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  • Ollie McCarthy

How to choose a marathon plan

There are 4 keys elements to creating (or choosing) the ultimate marathon training programme.

These are:

  • A clear outcome

  • Specificity

  • Time

  • Variability

A clear outcome

This should be an obvious one but is often missed. Take some time to sit down and actually think what a success looks like to you. Then ask yourself why this outcome is important to you. Why that particular number/ goal?

So many of us take on other peoples idea of success and dress it up as our own. Further to this, actually becoming aware on whether you are in a position to achieve the goal is important. I learnt this the hard way by trying to run a PB while dieting and trying to build my business. Too much going on meant nothing was achieved to the the level I wanted it to be.

Getting super clear on what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it will allow you to tailor the training plan to you. And to have a realistic measure of success on race day.

That will then mean you don't end up following a plan to run a 3 hour marathon, when realistically the achievement of completing a marathon is what you want.


The program has to be specific to you. An elite athlete and a first time marathoner will have very different programmes. So choose yours carefully.

Theres no point having a plan that has you running 6 days a week if you only have 3 days a week to exercise. There is no point having a complicated strength plan if you have no access to weights.

If you are choosing a plan off the internet then make sure you adjust and adapt it to what you can do.

Tailor the programme to your needs and if you are struggling to do this hire someone to do it for you. People are often hesitant to hire a coach. But in reality the money you will spend, compared to the time you will spend researching, training and worrying is well worth the investment.


Give yourself as much time as possible. For most people 6 months is what I would advise from start to finish. And that start point would need to be able to run 10km already.

For complete beginners realistically you are looking at a year of gradual training.

Often when people look at a training plan there are variables they fail to consider. Work, life and injury all get in the way. You have 3-4 weeks of tapering towards the end. Then a low volume week every 4-6 weeks to aid recovery. Then holidays, injury and other things you can't account for will inevitably happen.

So if you think a 12 or even 16 week training plan is going to cut it, you are sorely mistaken. The more time you have the better prepared you will feel on the day.


A quick way to a running injury is just running. Especially if you are new to the sport ( even if you have been running 2-3 years.) Over use injuries are common in running so being able to positively effect your training while not actually running will be really useful.

Having variable training methods to support your end goal will help you get to where you want to. Strength training, yoga, pilates, cycling are all great methods to vary your training.

To be clear. You still have to run. But at least one session per week should be one of the above.

Personally when I am writing programmes I like to include a bit of mobility, strength and core work for my clients, to make sure they are fully supported in their training endeavours.


To conclude. Get crystal clear on what you want to achieve. Find a programme that will help support your goals and is specific to you. Give yourself enough time to achieve it. Vary your training to help mitigate risk of injury.

If you have any questions then please reach out.

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