Beginners’ Tips and Plan For Marathon Training On A Treadmill

Woman training on a treadmill for a marathon

Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

By Simon Gould

The marathon is the ultimate distance for every runner. It’s 26.2 miles that could take many hours. Marathon’s are shown on TV with many people running in funny costumes. A lot of money is raised for charity and everyone looks like they’re having a really good time. If you’re a beginner, you’ll be proud of running a marathon.

To run the marathon takes a lot of preparation. Beginners are advised to take the distance very seriously. It’s a major achievement for anyone and is hard on the body. You need to prepare 6 months (26 weeks) in advance. After the 9 tips below is my marathon treadmill training plan for each week of the 26 weeks. Everything in this article will get you well prepared for your first marathon.

9 Tips for treadmill training and running the marathon

1. Hydrate well

During your training and especially the race itself. Hydrate when you feel thirsty is your best guide. You should start to consume liquids within 30 minutes of any run. Sooner if you find you’re sweating a lot. This is important as your performance will suffer otherwise and you’ll feel tired sooner than you should be. Most treadmills have a water bottle holder to use.

Fortunately marathons around the world are usually held when it’s not too hot locally. In the race there will be water stations at certain mileage points along the route. Make sure you take a drink at everyone of them. You can get heat related illnesses if you don’t and you won’t enjoy the race. Meet someone you know at the end of the race who can have an isotonic drink for you and an energy gel.

2. Eat plenty of calories

Training for a marathon is not the time to start a weight loss plan. You need the calories to give you energy for the enormous amount of energy expenditure you’ll be putting your body through. The marathon itself will burn over 3,000 calories at least. In week 19 of my marathon treadmill training plan below you’ll burn 4,000 calories.

What you need to do is consume plenty of carbohydrate and proteins. Carbs give you energy and protein helps your muscles recover. Many marathon runners will consume larger amounts of pasta in the days before the race. However, don’t make yourself sick by doing it. Be sensible and increase the portions conservatively.

3. Don’t run too fast

As a beginner, you really shouldn’t be concerned about speed when training. Set your treadmill to 5 mph or more for a light jog. If you find it easy then go a little faster but don’t overdo it. It’s better to take it easy than risk injuring yourself by increasing the intensity more than your body can handle. You don’t want to interrupt your training.

On race day, you’ll be running outside. This is harder than a treadmill. Everyone always sets off really quickly. You see those same people exhaustedly walking a few miles later. Don’t be one of those people. Pace yourself and don’t be tempted to run with the crowd. Don’t be too concerned about your finish time that you feel you need to up the pace.

4. Don’t use the incline

As a beginner, I don’t recommend using the treadmill incline as part of your preparation. Running on an incline for long periods is not good for your joints. There are hardly any major marathons around the world that have steep hills to navigate. Training for a marathon is hard enough, you don’t need to make it harder by using an incline.

5. Plan how you’ll get to the race and home afterwards

You should be sent everything you need to know about the marathon well before it takes place. You should be told where and when to get there. You’ll be given a starting block based on your experience as a runner. So if you’re a beginner, you’ll start towards the back along with the other beginners. Plan your route to the event so you get there in plenty of time.

You’ll probably have friends or relatives meet you at the end. Make sure they have something warm for you to wear as you’ll get cold quickly after you’ve stopped. As I said before make sure they have something for you to drink and an energy bar to eat. You may be staying in a hotel or you may be going home, plan the route.

6. Remember the bib and your finish time

You should be sent your bib before the race, This is important. Some races won’t let you take part of you don’t have it. Attach it to your racing gear before you leave home or your hotel. You usually need some safety pins on each corner to make sure it doesn’t come off. There could be a color on it indicating where you should be starting.

While I don’t recommend you try and beat a certain time. Remember your finish time as you’ll get friends and family asking afterwards. You may be wanting to beat 4 hours as a beginner and if you go for that, it’s up to you. Your time is something to remember if you want to keep running marathons. You may want to beat your previous times.

7. Take walk breaks if you need to

You shouldn’t be needing to take any walk breaks while training on your treadmill. If you do, try running a little slower. But during the race it can happen. If you feel like a walking break, then allow yourself to have one. Enjoy the crowd and the other runners, then when you feel you can, get running again. You won’t be alone in taking walking breaks during the race.

8. Enjoy yourself and appreciate your accomplishment

If this is your first marathon, take in the sights and sounds of everything around you. It’s a unique experience that not many people do. Marathons are usually very oversubscribed. I applied for the London Marathon 4 times before I got a place. So make the most of it and do your best. You will have trained long and hard for this.

Remember, there’s not many people who are able to do what you’ve done. Some don’t have the discipline or the fortitude. For a lot of people it will be a once in a lifetime achievement. You may finish the race and think, “Never Again!”. But you will have done it. Take a few weeks rest afterward so your body can heal, it’ll need it.

