Training for a Marathon in 6 Months | Pro Tips to PR

Is training for a marathon in 6 months sufficient time to succeed over the 42.2 kilometer distance? Welcome to RunDreamAchieve. 24 weeks is plenty of time to training for a marathon. In fact, the optimal times to train is a minimum of 16 weeks up to 24 weeks in length.

Remember, it takes about 3 to 4 weeks for your body to adapt to the stresses you are placing on it. So, rushed fitness is not wise. It will leave you frustrated when trying to get into peak shape too soon.

A lot of runners get disappointed when they don’t hit their goal times in the time frame they planned. A major reason for this is not training aerobically for a long enough period of time. I do have training plans here at RunDreamAchieve ranging from 8 to 24 weeks in length.

Of course, we all have different schedules. You may need a shorter, 8-week training plan for a quick train up. That being said, the best way to get optimal results is to train for a longer period of time.

Training for a Marathon in 6 Months

Training for a marathon in 6 months is about the best time frame possible. You will not be in a rush and will allot sufficient time for the body to fully adapt to the stresses you are placing on it. So, a 6 month marathon training plan should focus first on building aerobic fitness. I would recommend between 4 to 8 weeks of this first. The reason is you will allow enough time to strengthen your tendons, ligaments and muscles.

I would also recommend a 6 month half marathon training plan as well. Again, you will not be in a rush and can take your time to get into superior shape. Yes, it does not happen overnight. That being said, the longer you can prepare the better you are going to compete.

Of course, you can add in strides during the early stages of your training build up. Strides are shorter, 50 to 100 meter long sprints. Remember, you want to gradually increase the pace of these acceleration drills. The last 20 meters or so should be run all-out. Strides are great for focusing on your form and warming up prior to your workouts. In addition, they get the heart rate up and your muscles loosened up as well.

Is a 24 Week Marathon Training Plan Enough?

Yes, I think a six month marathon training plan is about the most optimal time frame possible for the marathon. Remember, you have to be strategic in your preparation though. 24 weeks is a long build up. So, you want to be focusing the first 8 weeks or so developing your aerobic fitness. I have done many 6 month marathon training build ups in the past 30 years. So, training for a marathon in 6 months is definitely the right time frame to get a massive, new personal best.

optimal performance in sport
Coach Pennington finishing in 4th place and top American at the 2007 California International Marathon in 2:19:35 (no super shoes on these feet either)

In fact, my usual marathon training build up is 5 to 6 months in length. Of course, you can still get legitimate results in a 12 to 16-week build up. That being said, anything shorter than that and you will be really rushing to get into great shape. The minimum time frame for marathon success is between 16 to 24 weeks in length. Again, a major reason is because you are allotting sufficient time for the body to fully adapt.

How to Run a Marathon in 6 Months

Our 4 key areas of marathon preparation are…

  • Aerobic base-building marathon phase
  • Marathon specific training phase
  • Speed development phase
  • Taper phase

The key to the RunDreamAchieve 6 month marathon training plan philosophy is periodization. So, we gradually work the athlete into superior fitness. In addition, focusing on a 10-day rather than a 3-week taper. A major mistake I see a lot of runners making is deciding to drop volume and intensity too far out from their main event. The goal is to get you to your goal race feeling rested and energized.

A 3-week taper may leave you feeling tired instead. Of course, you would think dropping your volume and intensity 21 days out from your marathon would leave you feeling rested. It doesn’t always work all time. I have found that continuing to train and prepare up until 10 days out will.

10 days or rest is plenty of time to fully recover from your 6 month marathon training plan build up. Again, the main focus here is to improve the body’s lactate tolerance. So, we want to get to a point where you can clear lactic acid more effectively during race pace. In addition, slow down less than your competition.

Is 6 Months Long Enough to Train for a Marathon?

A six month marathon training plan is about the best time frame possible for the marathon. I always recommend a minimum of 16 and preferably a 24 week marathon training build up. Again, the main reason is you are providing sufficient time to get in superior anaerobic shape. A lot of times runners have pace sustainment problems if their training build up is too short.

