If you’re preparing for an upcoming marathon, every week of training has a specific and important purpose. Here are a few things to consider and what you should do as the days and weeks continue to countdown.
7-8 weeks to race day
This is usually considered the absolute minimum amount of time you’d need to prepare for a marathon. You should already be running three or four days a week and be able to complete a long run of at least 16K. If you’ve already been training, you will continue to increase your overall mileage as well as the length of your weekly long run, which should ideally already be 21K or more. An easy way to add more mileage is to increase the frequency of your running by adding one more easy run a week. Begin to introduce a strength or speed session whereby you practice running a bit faster than goal marathon pace. Now is also a good time to do a tune-up race to test your current fitness and help you plan the next few weeks of training.
5-6 weeks to race day
You’re about to enter peak training. Mileage and long runs continue to increase. Pay special attention to how you feel and be sure to listen to your body. Take an extra day or two off if you’re dealing with an injury or illness. Be sure to do some marathon-specific speed work, either tempo runs at marathon pace or intervals a bit faster than that, in addition to the long run, which should now between 24 and 28K, as well as additional easy run days.
3-4 weeks to race day
This is usually the time you run the most overall (“peak”) weekly mileage, partly because you’ll be running your longest long run, usually between 30 and 36K, about four weeks out from the race. You should also aim to run your last hard marathon-paced effort, up to 60 minutes at goal pace, at this time. Some people choose to run a tune-up race, such as a half-marathon, as well. Be sure you’re eating well and getting plenty of sleep.
1-2 weeks to race day
It’s time to taper! Scale back the overall volume of training to approximately 50-75% of what you did during your peak week, when you ran the most mileage. Maintain a bit of intensity–speed work or marathon pace efforts–and take your easy runs very easy. Your long run should also be decreased to no more than 21K. Schedule an extra day or two off as well and be sure to get enough, if not more than usual, sleep. You should also start thinking about your race plan–your time and pace goals, your fueling and hydration strategy–as well as how you get to and from the race and who, where and when you’ll see your family and friends during and after the race.
Race week and day
You should now be in full taper mode. Running very easy two-to-four times during race week–you might want to add a few short marathon-paced efforts–and taking a day or two completely off before the race. You should also begin carb loading, which means eating 8-12 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight in the two-to-three days before the race. Be sure to try and “bank” some sleep early in the week in case you don’t get much in the final nights before. On race day, stick to the routine you’re used too. Eat what and when you did during training. Arrive to the race early and have a race plan. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, try to enjoy the day and the event. After all, you spent all that time and energy training for it and you’re ready!