Marathon Training Program:

mrt_15.jpgMany runners fail to realize that one of the most important aspects of
marathon training is the taper phase. Reducing weekly and long run
mileage during these final two weeks is vitally important so that you
will be fully recovered from previous workouts while at the same time,
be completely rested for the big event. For the sake of the discussion
that follows, we will assume that marathon is scheduled on a Sunday.
Furthermore, we will refer to the taper period as the time that spans
the two-week period prior to the marathon right up to Saturday night
(the day before the race). Topics that will be presented in this
section, among others, will include physical preparation, nutrition,
psychological issues, and general tapering considerations. Please refer
to the Race Countdown and Marathon Strategy section for additional information about final preparations before the race.

Physical Preparation

  • Cut back on the distance and intensity of your
    training runs during the two-week period prior to the marathon,
    eliminating long and hard efforts. See the Tapering Schedule (Schedule
    III) that follows that outlines the specific distances to run during
    this time. You will need to make a decision whether you wish to take
    either/both Friday or Saturday as a complete leg rest day(s) on marathon
  • Listen to your body. Remember, there
    are no workouts the week prior to the marathon that will enhance your
    preparedness for the race. An important rule of thumb is “Less is Best”,
    particularly if you are feeling either physically or mentally tired
    and/or your leg muscles are fatigued/achy, etc.
  • Keep stretching as much as possible during the couple of weeks prior to the marathon. See section on Stretching for more information.
  • Consider getting a leg massage no more than two days before the marathon. If you’ve never had a leg massage, don’t try it now!
  • Clip long toenails and treat blisters and calluses the week or two prior to the marathon.

Tapering Schedule (Schedule III)

Week to Go
Mon. Tue.
Wed. Thu.
Fri. Sat.
3 12 Rest  6  8  6  Rest  4  36
2 14 Rest  7  Rest  5  Rest  4  30
1 10 Rest  6  Rest  4  Rest  1-2
0 26.2 Marathon Rest  Rest  Rest  Rest  Rest  Rest  26.2

Click here for the metric version of the schedule above.

Nutritional Issues

The Week Prior to Your Marathon

  • As you reduce your mileage during the last
    week, realize that you will not be burning as many calories. Thus, you
    may gain one or two pounds if you don’t cut back a bit on the quantity
    of your servings early in the week.
  • Use care in selecting foods to eat
    during this time period, aiming for nutritious and healthy items rather
    than snack/high fat products.
  • Hydrate well the week before the
    marathon and in particular, during the carbohydrate loading period
    (three days prior to the marathon). Research indicates that
    carbohydrates convert to glycogen more effectively when accompanied with
    the consumption of water. This is the time when you may gain a couple
    of pounds, but don’t worry about it. This will be your energy fuel
    during the marathon!
  • If you are
    traveling out town, be sure to pack healthy snack foods you may wish to
    eat the weekend of the marathon. Eliminate the need to search for a
    grocery store that stocks your favorite foods. See Packing List for more information.
  • If traveling by plane to your marathon destination, carry bottled water with you. Flying at high altitudes causes dehydration.
  • As mentioned above, carbohydrate
    loading begins three days before the marathon. Choose foods for lunch
    and dinner that are high in carbohydrates (e.g., pasta, potatoes, rice,
    etc.). Don’t neglect fruits, vegetables, and some protein sources
    however. Try to really scale back on fats during this time.

The Evening Prior to Your Marathon

  • Be sure to eat carbohydrate products that
    have been “tried and proven” during your training period. Keep pasta
    sauces simple, avoiding high fat varieties (e.g., alfredo, pesto, etc.).
    Avoid eating lots of salad items and vegetables (roughage) as these may
    prove to be troublesome on race day and can cause digestive problems.
  • Stick to water during the evening
    meal. Because coffee and tea contains caffeine, these products may make
    it difficult for you to fall asleep easily. Keep in mind that caffeine
    (as well as alcoholic beverages) are diuretics, which contributes to


  • Don’t try anything new the week prior to, or during the marathon.
  • Also see Areas of Experimentation for more information.


