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How to get fit for a marathon in 12 weeks

Go from couch potato to marathon runner in just three months.
Written by Amy Hughes
6 min readPublished on
After running 53 marathons in 53 days Amy Hughes is no stranger to fending questions about how to prepare to run a marathon. Here, she reveals how to use your time wisely to prepare both physically and mentally in just three months.
"One question I am frequently asked is: 'How long does it take you to train for a marathon?' The reality is there is no set time frame. Everyone is different, everyone is at a different fitness level and everyone adapts to training differently," said Amy.
"Some people also like to believe that they can run a marathon with no training and on the odd occasion this may be the case. However, this usually ends with either a broken body – or a trip in a St Johns Ambulance van. Here's my advice on how to avoid that"...

1. Download a plan

Find yourself a good program that is realistic and achievable around your schedule. There are so many good program and coaches around. Depending on your budget you can either train with a trainer or just download a program to suit your level – be that beginner, intermediate or advanced. Active have some good program advice.

2. Don't run everyday

So, you’ve signed up for your first marathon and you go into panic mode thinking that you need to channel Forest Gump and run every day. No, no, no! This is most definitely not the case; you can train for a marathon and do well by running three times a week combined with other forms for training. A lot of people tend to go into their training with all guns blazing, but this is where injury tends to occur. Ease into it.

3. Get a mate involved

If you are starting to run for the very first time it can be great to start with a friend. Not everyone likes running with others but if you are a little apprehensive it's nice to have some friendly support and encouragement.

4. Make sure you have rest days

From my own personal experience I'd make sure that you have two good rest days. Recovery is such a big part of training, it's where the muscles grow and repair so don’t beat yourself up if you can't run every day – it's actually a very good thing.

5. Stop comparing yourself

Often I see people comparing their training plan with fellow runners and friends. I always hear “but so-and-so is doing five miles more than me.” Don’t you worry about so-and-so! Your training plan is yours and yours only. Don’t set yourself up to fail by worrying about what your mate is doing.

6. Learn to listen to your body

I am a big advocate of listening to your body. It tells you what foods don’t agree with you, it tells you when you are overtraining, it tells you when you are being lazy (you cant deny this one) – and if you think about it, it usually tells you the difference between a niggle and an injury. 12 weeks is a good amount of time to allow your body to be in the best physical condition it can be and to understand what is wrong and right for you mentally and physically. 

7. Incorporate yoga and/or pilates

Yoga and pilates are great for runners because the muscles can become tight and stiff through running. If your posture isn’t the best it can help lengthen and correct imbalances. I try and do 30 minutes of yoga every morning and I have found that it really helps – even 15 minutes can make a difference. If you don’t know what you are doing try giving a class a go and do it once a week or look it up on YouTube.

8. Get squatting

Strength work is an important component in any sport for both injury prevention and performance. A couple of strength sessions a week can aid with pain-free running. A few of the best exercises for runners are compound exercises (using more than one joint) – squats, deadlifts and lunges with a shoulder press for example. These must be done with the correct technique. Check with your local gym for some classes. Happy squatting!

9. Find a community

It's useful to have a community to support you and offer you advice for those moments when you're thinking: "My body’s not designed for 26.2 miles of hell, my legs aren’t used to that, I'll never be able to do it, what if I don’t do enough training? What if I collapse and face plant the floor?" Most communities are so lovely and welcoming such as UK Run Chat, Run Dem Crew and Run Mummy Run just to name a few. Don’t be scared to join – they will be a big help, trust me.

10. Experiment with food sources

It is important that you experiment with foods during training because some foods don’t agree with everyone. When I first started running I was constantly looking up what foods to eat pre and post runs. I would even say I got slightly obsessive worrying about what I should and shouldn’t be eating. But at the end of the day you need to know what does and doesn’t work for you.

11. Make sure you're eating enough

It is very easy to under-eat too.  I actually saw it with my mum when she ran her first ever half marathon a couple of weeks back. It's easy to get wrapped up in training and then when your fitness levels increase the need for more energy sources does too. If you are feeling lethargic and low in energy during your runs try and make your portions bigger or add in another meal a day.

12. Train your brain

This is the most important tip to me – you need to train your brain. If your mind isn’t fit and strong then you wont be performing at your best. I always say endurance running is 80% mental strength. That’s obviously just my own personal opinion – but I know there is truth there.
To run a marathon you need to believe in your own capabilities, you need to know that you're going to put your mind to it and you're sure as hell going to complete it. Find what works for you, break your runs down into manageable chucks, do yoga, or meditate (don’t judge this one) –  it holds more power than you think.

13. Believe in yourself

And finally, if all else fails, take my personal mantra with you. "You are strong. You are fearless. Don't stop."