Can (and should) you run a marathon without training?

Can you run a marathon without training? This has become an increasingly popular question in the era of YouTube and Instagram. Type into your search bar and you’ll find dozens of young runners challenging themselves to the task. You can anticipate how it ends up.

Running a marathon without training is like swimming in the ocean only knowing how to doggy paddle.

It’s going to be unnecessarily physically and mentally demanding. Some runners who set out on the journey don’t end up making it to the finish.

More and more people are attempting half and full marathons without training. Hannah Belles referenced in this 2023 article in Outside Magazine article “Why is YouTube Obsessed with Running Marathons on Zero Training?”

In short: Experts say the human body is pretty incredible and resilient. But, also, if you’re undertrained, your goal is just to survive the race. Sudden increases in mileage, regardless of your fitness level, studies say are a recipe for injury.

You may have seen this answer coming.

I’m not in the business of telling you what to do. But, I am in the business of giving you information on your running inquiries.

Marathon running without training exposes you to too high a risk of injury.

If you want to complete your first marathon, we suggest training for a minimum of 16-20 weeks or 4-5 months of training.

And while that may seem like a long time, once you start training, you’ll soon realize just how modest that time is.

Can you run a marathon without training - a man on a bridge stretching his quad before a run.

Can you do a marathon with no training?

While the running a marathon without training trend is growing in popularity, we recommend living vicariously through those beginners and non-runners taking on the challenge on YouTube,. That should provide all the satisfaction you need without having to endure the pain of attempting the challenge yourself.

There are many runners who finish a marathon with no training. But, it often involves a lot of walking (better to do a good job reading our How Long Does It Take To Walk A Marathon piece), sitting at the side of the road, stretching, cramping, and a lot of regret. It’s just as mentally challenging as it is physically.

Don’t believe us? Take a look.

How long does it take to train for a marathon?

For any beginner runner, we suggest a minimum of 16 to 20 weeks of training. 

We also recommend choosing to get a first half marathon under your belt first. Any running and racing experience will help build confidence in your running. A half marathon can help establish a pacing and race strategy for when it’s time for your first time full marathon. 

Any marathon or half marathon training is simple.

Increase the weekly time and distance each week.

For example, one week, your long run — this is a staple type of running and must-do longest run session for the marathon — might be 5 miles. The following week, it could be 6 miles.

This progressive — but gradual — increase in distance helps develop your aerobic and muscular systems to train your body to run further. It also builds confidence and mental strength, two very important aspects of marathon running.

What is the minimum training for a marathon?

If you’re a total beginner, 16 to 20 weeks of training at is recommended before your first marathon finish. The less time you dedicate to training, the more you increase your risk of injury.

However, this all depends on your running experience. If you’re an inconsistent runner, have had bouts of consistent running training historically, you may be able to train for 12 weeks as opposed to 20.

Either way, we would advise against looking for shortcuts. There certainly won’t be any on race day. And if you do find one, then you’ll most likely be disqualified!

When in doubt, consult a running coach, physician, or sign up for a premium marathon training app like Runna.

Is it safe to run a marathon without training?

If you’ve got this far into this blog post and you’re still not convinced then keep reading…

While you may enjoy the mental struggle or think you can “carry the boats” (hello, David Goggins fans), there is a serious risk of injury, dehydration, exhaustion, and, depending on which marathon you’re running, life-threatening conditions.

In the early stages of training, many new runners encounter issues such as shin splints, knee pain, and other overuse issues when they start out. Scientific studies estimate that 10-20% of all running injuries are shin splints and 70% of runners every year get an overuse injury.

When your body is not adapted to the training and the long distances, it can lead to all sorts of issues and problems.

There’s a lot that goes into training/running a marathon, even the little things can come back to bite you. Proper training is essential!

What are the most common injuries from a marathon?

Running 26.2 miles does not come without injury risk even when properly trained. A study on 1,043 half marathon runners and 624 full marathon runners found that 24% of half marathoners and 30% of marathoners suffered an injury on race day or within two weeks after the race.

Risk of injury is even higher for those who don’t train.

