Belfast City Marathon is on Monday 1st May 2017, starting 9am at Belfast City Hall and finishing in Ormeau Park. Registration will open in Autumn 2016 and costs approx £35.  The pros and cons of the marathon have been described at length on a recent blog article (must read for any first-timer to Belfast). All that aside, I’m proud of my home city and would encourage people to run Belfast Marathon.



Below are two Belfast Marathon training plans – an Introduction (17 wks) and Intermediate (18 wks). My plans are based on 3 quality sessions per week that build fitness, strength, endurance and mental toughness. This is to ensure that people are well physically and mentally prepared for the marathon, which greatly helps them to enjoy it more on the day. Both plans (see notes for more details) are progressive and include rest, build up races, good variation, and require only 6-7hrs quality training per week (no junk miles). Three races are included (at least try one half-marathon) to help you with big race preparation and provide an enjoyable day out.

NB If you can’t run 10 mile, you shouldn’t really be aiming at a marathon within 20 weeks (consider Summer/Autumn marathon instead). If you have more than 18 weeks to prepare, I would strongly recommend that you use the ‘pre-season’ time to gradually build up the fitness to put yourself in the best position to start one of the training plans below.  Help with training and pre-season training plans available on request.


This is a slightly easier training plan, aimed at those who can comfortably run 10 mile and maybe considering a marathon for the first time or would like to improve a previous marathon time. Likewise to 18 week programme (below), it’s designed for people who can only guarantee being able to get out 3 times a week and have limited time. Slow runs and cross-training are optional (and can be done in short windows any time of the week) but will help with recovery and overall preparation, so try if possible.

To view and download the full 17 week marathon training programme, click on this link

Please also see notes for 18 week training plan. 

  1. The goal is to be in good shape for the marathon, do not worry about other races, training plans, weekly miles or pace. 
  2. Plan is based around 3 quality sessions per week, Gold (Tue), Silver (Thur) and Bronze (Sun) in terms of importance, with the aim of being recovered and fresh for the gold ones.
  3. If for any reason (e.g. work, weather, life) you can’t make one session, swap sessions (e.g. Tues for Thurs) or try and do one of the similar intensity elsewhere (e.g. on treadmill) or on following day
  4. However don’t do two hard sessions on consecutive days, always leave a day between gold, silver & bronze sessions (need recovery)
  5. Rest, sleep, recovery and nutrition are as important as training sessions. Listen to your body, and act on injuries & rest when need be. All empty cells (in 18 week plan) are for short easy runs, cross-train or rest.
  6. Outside three main sessions, all other runs should be at least 2.5 mins per mile slower than race pace. It should feel very easy, and a lot slower than you are used to running
  7. Cross-Train is for cycling, swimming, gym, yoga, pilates etc - This can be done once or twice a week, but keep easy & remember (D)
  8. Ideally aim to do 10-15 min stretching and core strength work each day or at least 1 session per week in the gym
  9. Visit a physio at the start to see any particular weaknesses you need to address (prevention is better than cure). Consider a monthly sports massage to reduce muscle pain
  10. Have a stopwatch but do not use a Garmin (or similar pace recording watch). Use a car or bike to work mile (and half-mile) markers if you don't know any
  11. Run as much off-road as you can. The first 10 weeks, all long runs should be off-road and involve hills. Off-road reduces the impact of running on your body (NB Mary Peter’s Track is a hard surface, be careful).
  12. Strongly encourage you to gradually start walking, jogging or cycling to work, if feasible. Will provide a huge benefit over 17 weeks (but see #5)
  13. Warm up should be about 10-15mins, especially for speed (see notes), with fartlek/tempo aim for about 75-80 min run in total
  14. Recovery: Hill reps, jog/run back to the start. For other reps/fartlek etc, use 33-50% rule i.e. if 4 min rep start with 2min and then try & reduce it. Play it by ear, if need slightly more recovery, take it better to have 6 quality reps than 10 poor reps. All recovery is moving, try and get running as soon as possible once complete faster run


This is designed for people who have completed half-marathons and those looking faster marathon times. In particular it is aimed for people who don’t have the opportunity to run several times a week, and can only guarantee 3 sessions a week with other times a bonus. It is recommended that you do regular stretching and strength work; and any other cross-training/slow runs are beneficial. However these can be fitted in to suit your schedule and undertaken in small time slots.

18wk Belfast Marathon Training Plan

To view and download the full 18 week training plan with notes, click on this link 


Please see notes below, in addition to the 17 week ones above for full explanation of training programme:



  • Acclimatisation - During this week, you get used to intensity of training required. Test training venues, distance/rep markers, and gage tempo speed
  • Also need to get use to the gym/core/strength sessions and list what stretches you need to do. Find what times of day suits you best to train/stretch
  • Use treadmill or Garmin during this week only to gage pace/note mile markers. This week is an important transition week before going straight into training plan



  • Yellow highlighted cells are opportunities to work on technique and/or have easy session. Need to build in recovery with sessions too (rest day if needed)
  • On easy runs, you should focus on running form, 1-2 points at a time e.g. prioritising correct posture (e.g. back, head position, shoulders etc), arms and any particular weaknesses you need to work on
  • Speed work and hill work will help with technique. Running efficiency and form are important over a long distance race and 4-month training programme



  • Each session needs a warm-up and cool down. Gold requires at least 10 mins (as speed session), with Silver & Bronze taking it easy on the first and last mile
  • Warming up properly and cooling down are important to reduce injury. Establish routine at the start and listen to your body, especially with speed
  • The first rep, should always be done about 3/4 pace to allow you to test injury and check out course (e.g. note potential safety issues and visual markers)



