How Much Time Does Marathon Training Take? Will It Take Over My Life?

A common question among would be marathoners is: How much time does marathon training take?

Before taking the plunge, casual runners may look at experienced marathoners and think, “Gee, they spend all their time training! I can’t do that!”

True, marathon training is a commitment. Success relies on consistency, and that may mean making some adjustments in your life.

But it does not have to come to define your life. It does not need to take 20, 30, or more hours per week. And you should not need to radically restructure your life to effectively train for a marathon.

So just how much time does marathon training take? Let me give you an idea, so that you can go into this well informed.

At What Level Are You Training?

Before we talk about actual time commitments, you first need to determine what your experience level is and what your expectations are.

If you’re a casual runner training for your first marathon, the answer will be very different from a professional runner who is trying to eke out a new record.

We’ll define four general tiers of runners and then move on to exploring how much time they actually spend running.

At the first tier, you have the casual first time marathoner. You’ve been running for a while – hopefully at least a few months – and you just want to be able to finish this marathon. You might be running 10, 11, or 12 minutes per mile, and that’s ok.

At the next tier, you’ve got the casual runner who is attacking the marathon and attempting to improve. You’ve finished before, and now you’ve got your eyes set on a better time. You’re willing to up your mileage – but you’re not willing to go crazy. For a man, let’s assume the goal is 3:30 to 4:00.

Beyond that, you’ve got the seriously committed runners – the ones who qualify for Boston and run ‘fast’ times (like 2:30 to 3:00 for men or 3:00 to 3:30 for women). Your mileage may vary, but one thing is for certain: you’re committed and you’ll run a lot.

Finally, you’ve got the elites (and semi-elites). These are the guys and gals who actually win races. They make us mere mortals look like we’re out for a jog. These men can finish in 2:00 to 2:15, and the women can finish in 2:15 to 2:30. They’re at the top of their game – and they put in the work to get there.

Obviously, there’s a lot of overlap that can occur here and it’s impossible to divide things into such neat little buckets. But we’ll use these examples to illustrate how much time you’ll realistically spend while training.

Tier 1: How Much Time Does a Beginner Spend Training?

So let’s start with that beginner.

If you take a look at this guide to determine if you’re ready to run your first marathon, you’ll get a good overview of the popular beginner plans out there.

They all vary a bit on the details, but the general amount of running involved is similar.

Early on, you’ll be running somewhere around 4 to 5 days per week. Perhaps six, if you go with 80/20 Running.

In week 4 of Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 plan, you’ll run 19 miles (over 4 days) and spend 60 minutes cross-training (1 day). Let’s assume you average 11 minutes per mile – that’s 209 minutes (just about 3:30) spent running. With the cross training, that’s about 4 and a half hours of training.

In week 15 of Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 plan, you peak at 40 miles of running with another 60 minutes of cross training. Again, assuming an average pace of 11:00/mi, that’s around 484 minutes (just over 8 hours). With an extra hour of cross training, that’s around 9 total hours of training throughout the week.

For comparison, 80/20 Running starts at about 3 hours and 20 minutes in the first week and increases to around 6 and a half hours in the peak week.

Keep in mind you’re also going to have a dedicated long run day. This is usually Saturday or Sunday, but you can adjust things to your own life. This may not be too long at first (90 minutes or so), but you’ll progress to the point where this will take 2 to 3 hours.

For a beginner, you should expect to start with about 3 to 4 hours of training per week. This will increase over the course of your training program, with most weeks probably being in the 5 to 6 hour range. There will be a couple of peak weeks that could end up including 7 to 9 hours of training – but this is not every week.

Tier 2: How Much Time Does It Take to Get Better?

Alright, so you’ve finished your first marathon. Maybe you finished in 4:30 or 5:00. Not bad – especially for a first timer.

But now you want to get faster. You need to run more, right?

Well yes and no. You’ll definitely put in more overall mileage. But your peak mileage still probably won’t be that high – you can get away with 40 or 50 miles per week. The key difference will probably be that you start with more miles at week 1, and there’s less difference between the beginning of your training and your peak.

However, you’re also going to benefit from being faster. If your new target is, say, 3:30 or 3:45, you’ll average a much faster pace. Your easy runs will probably be 9:00/mi to 10:00/mi. But you’ll also be doing some workouts, too, with faster paces.

Overall, it’s reasonable to assume about 9:00/mi as an average pace for calculating your time commitment.

In this case, let’s assume you’re either following the Pfitz 18/55 training plan or the Hanson’s beginner plan.

In the third week, Pfitz prescribes 40 total miles of running. At a 9:00/mi pace, that’s around 6 hours. He also includes two days of optional cross training. Let’s say you do 60 minutes one of those days for a total of 7 hours.

During a peak week, you’ll run 55 miles, give or take. At a 9:00/mi pace, that’s 495 minutes – 8:15. Let’s assume you add on 45 minutes of cross training, and you’re all in time commitment is around 9 hours.

The Hanson’s plan takes a little time to ramp up. But by week 6, you’re putting in 39 miles per week. In the peak weeks, you’re running 56 to 57 miles. So the time commitment is more or less the same – about 6 to 8 hours of running. However, Hanson’s splits this running of 6 days and doesn’t include any cross training.

And again, you’ll need to carve out 2+ hours once a week for a long run. You may also have a longer workout that lasts 90 minutes during the week.

But the bottom line is that at this level, you should expect to commit 6 to 8 hours of running – maybe a little more during peak weeks. That’s really not all that much more time than the beginner.

Tier 3: How Much Do Serious Amateur Runners Run?

Let’s kick it up another notch.

