18 Week Marathon Training Plan Strategy

October 20, 2022

Is an 18 week marathon training plan the best strategy preparing for your next marathon. You can certainly get legitimate results in 18 months. I always tell my athletes 12 weeks should be the minimum amount of time you prepare. That being said, 20 to 24 weeks is optimal to really prepare properly. I ran my personal best of 2:19:35 for the marathon using a 24 week plan.

Of course, ran my second fast time of 2:26:42 on a 20-week training plan. So, an 18 week marathon training plan falls within the proper time frame to get some great results. I have worked to create training plans and running courses at our sister site, rundreamachieve.

I was very fortunate to have been coached by 3 of the world's top distance running coaches. In addition, lived and trained with some of the world's best distance runners. Also, I hope that the information in this post will help you set your next personal best in the marathon distance.

Can I Train for Marathon in 4 Months?

Of course. In fact, I have had numerous athletes I coach set new personal bests with our 16-week marathon training plans. For example, one of my runners improved from 3:46 to 2:58 for the marathon. He is also a dad to 5 kids and works a full time job. Below is the comment he left for me on the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel. Make sure to subscribe to get the latest updates to new videos that I create.

I got a 2:58:05 at my marathon! I can't thank you enough for this incredibly well put together training plan! You gave me the confidence along the way to believe that I could do this, even though my only other marathon a couple years ago was 3:46 and my half time right before the plan was 1:35. I don't think anybody else would have suggested that I could get a sub-3 marathon time. I am not a star runner by any means. I'm a family man with 5 kids at home and might never get the chance to do something like this again. I literally just followed your plan to the T (as painful as it was at times!), soaked up all the motivation I could from your course and videos, prayed a lot, and executed the plan like you trained me to! Feel free to use any of this as a public review – I'd be happy to write a better one if that'd be helpful. Thanks again for everything! – Eric Haug

My top recommendation is to focus on running easy for 4 weeks first. Also, do 5-6x100m strides twice per week during your base training phase. The reason for running easy is simply to build your endurance and general fitness. You don't want to jump into doing speed workouts and fartlek training immediately. In addition, you also want to strengthen the muscles, ligaments and joints of the body.


18 Week Marathon Training Plan for Beginners

Whether you are a beginner or an advanced level athlete, a build up of between 16 to 24 weeks will yield superior results for you. Again, it just depends on the athlete's schedule. You may only have 12 weeks to prepare for your race. Perhaps, you only have 8 weeks. If so, I created 8 to 24 week training plans for athletes training for the mile all the way to the 50K distances (50K plans are only 16 weeks in length currently though).

A top strategy I used to improve my marathon from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35 was faster, varied paced long runs. Are you running your long runs slow and easy every single weekend? If so, you are not alone. A lot of runners make this mistake. Yes, running easy and slow is still important. That being said, you just don't want to do it too often. Again, our goal here is to improve your body's lactate tolerance. Also, to sustain race pace longer and be more efficient when we race.

The only way to do that is by running at faster paces. Remember, you also need to ensure that you jog on recovery days. The real benefits of your hard training are going to come from within the rest period. I see far too many runners still running too fast on their easy days. I would recommend using a heart rate monitor. heart rate monitor training will ensure that you are training at the proper intensities. I use the Garmin 245. It helps me to stay at the correct paces and that I am not over training.

Can I Train for a Marathon in 18 Weeks?

Yes. As mentioned above, you want to start changing the way you do those long runs. Below are some examples of the types of long runs I wads doing prior to breaking the 2:20 marathon barrier. You will notice the drastic changes in paces. I was able to drop 21 minutes off of my marathon time using this tactic. I have also had numerous other athletes who have invested in RunDreamAchieve running courses, coaching and training plans get similar or better results.

  • 2 mile jog, 5 miles@5:35 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 4:55, 4 miles@5:55 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 5:00, 2 mile jog, 2 miles@5:20 mile pace, 1 mile jog (22 miles)
  • 1 mile jog, 10 miles@5:30 mile pace, 3 miles easy, 1 mile in 5:05, 7 miles@5:55 mile pace, 1 mile jog (23 miles)

Remember, always follow a faster, varied paced long run with an easy, relaxed long run. Again, adaptation is what we are aiming for. An 18 week marathon training plan also needs to focus heavily on proper training. You can't keep pushing the body hard and expect high returns on your time investment. The body needs proper time to adapt to the stressors being placed on it.


How Many KM a Week Should I Run for a Marathon?

It takes between 3 to 4 weeks for the body to adapt to the stress load being placed on it. So, be patient during your build up and follow a legitimate plan. My athletes are getting results because the 8 to 24 week training plans I created focus on strategic, specific training. Remember, quality matters most over quantity when it comes to training for the marathon. In fact, it matters regardless what race distance you are training for.