The most common injuries for marathon runners include:

  • Shin splints – Repetitive impact on the shinbone and the connective tissues that attach your muscles to the bone causing aching or dull pain.
  • Knee pain – Traditionally caused by inflammation of the ligaments that make up the knee. If you’re beginning to suffer from knee pain, consider investing into a specialty pair of running shoes.
  • Stress fractures – Tiny cracks in your bone caused from overuse.
  • Achilles tendinitis – An aching pain in the heel often caused by an increase in intensity or duration.
  • Plantar fasciitis – Inflammation of the plantar fascia which is on the underfoot of the heel.
  • ITB syndrome – Sharp pain outside your knee or hip caused by the swelling of your iliotibial band.

A woman at the Horse Lake Trail Run smiling on the trail.

How to actually train for a marathon

Hopefully, by now, you’ve decided you’re ready to delay your entry or give up your last minute registration in your marathon and and instead dedicate yourself to training a race that’s a minimum of 16 weeks away.

So, what steps should you take to actually train for a marathon?

Here are a few fundamentals we recommend following to best prepare for your first marathon:

  1. Gradually increase your weekly distance 
  2. Stick to your training plan for the long term
  3. Strength training to prevent injury
  4. Invest into the right gear
  5. Don’t neglect your recovery or your nutrition

We also suggest following a training plan to help you stay accountable. This will also help you avoid injury and ensure you’re doing the right run and workout sessions so you’re ready on marathon day. 

Gradually increase your weekly distance

Your enthusiasm for running can hinder your progress.

While you may think you could do more, it’s best to follow a structured training plan that gradually increases in weekly distance.

Your first training week could cover as little as 15 miles, with a long run of 4-5 miles. 

Your 6th week of training could cover up to 24 miles, with a long run of 8-9 miles.

This consistency and progressive increase in time spent running/distance covered enables your body to adapt to the training stressors to tolerate more distance/intensity.

For instance, if you were to attempt week 6 of training without weeks 1-5, you’d either not complete it or be too fatigued to continue training.

Moreover, there’s a standard rule in the running world not to increase your weekly distance by more than 10% each week. This will help decrease your injury risk further.

The 10% rule is a helpful guide post. You can, of course, train more or less based on how you feel your body is responding to training.

You also should consider a premium training app like Runna. Runna is an award-winning training app developed by Olympic level coaches to be focused and dynamic. You get two weeks of free training with code HALFMARATHON.

Stick to your training plan for the long term

Consistency. It’s what most people struggle with, not only when it comes to training for a marathon but across all aspects of their lives.

If you stick to your training plan for the long term, missing no — or very few run or workout sessions — you’ll make the best possible running fitness progress.

Beginners often make the mistake of trying to train on too many days of the week. Once again, your enthusiasm — although it comes from a good place — may hinder your overall performance and consistency. 

If you create your very own training plan and want to run 6 days a week with 1 rest day, you might be able to stick with it for 1, 2, or maybe 3 weeks, but once life inevitably intervenes, you’ll fall off the tracks and might even tip the wagon.

Instead, start out with the intention of being consistent… That means training 3-5 days a week vs. 6 days. While you may think you can do more, I promise you at some point in your training, you won’t want to train. You’ll be too tired. Too fatigued, etc.

Plus, training 6 days a week as a beginner is not a good idea, anyway! It further increases your injury risk and is typically not the most sustainable approach for  longevity. 

The runner who commits to a 16-week marathon training plan and misses no, or at most, a handful of sessions will be much more prepared than a runner who intended on running more frequently, but ends up missing more than half of their “run days.”

Based on what you’re learning, if you’d prefer to start out with a half marathon training plan, all of our guides are designed to be straight-forward plans that encourage consistency over 12 week training plans all the way up to 20 weeks.

Strength training to prevent injury

Strength training for runners is key component of any successful marathon training program.

Resistance and strength training help strengthen the joints and strengthen the smaller and often weaker muscles to prevent other muscles from overcompensating (this increases injury risk).

Moreover, strengthening these smaller — and larger — muscles ensure everything is firing correctly. That means your running form and technique will improve, and you’ll be able to run further with less effort.

To start, begin strength training no more than 1-2 times a week.