You’re experienced. You’ve finished a few marathons. You already broke 3 hours, and you’ve got your sights set on a new PR – 2:45.

You’re probably going to run your easy miles in the 7:30/mi to 8:00/mi range. For the sake of calculations, let’s assume that your average pace – including workouts – is 7:30/mi.

For this type of runner, Pfitz 18/70 or Pfitz 18/85 are common training plans. Jack Daniels 2Q is another common choice, and this plan peaks at either 70 or 85 miles.

Notice that you’re putting in a lot more miles – but you’re also running a lot faster – than the previous runners.

For the plans that peak at 70 miles per week, the actual weekly mileage will probably vary from about 55 miles to 70 miles. At a 7:30/mi pace, that’s around 7 hours for the lighter weeks and close to 9 hours for the peak weeks.

For the plans that peak at 85 miles per week, the actual weekly mileage will vary from 70 miles to 85 miles. The lighter weeks will be a little under 9 hours, while the peak weeks may take closer to 11 hours.

To put a face on this, this is me. I’m a little slower, with a goal of around 3 hours, but I’m running 70 to 85 miles per week. You can check out my recent training on Strava. Last week, I ran 80 miles in just over 12 hours. The three weeks prior, I ran 70 miles in between 10 and 11 hours.

Personally, I’ve found that 10 to 12 hours is a good limit for my training. I occasionally end up between 12 and 13 hours, especially if I incorporate more trail running (which is slower) in a given week. Until and unless my average pace comes down, I don’t plan on adding any additional mileage.

At this level, you should expect to regularly run 2:00 to 2:30 for your long run – possibly closer to 3 hours. You should also expect at least one midweek workout or long run that’s going to last 90 minutes to 2 hours.

Note that at this level you’re probably running a double once or twice per week – meaning you’re following up a longer morning run with a shorter (30 to 45 minute) evening run.

I’m not going to lie. This level of training is a hefty time commitment. But at the end of the day, 10 to 12 hours per week is not a crazy amount of time. It’s a normal amount of time to commitment to a hobby you enjoy and love.

Tier 4: How Much Do the Pros Run?

Let’s face it – it’s unlikely that you or me are ever going to run professional times. A tiny fraction of all marathoners will run below 2:10 for men or 2:25 for women.

But what does their training look like?

They run a lot. During a training block, they’re likely putting in well in excess of 100 miles per week. A peak week for some pros will exceed 150 miles.

Keep in mind, though, that these guys and gals are fast. So even though they’re logging a crazy amount of miles, their easy runs may well be at 7:00/mi – and their workouts are much faster.

While I was doing some research on the US Olympic Team Trials Marathon, I found a few of the American men who publicly post their training on Strava.

One example is Conner Mantz. He won the team trials marathon, and he was the fastest American at Chicago in October 2023 (2:07:47).

In the six peak weeks leading up to the team trials on February 3, his mileage and time commitment was pretty consistent. He logged about 125 to 130 miles per week. That worked out to 12 to 13 hours per week of running (or logged activities). His training leading up to Chicago was pretty similar.

Another example of CJ Albertson. He finished fifth at the trials, and he took first place at CIM (2:11:09) in December (the US marathon championships).

Leading up to the team trials in February, he logged three consistent peak weeks on Strava. Each week totaled 110 to 120 miles and for a total duration of just over 12 hours.

For one final example, I looked for a woman who placed well at the team trials. Dakota Lindwurm, who came in third (2:25:31) logs her training on Strava. In the peak weeks leading up to the trials, she logged around 130 miles per week over 14 to 15 hours.

So I think it’s safe to say that professional athletes, chasing the best times, are putting in somewhere around 12 to 15 hours per week of running.

What Else Will Impact Your Time Commitment?

Keep in mind that there may be other things that impact your schedule.

A big one is travel time. I’m a big fan of stepping out the door and starting my run from my house. This eliminates travel time. But if you drive to a track, a trail, or a gym to run, that can easily add many hours to your week.

Another one is stretching and ancillary work. You don’t need to commit a lot of time to stretching or weight lifting. It’s a good idea to incorporate something – but a quick routine should only add 10 to 15 minutes to a few of your days. For most runners, there’s little reason to spend hours in the gym each week.

A third optional choice is active recovery methods. Think massages, chiropractor appointments, ice baths, compression pants. That kind of thing. In most cases, this stuff doesn’t help all that much, but if you choose to do this kind of thing it could be a real time sink. Do it if you enjoy it, but don’t feel like you need to spend hours on any of this stuff.

Finally, let’s talk about sleep. Sleep is the most important thing you can do for recovery. If you’re a crazy person that thrives on four to five hours of sleep, you’re going to need to change that. Everyone is different, but aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep if possible. This may be the one area that sucks up a lot more time – but it’s important.

The Bottom Line: Does Marathon Training Have to Take Over Your Life?

No, not at all.

For most amateur runners, six to eight hours a week is a typical time commitment. More serious runners might put in ten to twelve hours. Only elite runners should consider more time than that – up to fifteen hours or so.

That being said, this is a commitment. If you want to be successful, you need to be consistent. You will run or work out five, six, or seven days a week.

That may mean fewer late nights at the bar and fewer late mornings where you hit snooze. Or maybe you just need to fit things into your schedule differently and run after work before you go out to the bar.

Keep in mind, as well, that choices you make – like where to run and whether to add on additional time spent weight lifting – can rapidly inflate the time commitment. But these are not necessary.

Once you find what works for you, you will make some adjustments to your lifestyle. But while marathon training is a commitment, you can absolutely fit it into a regular life.

At the end of the day, it’s just a hobby that takes up six to twelve hours of your week.

Whether you let it come to define your life … well, that’s up to you.

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