arathon Training Program:
Many 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.
- 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 weekend.
- 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)
Click here for the metric version of the schedule above.
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 dehydration.
- 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 marathon.
- 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.