So, a 6 month marathon training plan will ensure you do not make this same mistake. I highly recommend investing in a heart rate monitor though. I see far too many runners running too fast on easy days. In addition, running too slow on faster, anaerobic days. I use the Garmin 245 and highly recommend it. The key focus here is to focus on your heart rate rather than what splits you are hitting.

In addition, it heart rate monitor training will ensure you are not overtraining. Below are some of the key variables I focus on with my running courses and training plans. One of the top benefits of investing in our courses or training plans is you speed up your learning curve. You take the guesswork out of your preparation. In addition, will learn some of the same training workouts I did to run 2:19:35 for the marathon.

Couch to Marathon in 6 Months Tips

Focus on a longer aerobic base-building phase. Again, it takes time to get into great aerobic and anaerobic shape. So, spending a minimum of 4 and preferably 8 weeks building steady and consistent workouts is key building into a 6 month marathon training plan. As mentioned above, we focus on building strides into the training plans from the start.

The reason is you will have spent several miles or kilometers at near sprint paces over a 24 week marathon training plan. You will be in superior shape by the end of your marathon in 6 months training plan. I am a big believer in heart rate monitor training to ensure that you don’t over train. Of course, you don’t have to have a heart rate monitor to succeed. I just think it is a good tool to have especially during your tempo runs.

The main reason is you can focus on staying in the correct heart rate zone during these faster effort. In addition, it takes the stress off of worrying about what pace per mile or kilometer you are running at. The splits will take care of themselves the fitter you get. In fact, your heart won’t have to work as hard and you will run even faster the greater your fitness becomes.

Focus on Faster Long Runs

One of the common mistakes marathoners make is running too slow too often. Of course, slow running is still important. You cannot continue to stress the body and expect a high return on your investment. So, slow running is still essential. The focus here is to run faster for a portion of your long runs every other weekend. The long run is the hardest workout that I do. I was able to lower my marathon PR from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35 using this strategy.

The long runs built into all RunDreamAchieve training plans are built this way. Remember, we always follow a faster, varied paced long run the following week with an easy, relaxed long run. Again, recovery is key. So, rest is a big part of the way I train my athletes. We push the body extremely hard but also allot sufficient time in order for the athlete to adapt.

Below are some examples of the varied paced long runs I was doing prior to running 2:19:35 for the marathon…

  • 2 mile jog, 9 miles@5:35 mile pace, 2 mile jog, 1 mile in 5:00, 3 miles@6:00 mile pace, 1 mile jog, 3 miles@5:40 mile pace, 2 mile jog (22 miles)
  • 1 mile jog, 10 miles@5:30 mile pace, 3 miles easy, 3 miles@5:20 mile pace, 2 mile jog, 1 mile in 4:55, 2 mile jog (22 miles)

Run Longer

What has been the longest long run you have done in the past training for your marathons? 15 miles? 16? I would focus on extending the duration of these longer runs. One major reason is you will build your endurance to a greater extent. Also, you will build your confidence that you have run close to or even over the marathon distance in training. How much more confident will you be knowing you have done this in training going into your race?

So, doing long runs between 20 to 27 miles in length is optimal. Remember, process is key. We don’t start off running this far. Your long run at the beginning may only be 6 to 7 miles. That being said, as you adapt to the training we continue to extend the distance of the long runs. Again, always alternating speed and duration of the long runs each passing week.

JOG on Easy Days

The real benefits of your hard training come from within the rest period. I want you to google the word “Supercompensation”. Our bodies are about 2 to 3 times weaker after a harder effort. So, the real strength comes the hours after a hard workout is completed. I see far too many runners running too fast on their easy days. Remember, we want to be smart in this 6 month marathon training plan build up.