The problem I see runners making is they are running too much of their mileage too slow. The world's top runners run between 35 to 40 percent of their weekly mileage at or below their anaerobic threshold. We run between 85 to 89 percent of our max heart rate at this intensity. So, why do you think top runners make racing look so easy? Is it only because they are talented? No, they simply train a higher percentage of their weekly volume at higher intensities.

Also, they are very serious about their recovery. They are running very fast during their long runs. Also, they are running very slow other times during their weekly training too. I have trained with sub-2:10 marathoners who would run 9 to 10-minute mile pace on their easy days. Remember, these are runners who can hold under 5-minute mile pace for 26.2 miles. So, if they can slow down then so can you and I. Success leaves clues. My advice is to follow and duplicate the habits of successful people. Your chances of success will rise if you do.

18-Week Marathon Training Plan PDF

Free (as in finding a free 18 week marathon training plan online) doesn't necessarily mean you are going to get a legitimate plan. Would you go to an untrained dentist to work on your teeth? Why are paid plans better? They involve strategies that are built into them that will help you cut significant time off of your current personal best. My training plans are handcrafted by me personally. I have over 30 years of experience in middle to long distance running.

You are also more than welcome to visit the about page if you would like to know more about my background. I always paid for the best training advice I could over the years to be the best athlete I could be. I take helping athletes with the proper advice seriously. So, if an athlete pays for a training plan, monthly coaching or my running courses I want to ensure I over deliver. You get what you pay for as they say. So, be sure to keep that in mind. The fact that you have read this far tells me you are seeking excellence, not average. My advice is to invest in yourself and get top level training advice rather than just a cookie-cutter training plan. Hope that makes sense.

How to Train for a Marathon

What has been the longest tempo run you have done in the past for your marathons? 5 miles? 6? I would recommend working toward 10 (16km) to 12 miles (20 km). Remember, we race our marathons right around or slightly faster than our lactate threshold. So, it is very important to spend longer durations at this effort. Again, we want to slow down less than our competition in our races. In addition, sustain race pace more efficiently. The only way to do this effectively is running at faster paces and at higher heart rates.

There are 4 phases of the training plans and that I discuss in-depth in my running courses.

  • Aerobic, base-building phase
  • Race specific training phase
  • Speed development phase
  • Taper phase

I am a big believer in a 10-day rather than a 3-week taper. A common mistake I see many runners making is dropping their intensity and volume too soon. 10 days is plenty of time to recover fully from an 8 to 24 week marathon build up. Again, minimum should be 12 weeks and optimal is 20 to 24 weeks. I continue to see my runners making major gains focusing on these time frames.

JOG on Recovery Days

Don't worry so much about what pace per mile or pace per kilometer you are running on easy days. You will need the rest to continue to do the harder training ahead of you. So, enjoy those easy days to ensure that you adapt properly to the fast, anaerobic training you are doing. Make sure you are practicing hydration as well during your long runs. Remember, this is 42.2 kilometers or 26.2 miles, not a 5K.

You may be able to get away with not drinking in a 5k or even a 10k but not a half marathon or marathon. One of the biggest mistakes I made earlier in my career was not drinking enough in my marathons. So, pay attention to this. My advice is to place water bottles out every 3 miles or 5 kilometers along your long run route. Practice taking in fluids and calories during those runs. You will be better prepared come race day in the race.

Focus on Your Speed Work

The marathon is a highly aerobic race but still involves speed and stamina. We train between 95 to 105% of our maximum heart rate running at vo2 max effort. I always focused on doing at least 1 vo2 max workout per week during my racing career. In addition, have my athletes do this as well and they have enjoyed significant results by working on their speed development.

The faster we train the more fast twitch muscle fibers we recruit. Pace sustainment is one of the biggest hurdles for many runners in their marathons. Faster training will help to elevate your lactate tolerance capability. So, you will be able to sustain goal race pace more economically and get that PR you are looking for.

Closing Thoughts

I also want you to start taking 10 to 15 minutes daily and focus on mental training. The vast majority of runners only focus on physical training. World class athletes focus on both mental as well as physical preparation. I take it you want to drop significant time off of your current marathon personal best. If so, you need to mentally rehearse crossing the finish line with your goal time on the clock.

The best time to train mentally is when you first get up in the morning or when you go to bed at night. Again, make this a part of your daily training. You cannot go wrong by doing this. In addition, will be training your mind to get you what you want just like you do your body. Are you ready to take your training and racing to the next level? Make sure to click on any of the green buttons on this page to learn more about our resources.


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