Choose a handful of exercises that target the main muscles used when running, such as:

  • Single leg deadlifts
  • Leg press
  • Weighted lunges (you can also do these with your body weight)
  • Box jumps 
  • Squats
  • Pushups 
  • Single arm rows 

Apply the same progressive training method for the best results (i.e., increase the weight or reps each session).

Invest Into The Right Marathon Gear

We don’t have to belabor the point about marathon gear, but there are a few essentials to invest into. You wouldn’t go outside to run 10 miles in flip flops. So, you shouldn’t consider training for a marathon with out gear that’s been specifically designed for the task.

Here’s a brief checklist for you:

  • Marathon Training Shoes: Totally up to your preference. Many trainers are great. Go to a running store and try on a few with the guidance of a running shoe expert.
  • Marathon Racing Shoes: Not always required. Perfectly ok to step up to the start line to run in marathon training shoes. But, a fun investment and may save you a few minutes off your finish time.
  • Socks: Required for reduction of blisters, chafing, and athlete’s foot.
  • Apparel: Required for reduction of sweat, chafing, and body temperature management.

For a more comprehensive list, you can check out our marathon gear and half marathon gear checklists.

Don’t Neglect Recovery or Nutrition

Nutrition is the second half of every training plan. If you’re going to increase the amount of running you’re doing on a weekly basis, your body will need to increase your blend of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to sustain your new levels of activity.

Nutrition includes everything from long run nutrition, to in-race fueling.

Recovery is equally important. The process of getting faster comes down to the breaking of muscle fibers and their regrowth with stronger muscle fibers.

Spend a lot of time planning your marathon taper and invest into recovery products.

Valencia Marathon woman running down the race course.

How to run a marathon (on race day)

Hooray, it’s race day! After spending months training, it’s finally time to run your first marathon.

But how do you actually get to the finish line?

You need a strategy. You can’t run fast for the whole thing, and hope you have enough pace at the end for a sprint.

There are a few things you can do to have a good marathon race:

  • Develop and stick to a pacing strategy
  • Get your fueling and hydration dialed in 

We’ll break down both of these in more detail below to help you finish your first 26.2 miles.

Develop and stick to a pacing strategy

When running your first marathon, it can be tempting to sprint or run faster off the start than your usual training pace.

But doing so will slow you down later in the race, and if you blow too much steam early on, you might not even finish.

To combat this, find a realistic finish time and then calculate the average pace needed to achieve it. Stick to this pace — or slightly below this pace — all the way, increasing your speed in the last couple of miles.

And whatever you do, try not to get carried away! Unless you’re trying to run a 3 hour marathon pace, then, by all means get carried away.

Get your fueling and hydration dialed in 

In the days leading up to your marathon, eat plenty of complex carbs, including pasta, rice, oatmeal, and even homemade pizza. This will increase your glycogen stores (energy). 

And most importantly, now is not the time to change up your diet — that exotic seafood can wait until after your race.

On the day of the race, eat the standard breakfast you eat before your long run. This could be a bowl of oatmeal or a few slices of toast, for example.

You’ll also want to bring some energy gels or other easy-to-digest carbohydrates. While running, you want to consume between 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour to prevent you from hitting the wall or “bonking.” This is when you have no energy left and struggle to get moving again.

Practice what you’ll eat and in what quantity on your long runs. 

The same applies to your hydration. Stay well hydrated in the days leading up to your run — but avoid excessive water consumption before the race, otherwise, you’ll need the bathroom.

You can either bring water or sports drinks with you, or you can drink from the aim stations on the course. The choice is up to you!

And while your fuelling strategy may seem confusing at first, it’s just a matter of practice. Therefore, do your best to rehearse it beforehand — that’s what your training, and especially your long runs, are for.


Did David Goggins run 100 miles without training?

Goggins had some training before running 100 miles but not much running. The same run also resulted in kidney failure and broken bones in his feet. We do not recommend trying this! 

How do you run a marathon if you haven’t trained?

Can you run a marathon without training? We do not recommend it. If you insist on doing so, walking is a better option. Instead though, train for a minimum of 16 weeks.

Can I run a half marathon without training? 

While possible, we do not recommend doing it. Instead, you’ll get much better results from training for 6-8 weeks.

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