How to Adjust Your Marathon Training Schedule

Life can get in the way of your training. Here’s what to prioritise so you can stay on track to hit your 42.2 goal.

jess movold running on streets

Trevor Raab

For most people, training for a marathon means more time and mental energy devoted to running. If that’s true for you, don’t set an ambitious marathon goal when you know the rest of your life will be busier than usual. Once you’ve picked your marathon and have decided how long you’ll prepare for it, try to anticipate and eliminate factors that would significantly interfere with your training.

Human Kinetics, Inc. Advanced Marathoning

Of course, regardless of how focused you are on your training, you’re going to have times when meeting your training goal is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible. A sick child, an unsympathetic boss, or a traffic accident all have a way of dashing plans for a high-quality tempo run. If necessary, juggle the days in the training schedule you’re following so that you get in the most important workouts while still allowing for adequate recovery. A good rule of thumb is that if you can do 90 percent of the planned training schedule, your preparation is going well.

But what about a real-life interruption that lasts longer? What if a family matter or unexpected work crunch goes on for a couple of weeks? What if you’re on vacation and find you can’t do all of your planned training? What can you do to meet your responsibilities but also stay on track for your marathon?

Do three key runs

The best solution: Carve out time for three key runs per week. What types of runs should those be? That depends on where you are in your training program and what your goal is for the marathon.

If your primary goal for your marathon is to finish regardless of time, do your best to get in the longest run planned each week. Doing so will continue to build your endurance, which is key to covering 42.2 K. For the other two running days of these time-crunch weeks, do the other longest runs called for on your schedule.

An exception would be if your three running days that week will be consecutive. In that case, do a short, easy run on the days before and after your long run. If your long run occurs on the first of three consecutive days available for running, jog a few kilometres the day after it, and then do the second longest run of that week two days after the long run.

If you’re following a more intensive program with the goal of finishing the marathon in a certain time, your best approach is a little more complicated. Let’s look at these situations in more detail below.

What to do depends on where you are

A good marathon training program will usually be divided into five blocks. The first training block will focus on increasing kilometerage and long runs to improve pure endurance. This will likely be the longest training block in the program. The second training block will focus on improving lactate threshold, with further improvement of pure endurance as a secondary objective. The third training block will focus on race preparation and will include tune-up races. The fourth training block will include a three-week taper and the marathon. The fifth and final training block will consist of several weeks of well-earned recovery.

✅ Training Block Priorities

1️⃣ Improving Pure Endurance (Weeks 1-5)
2️⃣ Improving Lactate Threshold and Endurance (Weeks 6-9)
3️⃣ Race Prep (Weeks 10-13)
4️⃣ Taper (Weeks 14-16)
5️⃣ Recovery

Leading into your race, deciding which runs to prioritise is straightforward—focus on those that most contribute to meeting the goal of that training block. Here’s what that might look like for each block, based on three runs per week for roughly a two-week period. The runs are listed in descending order of importance for that period. If you absolutely can’t fit in three runs in that week, skip the lower priority ones first.

Block 1: Improving Pure Endurance:

  • Long run at a conversational pace
  • Run that’s 50-70 percent as long as your long run, with the last half of the run at marathon race pace
  • Run at conversational pace that’s 50-70 percent as long as your long run

Block 2: Improving Lactate Threshold and Endurance:

  • Tempo run of 6-10 K at half marathon race pace, plus warmup and cooldown
  • Long run at conversational pace
  • Run at conversational pace that’s 50-70 percent as long as your long run

Block 3/Race Preparation:

  • Race or time trial of 10K to half marathon
  • Run of 16-24 kilometres, with the last half of the run at marathon race pace
  • Long run at conversational pace

Block 4/Taper:

  • Workout of 3 x 1 kilometre at 5K race pace with 400-metre jog between repeats, plus warmup and cooldown
  • Run of 16-20 K, mostly at conversational pace except last 2-3 K at marathon race pace
  • Race day dress rehearsal: 8-11 kilometres, including middle 3 K at marathon race pace, in the shoes and clothes you’ll wear on race day

Of course, you’ll want to follow basic training principles in implementing this general advice. Recovery from hard efforts remains important even if you’re temporarily running fewer days per week and less overall kilometerage. If possible, allow a non-running day between the three runs per week listed above. If that’s not possible, do the two most important runs listed above for each block, with a short, easy run between them as your third run of the week.

After this time-crunch period, you should be able to return to your original training schedule without interruption.

Related Articles