9. Keep exercising

You may not feel like exercising again. But it would be a shame to do all that work and never run again. The health benefits of exercising are enormous. The World Health Organization recommend we exercise vigorously (running) for 75 to 150 minutes per week. So carry on and make sure that treadmill gets some good use. You’ll feel better for it.

If you do want to run another marathon, then good for you. Experts recommend no more than one a year and even that could be too much for some. You have the finish time of your first and you now have a target to beat. It may be achievable or not depending on your age and other factors. You’ll certainly get that exhilarating feeling again.

The marathon treadmill training plan

Key:

  • CT & LCT – This is a cross training day. You still need to do a cardio workout but the equipment changes. Try an elliptical, bike or swim on these days. LCT means a light cross training session which as the name suggests for you to take it easy with the long run on Sunday in mind.
  • O – This means try and do this run outside. We recommend one a week. If this is not always possible then set your treadmill to a 1% incline to replicate the conditions you’ll get outside.
  • RP – Run at race pace or faster when you see these initials on a day. This will help improve your time. These will be low in mileage to really allow the pace to be quick.
  • ST/ SW – This stands for strength training or treadmill speed work. As suggested earlier take this as a rest day on a tough week if you need to.
  • mi. – Is miles.

When running on a treadmill, remember to keep a good posture. Don’t look down or hold onto the handrails. Try to run as naturally as possible, just like you would outside.

The plan tapers off as you get toward the race. This is to give you the best opportunity to do a good time. Your muscles and body will be crying out for some exercise and it will get some on marathon day. If this plan looks too overwhelming for you, just get the runs done. You can ignore things on a given week apart from the running 3 times for the miles stated.

Monday is a rest day.

WTueWedThuFriSatSun
12 mi. OCT2 mi. RPST/ SWLCT3 mi.
23 mi. OCT2 mi. RPST/ SWLCT4 mi.
34 mi. OCT3 mi. RPST/ SWLCT5 mi.
45 mi. OCT3 mi. RPST/ SWLCT6 mi.
56 mi. OCT4 mi. RPST/ SWLCT7 mi.
67 mi. OCT4 mi. RPST/ SWLCT8 mi.
78 mi. OCT5 mi. RPST/ SWLCT9 mi.
88 mi. OCT5 mi. RPST/ SWLCT10 mi.
98 mi. OCT5 mi. RPST/ SWLCT11 mi.
108 mi. OCT5 mi. RPST/ SWLCT12 mi.
118 mi. OCT5 mi. RPST/ SWLCT13 mi.
128 mi. OCT5 mi. RPST/ SWLCT7 mi.
138 mi. OCT5 mi. RPST/ SWLCT14 mi.
149 mi. OCT6 mi. RPST/ SWLCT7 mi.
159 mi. OCT6 mi. RPST/ SWLCT15 mi.
169 mi. OCT6 mi. RPST/ SWLCT8 mi.
179 mi. OCT6 mi. RPST/ SWLCT16 mi.
1810 mi. OCT6 mi. RPST/ SWLCT8.5 mi.
1910 mi. OCT6 mi. RPST/ SWLCT17 mi.
2010 mi. OCT7 mi. RPST/ SWLCT9 mi.
2110 mi. OCT7 mi. RPST/ SWLCT18 mi.
2210 mi. OCT7 mi. RPST/ SWLCT9 mi.
2310 mi. OCT7 mi. RPST/ SWLCT19 mi.
2411 mi. OCT7 mi. RPST/ SWLCT7 mi.
258 mi. OCT4 mi. RPRestLCT5 mi.
266 mi. OCT3 mi.RestRest26.2

We have one rest day on Monday. This is important that you stick with this as a rest day because it is after your long run. I’ve only selected one rest day, but take another if you feel it’s getting too much.

As you can see the longer runs on Sunday are alternated between short runs when the mileage gets particularly high. The reason is we don’t want you to train for a marathon by running a marathon on the treadmill every week. This will make you exhausted and in no way in the mood to run for the main event.

Summary

So that’s it. Six months of training on a treadmill for the marathon. You’re running a lot of mileage there especially in week 23. Note in week 26 you’ll be running some miles but don’t do them at race pace. The slow taper is still on for the main event. Remember to hydrate and with some water and electrolytes during the run and you should make it in one piece.

Throughout the treadmill training and the race, listen to your body. If you’re getting any aches and pains, then take it easy. If you feel any sharp or severe pain you should stop right away and seek medial attention. But building up slowly like you see in the plan should help prevent that.

Finally I just want to say I hope you enjoy it. I’ve completed 3 marathons and I’ve loved every one of them. Some people get into them so much, they try different major city marathons around the world. Whether that’s you, or you’re just happy to have completed one. It’s a major achievement and something to cross off your bucket list.

Thinking of buying a treadmill? Here’s my favorite, I always recommend it when asked*

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