  • Aim to get lots of sleep the week prior to the marathon.
  • Try to go to bed early Friday night
    and wake up very early Saturday morning. This will enable you to get
    into the rhythm of preparing to wake up early Sunday morning. The most
    important night for sleep is Friday evening as many people find it
    difficult resting/sleeping soundly the night before the marathon. If you
    don’t get a restful night’s sleep Saturday, that’s fine as long as you
    sleep well Friday.
  • After your Saturday evening meal, try
    not to think about the marathon anymore. Instead, watch television, read
    (about something other than running), or find something else restful to
    do until you turn in for the evening.
  • Prior
    to retiring, have two alarm systems set to wake you up (alarm clock,
    wake-up call, running watch alarm setting, etc.). While this may seem a
    bit excessive, the key here is not to leave anything to chance.
  • Wake up early enough to eat, make
    visit(s) to the bathroom, and take care of anything you feel the need to
    do so as not to feel rushed. The idea in the few hours before the
    marathon is to relax as much as possible and stay off your feet.


  • For out of town races in particular, don’t
    wait until the night before you travel to collect and pack needed items.
    Rather, make a list of things you wish to take (also see Packing List) and begin getting them together in the days prior to your departure.
  • Whether you’re running in your
    hometown marathon or traveling out of town, collect everything you need
    to take to the race site for your workout bag and have it ready the
    night before the race. Also, pin your race number to the front of your
    singlet or t-shirt. It’s a good idea to take along an extra roll of
    toilet paper in case there’s none remaining when you visit the bathroom
    or port-o-potty. You’ll have enough on your mind race morning, let alone
    worrying about items you need to wear or take to the starting line.
  • Plan for all types of weather
    conditions and pack accordingly. It’s better to pack everything you
    might need rather than having to scurry around a new city looking for
    clothing and/or accessories at the last minute.
  • See nutrition section above for food and beverage items to pack.
  • If you’re traveling to an out of town
    race by air, it is extremely important that the running shoes and
    apparel you plan to wear for the marathon are packed in carry-on luggage
    so that in the event your baggage is lost or delayed by the airline,
    you will at least have these “essential” items with you.


  • If your marathon takes you to a new or
    exciting city, quell the urge to do lots of sightseeing by foot the day
    before the race. Instead, save your legs so that they will be rested for
    the race.

  • A great time for sightseeing on foot
    is in the afternoon after the race or the following day. An easy stroll
    is an excellent therapeutic measure for tired/fatigued legs.

Psychological Issues and Concerns

  • As you taper, concentrate on reading books,
    magazine articles, or other materials that will provide you with
    motivation and inspiration.
  • Take care of any anxieties and
    concerns in the weeks prior to the marathon. Preparation is the best
    strategy to reduce or eliminate stress and anxiety, all the more reason
    to have completed those key long runs in the weeks prior to the
  • Remember that is normal feel be tense or nervous prior to a marathon. Even the most seasoned runners experience these feelings.
  • Stay away from participants who are
    excessively stressed out or are negative. Don’t let these individuals
    affect your state of mind.
  • Touring
    the Course – For first time marathoners, I recommend NOT viewing the
    course prior to the race. Doing so may add to your nervousness
    (particularly if the course is difficult). Instead, look at a course map
    and/or elevation profile diagram to become familiar with the
    characteristics of the course. A positive psychological strategy is to
    think of the marathon as an “exploratory sightseeing excursion”.
    Possessing this mindset can add some interest, excitement, and positive
    anticipation during the last miles of the race that can oftentimes be
    mentally as well as physically challenging.
  • See Psychological Issues for additional information.

Race Strategy and Goal Setting

  • The evening prior to the marathon is NOT
    the time to plan or think about your race strategy. Issues such as
    pacing, stopping at aid station, rendezvousing with friends, etc. should
    be planned in the days and weeks prior to the race rather than in the
    final hours before the event when you’re trying to relax or fall asleep.

  • In the weeks prior to the marathon,
    think about three goals you’d be interested in accomplishing for your
    marathon: (1) an easily obtainable goal, (2) a realistic yet moderately
    challenging goal, and (3) an ultimate goal. Determine a strategy to
    achieve the ultimate goal, but build in flexibility in your plan to
    achieve a less ambitious goal if things don’t pan out the way you had
    planned. Above all, be realistic. For example, if you don’t possess the
    genetic make-up to run a sub-38 minute 10-K, there’s very little chance
    you can break three hours in the marathon.


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