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12-Week Marathon Training Plan for Triathletes

It's possible to train for a marathon without sacrificing your swim-bike fitness. This 12-week marathon training plan for triathletes will get you there.


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When most people think of an athlete’s off-season, they think of sunny vacations and lots of naps. But triathletes aren’t most people, which is why so many of us Google “winter marathon” around this time of year. For some, training for a marathon is a way to build run speed and endurance for next year’s races; for others, it’s a goal to focus on when triathlon pickings are lean in the northern hemisphere. Whatever your motivation, this marathon training plan for triathletes can help you prepare.

Though there are a variety of marathon training plans available to anyone who wishes to cover the 26.2-mile distance, most of them are focused on the run; that is, swim and bike are for cross-training purposes only. But what if you want to maintain your triathlon fitness during this run-focused training block? And utilize the swimming and biking to accommodate lower run mileage? That’s where this marathon training plan for triathletes comes in. You’ll build your run endurance while still keeping your multisport skills sharp and ready to go for the spring race season.

RELATED: The Marathon Doesn’t Care if You Did an Ironman

Who should use this plan:

This is a marathon training plan for triathletes aimed at those who sustainably train about 10-12 hours/week, with run volumes in the 20-30 mile/week range. If you’re starting below these volumes, or if a significant amount of time (greater than a month) has passed since they were maintained, it would be recommended to spend 2-4 weeks building up before beginning this program, as sudden jumps in run training load increase injury risk. 

The program is intended to max at about 35-40 miles/week, supplemented with about 3-4 hours of biking and 1-2 hours of swimming per week. 

How to read this plan:

Run distances are presented in ranges. Less experienced, more injury prone, or time-crunched athletes should err towards the lower end of the ranges. Long runs are presented in miles, but it is not recommended that any of these runs exceed 3-3.5 hours maximum in length, regardless of mileage. The Thursday run workouts and Sunday long runs are considered the key workouts of the week, and should be given priority.  If additional rest days are needed, opt for Mondays or Fridays; bike workouts may also be shortened if time is a consideration.

Key:

MP: Goal marathon pace. Be realistic! Earlier in the plan, it is advisable to start marathon-paced run segments 10-20 seconds/mile slower than your eventual goal pace, and work these segments down to goal pace by the second half of the plan.

Tempo: “Comfortably hard” threshold training pace. This is the pace that can be held for about an hour hard, if properly rested and peaked. In practice, tempo pace coincides with about 90% of maximal heart rate for well-trained athletes (slightly below that for less fit ones), and usually falls midway between marathon and 5K paces—ie. about 20-30sec/mi slower than 5k pace, and slightly faster than marathon pace for most athletes. A good VDOT calculator with accurate inputs is helpful in determining proper tempo pace.   

5K pace: Again, be realistic. If unsure, use a VDOT table to calculate approximate 5K pace based on your marathon goal pace.

Easy/aerobic pace: Comfortable, “all-day aerobic” pace. Definitions of “easy” and “aerobic” vary, but you should max at about 80% of maximum heart rate, or 1-1.5 min/mile slower than your goal marathon pace.

Rate of perceived exertion: Effort levels in the plan are also written on the “rate of perceived exertion” scale—meaning 3/10 is a 3 out of 10, or very easy; 9/10 is a very hard effort that’s considered 9 out of 10 in terms of perceived exertion.

Strides: Quick accelerations, focusing on fast turnover and efficient form.

FTP: Functional threshold power, or the maximum bike power that can be held for one hour under ideal circumstances.

Your Triathlete-Specific 12-Week Marathon Training Plan

Print a PDF of the plan here

WEEK MON TUES WEDS THURS FRI SAT SUN
12

(Base)
Swim:

Recovery 2-3k
Run:

Easy/ aerobic 5-6 miles with 6x20sec strides
Bike:

60min aerobic (~60-75% FTP) with optional 10x1’ high cadence pickups to FTP
Run fartlek:

Warm-up 2-3 miles

1-2-3-4-3-2-1min at 9/10 effort, with 1min recovery

Cool down, 7-8 miles total running
Swim: 2-4k

Run: 2-4 miles easy
Bike:

1.5-2 hour aerobic (~60-75% FTP)
Run:

11-12 miles aerobic
11

(Build)
Swim:

Recovery 2-3k
Run:

Easy/ aerobic 6mi with 6x20sec strides
Bike:

60min aerobic (~60-75% FTP) with optional 8x2’ high cadence pickups to FTP
Run fartlek:

Warm-up 2-3 miles

2x (3min @ 8/10 effort with 2min easy),
3x (2min @ 9/10 with 2min easy),
4x (1min hard with 1min easy)

Cool down, 8-9 miles total running
Swim 2-4k

Run: 2-4 miles easy
Bike:

1.5-2.5 hour aerobic (~60-75% FTP)
Run:

12-14 miles aerobic
10

(Recovery)
Swim:

Recovery 2-3k
Run:

Easy/ aerobic 4-5 miles with 6x20sec strides
Bike:

60min easy recovery ride
Run:

8 miles easy/ aerobic with 10x(1min pickups to 9/10 effort, 1 min easy) in middle of run
Rest Bike:

1.5- 2 hours easy/ aerobic
Run:

10 miles aerobic
9

(Build)
Swim:

Recovery 2-3k
Run:

Easy/ aerobic 7-8mi with 6x20sec strides
Bike:

60-90min total with 5min, 2x4min, 3x3min, 4x2min intervals at 90-100% FTP, 1-2min rest
Run tempo:

Warmup 2 miles

2 mile tempo with 2min rest, then 2-3x (1 mile tempo with 1min rest)

2 mile cooldown
Swim: 2-4k

Run: 3-4 miles easy
Bike:

2-2.5 hour aerobic (~60-75% FTP)
Run:

14-16 miles as: 4 miles easy
4 miles @ MP
1 mile easy
2 miles @ MP
1 mile easy
1 mile @ MP
1-3 miles easy
8

(Build)
Swim: Recovery 2-3k Run:

Easy/ aerobic 7-8 miles with 6x20sec strides
Bike:

60-90min total with 6x 5min at 90-100%FTP, 2min rest
Run tempo:

Warmup 2 miles

3 mile tempo with 3min easy
2 mile tempo with 2min easy
1 mile tempo

2 mile cooldown
Swim: 2-4k

Run: 3-4 miles easy
Bike:

2-3hr aerobic (~60-75% FTP)
Run:

15-17mi run

Start easy/ aerobic and descend to final 5-7mi at MP
7

(Build)
Swim:

Recovery 2-3k
Run:

Easy/ aerobic 7-8 miles with 6x20sec strides
Bike:

75-90min total with 4x8min at 90-100% FTP, 4min rest
Run tempo:

Warmup 2 miles

2x1 miles tempo with 1min rest
4x800m @ 5K pace with 3min rest
2x1 mile tempo with 1min rest

2 mile cool-down
Swim: 2-4k

Run: 2-4 miles easy
Bike:

2-2.5hr aerobic (~60-75% FTP)
Run:

16-18 miles as:
2 miles easy
5 miles @ MP
1 mile easy
5 miles @ MP
1 mile easy
1 mile @ tempo
1-3 miles easy
6

(Recovery)
Swim:

Recovery 2-3k
Run:

4-5 miles easy
Bike:

60min easy
Run:

Easy/ aerobic 6-8 miles with 6x20sec strides
Rest Bike:

1.5-2hr aerobic (~60-75% FTP)
Run:

12-13 miles easy/ aerobic
5

(Build, Race-Specific)
Swim:

Recovery 2-3k
Run:

Easy/ aerobic 6-8 miles with 6x20sec strides
Bike:

75-90min with 3x 10min progressing from 80-85% FTP to 95-100% FTP
Run tempo:

Warmup 2 miles

3 mile tempo, 3min rest
3x (1000m at 5K pace, 3min rest)
8x (1min hard with 1min rest)

2 mile cool-down
Swim: 2-4k

Run: 2-4 miles easy
Bike:

2-3 hour progressive aerobic (~60% progressed to 90% FTP, as you feel)
Peak long run

18-20 miles with 3x3 miles @ MP, 1 mile easy in between
4

(Build, Race-specific)
Swim:

Recovery 2-3k
Run:

Easy/ aerobic 6-8 miles with 6x20sec strides
Bike:

75-90min with 2x20min at 80-90% FTP
Run tempo:

Warmup 2 miles

2x2 mile tempo with 2min rest
4x800m @ 5K pace with 3min rest

2 mile cool-down
Swim: 2-4k

Run: 2-4 miles easy
Bike:

2-3 hour progressive aerobic ride (~60% progressed to 90% FTP, as you feel)
Run:

16-18 miles aerobic
3

(Build, race-specific)
Swim:

Recovery 2-3k
Run:

Easy/ aerobic 6-8 miles with 6x20sec strides
Bike:

75-90min with 2x (10min at 80-90% FTP, 5min easy 5min at 90-100% FTP, 5min easy)
Run tempo:

Warmup 2 miles

2mi tempo with 2min rest
2x800 @ 5K pace with 3min rest
2mi tempo with 2min rest 2x800 @ 5k pace with 3min rest

2mi cool-down
Swim: 2-4k

Run: 2-4 miles easy

OR Optional rest day
Bike:

2-2.5 hour progressive aerobic ride (~60% progressed to 90% FTP, as you feel)
Run:

14-15 miles as:
3 mile warm up
2x (4 mile @ MP with 1 mile easy)
2-3 miles easy
2

(Taper)
Swim:

Recovery 2-3k
Run:

Easy/ aerobic 4-6 miles +6x20 sec strides
Bike:

60-75min with 5-6x 5min at 80-100% (not forced) FTP, 3min rest
Run tempo:

Warmup 2 miles

4-5x (1 mile tempo with 1min rest)

1-2 mile cool-down
Swim: 2-4k

Run: 2-4 miles easy
Bike:

75-90min aerobic (~60-75% FTP)
Run:

10-12 miles (max 1:45) with 2x2mi @MP, 1mi easy
1

(Taper)
Swim:

Recovery 2-3k
Run:

Easy/ aerobic 4-6 miles
Run tempo:

2 miles warm up
4-6x (½ mile @ tempo pace with 1min rest)
2 miles cool-down
Bike:

45-60min easy
Rest Run:

2-4 miles easy with 4x20sec strides
RACE DAY

 

Members can download this full plan, print it up, and follow along in an easy to read format here.

Jennie Hansen is a physical therapist, Ironman champion, and USAT Level 1 triathlon coach with QT2 systems. Hansen has a background as a collegiate and professional runner, as well as a number of professional triathlon podiums. She has been in the sport for over a decade.