The marathon distance is something many runners dream of completing. For some, completing the event is enough. For others, being able to run the marathon within a certain time is their goal. Whatever the motivation, the experience of running a marathon is extremely powerful.

Read about essential marathon knowledge to understand what makes the distance so special. Inspired to try your first marathon? There’s training tips and links to marathon training plans as well.



A marathon is 42.195 kilometers or 26.2 miles. 


The first “marathon” took place in Greece. The legend of the marathon goes that while a Greek soldier named Philippides was fighting a war in the ancient city of Marathon, he needed to return to Athens to relay an important war-related message. So he ran the entire distance (approximately 40 kilometers or 25 miles) and then died after delivering his message.

The marathon has been a part of the Olympics since it began in 1896. 


Here are the top three fastest official marathons ever run:

2:01:39 Eliud KIPCHOGE Kenya Berlin (GER) 16 SEP 2018
2:01:41 Kenenisa BEKELE Ethiopia Berlin (GER) 29 SEP 2019
2:02:48 Birhanu LEGESE Ethiopia  Berlin (GER) 29 SEP 2019


Suppose you plan to watch the marathon in Japan. In that case, you will undoubtedly see a very elite group of runners, and most (maybe even all of them) will be from Kenya or Ethiopia at the front of the race. This is because Kenya and Ethiopia have dominated middle and long-distance running events for many years. 

Many people wonder what makes them so dominant. As a result, the topic is the subject of many books, articles and academic research. The main explanations for their dominance, particularly in the marathon distance, have been described in a 2012 study in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance:

  1. Genetic predisposition
  2. High Vo2 max developed by extensive running and walking from an early age
  3. High hemoglobin and hematocrit
  4. High metabolic efficiency
  5. Favorable skeletal-muscle-fiber composition and oxidative enzyme profile
  6. Traditional Kenyan/Ethiopian diet
  7. Living and training at altitude
  8. Motivation to achieve economic success

Many runners have traveled to Kenya and Ethiopia to train with the world’s best marathon runners and learn their secrets. Despite this, Kenyans and Ethiopians continue to dominate and dazzle spectators with their inspiring performances. 

Next, you’ll learn how to find events near you and how to start training for them.


Get involved in your local adidas Runners community to find events and groups in your area. You can join your local adidas Runners community in the adidas Running app.

With adidas Runners, you can meet other runners and train together (when allowed). Having a community of friends and like-minded people pursuing similar goals to you is a massive asset for keeping you accountable for your own goals. 

You’re much less likely to abandon your goal if you share it with others (this also works if you share your plans on social media or your adidas Running profile). 

Man tracking run with phone


The type and amount of training you do to prepare for your marathon depends on your goals and motivations. For example, training to finish a marathon will be different from training to finish a marathon under a particular goal time. 

For example, someone aiming to complete a marathon around five hours (the cutoff time for most events) may only need to train a few days a week. Their focus will be on durability and general endurance to make it to the finish line of their event. This goal is perfectly acceptable and achievable for most people.

On the other hand, someone who wants to complete a marathon under 3:30 will need to run more frequently and faster. They will have more interval training and longer runs. This goal is also acceptable, but it will take more commitment and may not be appropriate for beginner runners.

Learn how setting achievable goals is key to athletic success


A half marathon is 21.1 KMs or 13.1 miles. Despite the difference in distance, marathon distance and half-marathon distance training are very similar. The critical difference in preparing for a marathon is that it requires—shocker—more running! The running itself may or may not be faster and depends on your goals for each event type.

Training for and completing a half marathon could be a crucial part of your marathon preparation training. This practice event will allow you to experience the race environment in a low-pressure situation so that nothing surprises you on race day. After all, the marathon is mostly mental.

Interested in training for a half marathon first? Try this amazing half marathon training plan or signup for a plan in the adidas Running app.


The total training distance to prepare for a marathon is dependent on your goals, running history and abilities. The volume of training distance per week will also increase the closer you get to your event. 