24 weeks is plenty of time to prepare optimally for the marathon. I have trained with sub 2:10 marathoners who would jog at 9 minute mile on their easy days. Again, these are athletes that can run under 5 minute mile pace for 26.2 miles. So, if they have the discipline to slow down so should you and I. Your body will thank you for it in due time as well.

Longer Tempo Runs

Marathon pace sustainment is a major hurdle runners face in this event. One major way of combatting this is to extend the time you are training at your anaerobic threshold. We run between 85 to 88 percent of maximum heart rate at this effort. It is the point where lactic acid starts to rise and we have to really focus to hold the heart rate high. Remember, don’t be in a rush about this. A 2 to 4-mile tempo may be all the further you will be able to hold early on in your training block.

The goal is to eventually extend the distance of your tempo run out to around 10 to 14 miles in length. The world’s top marathoners spend about 40 percent of their weekly mileage training at higher intensities.

Why do they make it look so easy? They simply spent more of their volume training at a higher heart rate. So, they are able to adequately clear lactic acid faster than it is building up in their bodies. Lactic acid clearance and improving lactate tolerance is the key to success in this event. The 6 month marathon training plan available here is focused on this training philosophy.

Focus on Your Leg Speed

The only way to get marathon race pace to feel easier is to train at significantly faster paces. So, training at your vo2 max is critical in order to create this training effect. Your vo2 max is your body’s maximum oxygen uptake. It is running at between 95 to 100 percent of maximum heart rate. Speed workouts will help you to recruit more fast twitch muscle fibers. Remember, the more of these you can recruit the better equipped you will be to maintain goal marathon race pace.

In addition, you will slow down much less than your competition. Examples of speed training you may see in the RunDreamAchieve training plans are…

  • Fartlek workouts (i.e. 2-3 sets of 5×2 minute hard followed by 1 minute easy or variations thereof)
  • Track and road intervals (i.e. 16x400m, 6x1mile, 3x2mile, 10x1K etc.)
  • Hill repetitions (i.e 50m-300m hill intervals walking or jogging way down for recovery)
  • Strides (done twice per week although too short to build up any significant lactic acid)

You should always listen to your body. It is not uncommon to need between 24 and up to 72 hours of recovery between harder, anaerobic training. I usually gave myself 2 to 3 days of easy jogging after a harder long runs. For example, 6 weeks leading into the 2011 Monumental Indianapolis Marathon I did a 20-mile long run in 1:50:02. 5:30 mile pace for 20 miles is not easy. So, I jogged for 3 days after that effort.

Invest in Your Personal Development

I created the running courses here for half marathon and marathon specialist to help speed up your learning. I was fortunate to have been coached or mentored by three of the giants of the sport of running.

  • Dr. Joe Vigil (world-renowned exercise physiologist and olympic coach)
  • Jack Hazen (my collegiate and 2012 London Olympic coach)
  • Lisa Rainsberger (1985 Boston Marathon champion and my coach for 3 years while with the Army World Class Athlete Program)

I have included the top strategies I learned from these three professionals in the running courses available here at RunDreamAchieve. In addition, the top tactics I used in the past 30 years of my running career. So, investing in your self-development is key to run faster over any distance. You learn what the best runners and coaches do to succeed.

Closing Thoughts

I hope this short overview of training for a marathon in 6 months has been helpful. Make sure to subscribe to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel. I create new video tutorials there each week to help runners such as yourself get to the next level. I know the process of getting into great anaerobic and racing shape won’t happen overnight.

My job as your mentor and guide is to provide you the best possible advice to help you get that new personal best. Are you seeking an online running coach? If so, I do work with athletes who are serious about training at the highest of levels.

So, definitely check out the resources available to you here at RunDreamAchieve. You are also more than welcome to visit the about page if you would like to know more about my racing background. I find it often times helps runners know that I, too, have dealt with failure to eventually succeed in this sport. Remember, I didn’t have a great deal of talent.

So, had to rely on my work ethic to achieve what I have in our sport. I hope my story and the services I have created here will help you set that new personal best you are aiming for.

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