bodyweight
Marathon Training Objective
Most runners who choose to train for a marathon in 6 months are relatively new to the sport. Seasoned marathoners and experienced runners often have the fitness base to increase their mileage in less time.
With that being said, a 6 month marathon training plan usually has one simple objective: to help runners build endurance, stamina and distance in order to run 26.2 miles in 6 months. It’s important to remember that speed and pace are not a priority when training for your first marathon.
Training for a marathon in 6 months should focus on the following:
- Building a solid running base during months 1 and 2
- Increasing the amount of time running before needing to walk
- Weekly cross training and strength training to build overall fitness
- Balancing training with recovery to avoid injury and overtraining
- Gradually increasing long run distance to peak at 20 miles
- A general focus on distance and not speed
- Creating consistency to build a habit
Base Building Phase
Deciding to train for a marathon in 6 months is a great decision for beginner runners because it allows time to build a running base. Designating time to create a solid running base is a key step is avoiding injury and finding success with long distance running in the future.
The first 1 to 3 months of any 6 month marathon training plan will likely be spent building overall fitness, allowing runners to begin with little to no experience at all.
The base building phase of this marathon training focuses on gradually increasing running intervals to decrease the amount of time spent walking. As endurance builds, runners will be able to find and settle into their easy, conversational pace for regular short runs.
Consistency is key to any base building phase – time will be spent repeating short distances at easy paces for 1 to 2 months before any attempts to increase mileage or speed. Building this base might feel tedious, but is essential for avoiding injury with long runs in the latter portion of the training.
Marathon Training Taper
Another key element of training for a marathon in 6 months – or training for a marathon in any amount of time, really – is taper. Taper refers to the last 2-4 weeks of the training plan prior to race day. Long run distance typically peaks about 3-4 weeks before the end of training, and then decreases in the following weeks.
Long run mileage, in addition to overall weekly mileage and intensity, begins to taper about 3 weeks before race day. It continues to decrease over time, with the lowest mileage completed during race week.
Marathon training taper might sound glorious in the midst of a long run, but most runners find that by the time it arrives, they’re questioning their preparedness and are tempted to run “a little more” just to squeeze in some final, extra training.
This is often a huge mistake – resulting in overtrained, under-rested runners on race day. Taper provides time that the body needs to rest, repair and recover from all of the long runs and hard workouts during marathon training. It is especially important after training for a marathon in 6 months, or another lengthy time frame.
How to Get Started Marathon Training in 6 Months
The best way to start marathon training is to make or find a plan. Be honest about your current fitness ability and decide exactly how committed you are willing to be. Find a 6 month marathon training plan and then give yourself a few weeks to mentally prepare.
Create a plan for when and how you’ll fit in each workout, what extra gear or equipment you’ll need to purchase, and any modifications you’ll need to make to your daily life. Mentally committing to train for a marathon in 6 months is just as important as completing the physical workouts.
6 Month Marathon Training Plan
>> Download the full PDF version of the 6 Month Marathon Training Plan here – for free!
This plan requires no running experience to begin, but will take you from a few minutes of running at a time and build up to the 20 mile long run.
Whether this will be your very first race or you are simply coming back from an extended break from running, dedicating 6 months to marathon training will set you up for success on race day.
The plan begins with just 3 runs per week, and increases to 4 after the initial base building phase. With weekly cross training, strength training and rest, overall fitness will build quickly while avoiding injury and overtraining.
Deciding to train for a marathon in 6 months is a great goal! There is nothing quite like the satisfaction that comes with long distance running or accomplishing a bucket list goal – on top of feeling great about yourself, gaining health and plenty of endorphins.