Woman running long distance

General guidelines for how many kilometers or miles to run during a week to prepare for running your first marathon distance:

  • Someone aiming to complete their first marathon within the cutoff time will need to run around 50 kilometers (30 miles) per week at the peak of their marathon prep.
  • Someone aiming to complete their marathon under 3:30 will need to run approximately 90 kilometers (56 miles) per week at the peak of their marathon prep.
  • For reference, professional marathoners run around 160 kilometers or 100 miles per week consistently! They also fit in time for strength training, stretching, dedicated recovery time and more!


Most people will be fine running four to five days per week throughout their training. However, recovery plays a vital role in preparing for your first marathon. Do not skimp on recovery days, or you could be insufficiently healed for your next training session.

Remember: when in doubt, leave it out. This is one of the hardest lessons for athletes to learn. 


Most training plans will include one to three high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions per week. The types of sessions can vary depending on the ability of the runner. Beginner runners need to be careful not to overdo the intense sessions or do too many of them. Intensity is not a shortcut for volume, meaning that if you miss a workout, don’t just run harder in the next workout to make up for it.

HIIT in a marathon training plan could include one-minute repeats where you run as hard as you can for one minute and then jog the next minute, repeating this cycle several times. Intensity could also consist of some time spent at your goal marathon pace so that you can get used to what the effort will feel like on event day.

Instead of trying to guess how many days you should work out and at what intensity, just use the adidas Running marathon training program. It will ask you a few questions and build you a custom marathon training plan based on your unique needs, experience and goals. It’s like a personal trainer in your pocket.

adidas Running Banner


Set a marathon goal time that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely (SMART). Use the examples and the pace chart below to get an idea of what your goal time should be:

BAD marathon goal time example:

Sebastian has run a 10k in two hours and feels that it was a pretty tough effort. They train three days per week and put in around 20 kilometers. Sebastian wants to run a marathon in under 3:30. The race is in three weeks.

GOOD marathon goal time example:

Monique has only run a 5k, but they felt good and want to try a marathon. They ask their adidas Runners community what races are nearby. Monique selects a marathon 15 weeks away. 

Monique takes the time from their personal best 5k (30 minutes) and uses the pace chart to set a marathon goal time of 4:13. They know they have time to prepare and can train sustainably to meet the goal. Monique shares this goal with friends, family and adidas Runners to hold themselves accountable even on tough days.


Focus on the process of running your marathon, not the result and certainly not what or how you think others expect you to run.


Use this downloadable PDF pace chart to help you figure out a goal time for your marathon. How to use this chart in five easy steps:

  1. Run one of the distances on the chart as if it were a race and record the time. Alternatively, use a comparable result from recent training or racing. 
  2. Find the distance for the event along the top row.
  3. Go down the column to the closest time it took you to run that distance.
  4. Now move to the right within that row to the marathon column.
  5. This number is your estimated goal marathon finishing time based on your previous result.

Example: if you ran a 5k last month in 30 minutes, you could reasonably expect to run around 4:13 for your marathon.


Nutrition is a huge component of running a marathon and is very individual. For example, one person may be able to eat pretzels and soda through their event, while another person may be required to bring their own bottled nutrition for the entire race.

The general guidance for hydration is to drink to thirst. Most marathons will have aid stations along the way where you can take in calories mixed with water. 

Woman drinking

It’s worth knowing what the race organizers will serve ahead of time so that you can figure out if that specific product will work for you (for example, try it on a training run a month before your event). You should also aim to take in primarily carbohydrate and electrolyte mix in the range of 30-60 grams per hour. 


Your running gear should be comfortable throughout the duration of your event. A pair of running shorts or a shirt that rubs a little during a 30-minute run might seem bearable but can eventually force you to quit your marathon.

The correct pair of shoes for your unique running style and anatomy is also crucial. The wrong type of shoe can lead to blisters or injury. Buy the best running shoes for you with this complete guide to picking running shoes.


The marathon is a legendary event that draws amateurs and professionals all over the world. It is the highlight of many people’s athletic careers, a personal achievement, a bucket list item. It’s whatever you want it to be. 

Marathons are also extremely challenging. They require months of training, preparation, and even sacrifice to complete.

But just ask anyone at the finish line of their first marathon, and you’ll understand why it’s worth it. 

What will be your “why?”