  • These are the most important session of the week and are probably more mental than physical training to be honest. Aim is consistency and hard effort
  • All these sessions are tough, and are done as hard as you can sustain. You need to be fresh and will feel wrecked the next day. You will need a 15 min warm-up
  • Weeks 1-6 are based on a slight steady hill (e.g. Malone Park), with 10 reps same time/distance. 1 min is enough, then jog back recovery in between
  • Weeks 7-10 are based on a long hill (e.g. Hannahstown, min 8% gradient) where you have to learn to pace and really push yourself. Needs to be at least 5 mins.
  • There is a huge difference between 1, 3 and 6 min hill reps. You should not be able to stand after each rep and are aiming for 3 about the same time (within 10 secs)
  • Weeks 11-14 are done on a flat (e.g. track or marked out path), with 1 min jog/run recovery for every 800m ran (i.e. 800m, 1 min recovery; 1 mile, 2min; 1.5 mile, 3 mins)
  • Weeks 15-18 are based on more continuous running at your normal speed, picking it for 5-6 mins x 5 (at 10k speed) with 2 mins running recovery.
  • Can be done off-road & ideally not on your own. Flexibility to add one rep or reduce recovery if feeling good - but listen to your body and DON'T RISK INJURY
  • The 'Gold' Fartlek should be enjoyable but tough, be flexible according to terrain (e.g. attack a hill if need be). Add in 3-5 x 30 sec blasts near the end if feeling good



  • Tempo, this is approx your 10-mile speed (or better still measure by your breathing, so you could only say 2-5 words at a time, and too fast to have conversation), so you should not feel as wrecked after this session
  • This may take 2-3 weeks to get used to the pace (and everyone is different), but it's a key part of building up aerobic capacity, essential for marathon running
  • Weeks 1-7 is gradually building it up to 6 mile (not forgetting warm-up etc), if you want you can have 90 sec break every 2-3 mile. Remember quality is important
  • It's crucial that you don't go too fast during tempo, as you'll ruin the session. NB It is tempo effort not pace, so adjust according to terrain (No Garmin for Tempo) and conditions (e.g. weather)
  • Weeks 9-12 are about building up speed endurance (and mental toughness) by doing 6 mile at tempo and then adding 1-2 mile at faster than tempo effort
  • Weeks 14-18 are getting used to running on the road, running at your marathon race effort with 10 x 1-3 minute pick ups, with 33%-50% recovery - based on feel
  • The last few weeks are about getting used to marathon pace, (ideally you shouldn't look at a watch), be flexible, have fun and learn to listen to your body



  • These long-runs gradually build up your endurance. These should be done at your normal running effort. For the first 12 weeks most should be done off-road and involve hills
  • These are not LONG SLOW RUNS. From week 9 we are introducing race effort, note a few mile markers or preferably a 3-4 mile stretch and glance at times (noting terrain)
  • Weeks 9-17, leave your race pace till the last miles bar one, so the last mile you are at normal pace (e.g. Week 9 (18 mile) start normal 1-11, race 11-17; and finish normal 18)
  • Be careful after Sat races (e.g. Larne & Omagh HM); whilst useful to run on tired legs, important to get recovery (NB C). Make sure Monday is a rest day or very easy swim/cycle
  • Mix up your long-run routes. Over the last few weeks try and covering similar topography (or ideally route) of the marathon. Max Long Run should be 3hr 30mins
  • Best to do them early in the morning (e.g. start 7 or 8, allows you to be back and showered etc by 11/12), don't let it take up your whole day. Test gear, nutrition & hydration



  • The parkruns are included for a bit of variation, mental toughness and to use as benchmarks for progress. You only need to race 2-3 but otherwise they can be used as part of slow runs
  • Derry 10m, Larne & Omagh HM are designed to get you used to the whole race experience. They're also enjoyable and good indicators of training progress (remember A)



  • Tapering is only really the 8 days before the Marathon. You don't drop the intensity of the Gold & Silver sessions but you will reduce the time (easy run for remainder)



  • Aim is 2-3 days with no running & 1-2 days completely off the feet. I will try to walk Sun evening to stretch and loosen up the legs to aid recovery



I've prioritised speed, strength & mental toughness within plan to boost speed endurance. With limited time & mindful of injuries, I've focused on a few quality sessions supported by non-running fitness and 1-2 slow runs (that I will hopefully be able to mix as part of my coaching sessions). Anything else is a bonus. I want to try something new; that keeps running enjoyable and which others may gain from too



Do not use a Garmin. Learn to listen to your body, and note rest, recovery and nutrition are as important as training. Don't forget stretching & strength; and don’t do junk miles. Ask yourself, what is the purpose of each session and how does it help me reach my goal?



  • If you can do a few Pilates sessions or exercises, make sure you are doing them properly, but they will be of benefit. Also consider a monthly sports massage. NB people have mixed opinions on yoga for marathons, but I will leave it up to you. For me when one of the fittest I’ve ever been was when I was doing 3-4 bikram (hot) yoga sessions per week and 1-2 fartlek sessions per week.

Why do the Belfast Marathon?

This is my home city, I have to do my first marathon here
— Mo Farah

Mo Farah after being asked why he did the London Marathon. Mo & London are obviously major outliers. However the point of doing your home city marathon remains valid… you can always do other marathons too ;)


It’s a great start and great finish but the rest is mixed (see blog). You’ll also come across thousands of relay runners at the four points spread across the course.

Belfast City Marathon 2016 Route

In addition to the marathon, marathon relay and marathon walk, there’s also a fun run. For more information on prizes, volunteer opportunities, route and general FAQs, check out the official marathon site.