The Complete Marathon Training Guide

Next

Introduction

Welcome to the Complete Marathon Training Guide by TrainingPeaks, and congratulations, you’re one step closer to reaching your goal! Whether you’re chasing a new PR or just hoping to finish your first marathon, you’ve come to the right place.

This guide is designed to be used as you train, with in-depth information on every part of the process. Each chapter is packed with tips, workouts, and insights from expert running coaches, to give you all the tools you need to succeed.

We're here to help you to stay on track!

When is your next marathon?

Please select a date

Now that you've selected the date of your big event, sign-up to have the corresponding chapters of this guide emailed to you directly. That way, you’ll easily stay up-to-date with essential training tips from our marathon experts.

Please enter your first name
Please enter an email

Thanks! You're all set.

Marathon Training: Getting Started

Marathon Training:
Getting Started

Chapter One

8 Minute Read

Training for a marathon is a big commitment, but it doesn’t have to be stressful if you have a good plan and the right resources. In this chapter, we’ll go through some preliminary steps to choosing a marathon, setting your goals, and getting the right gear to carry you through your training and to the finish line.

How to Choose a Marathon

The first step in starting your marathon journey is choosing a marathon! There are hundreds of marathons held every year all over the world, from the “Big Five” (Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London and New York City) to smaller, local events held just about everywhere. We suggest considering the following factors when selecting your race:

Time Frame

The standard amount of time needed to prepare for a marathon usually falls around sixteen weeks, assuming a good base level of fitness. Can you train for a marathon in six weeks? It’s possible, but it probably won’t be much fun—and you’ll run the risk of injury by compressing your time frame. To feel prepared and strong on race day, it’s ideal to choose a marathon that you’ll have at least four months to train for.

Qualifying Time

Entrants must qualify for many of the “big five” marathons, among others. This serves to limit field sizes, and typically makes a marathon faster and more competitive. For example, the qualifying time for men 35 to 39 in the 2019 Boston Marathon was 3:10:00—which means logging at least a 7:15 mile pace for the duration of the race. For some runners, the qualification factor makes a race more attractive, but for others (especially newer marathoners), it might be best to choose a marathon without qualification requirements for a more relaxed atmosphere.

Location

Location is important when it comes to a marathon. Terrain and climate can vastly change the character of a race, and travel (while fun) can create logistical challenges. Will you be bringing your family and friends with you for support? Is the terrain of the race similar to the terrain you’ll have access to for training? Will your marathon be a hot race or a cold one? Will altitude be a factor? All of these are important questions to ask yourself when choosing your marathon.

Size

Some races see thousands of entrants while others attract a couple hundred. It’s your choice whether you want a smaller, more intimate race, or prefer to join a sea of runners.

X-Factor

Don’t forget, you’ll have 26.2 miles to contemplate why you’re running this marathon. It helps if the race has some personal meaning to you! If you need a good place to start, these are world-renowned marathoner and coach Hal Higdon’s top ten favorite marathons.

Do you have the time?

Preparing for a marathon is a serious undertaking. You’ll be building your mileage to about 50 miles per week, and you’ll need time to focus on nutrition, recovery, and potentially even travel to runnable routes. If you’re also juggling work and family obligations, you may need to do some prioritizing to get your training completed.

Of course, most marathoners deal with logistical challenges, and many still run blazing-fast times. A tight schedule doesn’t necessarily spell disaster for your marathon dreams, but it’s wise to take an objective look at the time you have available and be realistic about the demands of training.

Setting Marathon Goals

Every successful endeavor begins with a goal, and how you go about setting that goal can play a big part in whether or not you reach it. Below you’ll find some strategies for deciding what will make your marathon successful to you.

Coach Carrie McCusker recommends visualizing how success will feel to you, then setting both externally and internally measurable goals. External goals are the quantifiable, outcome-oriented goals most of us are familiar with, and could include things like a specific finishing time, a place on the podium, or a goal pace.

Internal goals are a little less glamorous but no less important—McCusker calls them “process” goals, and they have more to do with your mental and emotional state en-route to your external goals. Examples of internal goals could be to stay positive through the race, to be more resilient when the unexpected occurs, or to listen more carefully to your nutritional needs.

Once you’ve set your goals in both categories (and ideally written them down somewhere!), you’ll need a road map to reach them. This guide is a good start, but it’s likely you’ll want more detail for your day-to-day training. Many athletes will reach out to a coach at this point to guide them through the process and hold them accountable. There are also marathon training plans offered online (including in the TrainingPeaks store) for runners of all levels.

Marathon Training Gear

Luckily, running is a relatively inexpensive and simple sport to get into. Here are some quick notes on the gear you’ll need to run a marathon:

Shoes

Shoes are the most important piece of gear in your running kit, and you’ll want to spend money on a good pair. If you haven’t already, go to your local running shop and get a gait analysis to determine which shoe is best for your stride, and remember, more cushioning isn’t always better. The shoe that works best for you will depend on your particular physiology and stride—and you’ll be spending a lot of time together so you’ll want to be happy with them!

It’s also a good idea to get more than one pair of running shoes, so you can cycle them based on mileage (you’ll want to replace your shoes every 200 to 400 miles). When one pair is on its way out, you can be breaking in the next pair to ensure you don’t end up on the start line in a pair of brand new running shoes!

Hydration System

As you get into multi-hour runs with extended mileage, you’ll need a system to bring fuel and water with you. A hydration waist belt can store 1-2 standard bottles, but can bounce while running, especially when fully loaded. A handheld bottle is another option, and some handles include a pouch for nutrition or a credit card as well. One bottle may not be enough for a longer run. A well-fitted hydration vest is a good, low-bounce option for when you need to carry food, extra water, and even layers with you. But it can be somewhat bulky depending on the design and brand you choose. Whichever system you go with, make sure you test it thoroughly before race day.

Clothing

Clothing for running is relatively straightforward. Choose pieces that are light and breathable, and that you feel comfortable and happy wearing. Again, you’ll be spending many miles together, so make sure you have support where you need it and ventilation where it counts! For cold weather running, remember you’ll be generating a lot of heat once you get moving. You might be surprised how light you can layer even when it feels cold outside!

Sun Protection

Wear your sunscreen, get a hat, and find a pair of sunglasses that won’t bounce or slide off your face. You’ll be more comfortable on long runs, and you’ll recover better if you’re not dealing with a sunburn!

Fitness Tracker

It’s your choice how you and your coach choose to use data, but we recommend at least training with heart rate. You’ll be able to use this single metric to gauge your training stress, measure progress, and even figure out when you’re getting sick before the first symptoms hit. Some wrist-based heart rate monitors don’t even require a chest strap!

You can take your tracking to the next level with GPS data, which will give you your distance, pace, elevation, and other valuable metrics to track your progress.

Ready to get running? Head to the next section to learn the fundamentals of marathon training.

Marathon Training Weeks 1-8: Base Miles and Introductory Speedwork

Marathon Training Weeks 1-8:
Base Miles and Introductory Speedwork

Chapter Two

10 Minute Read

In the last section, we covered the preliminary steps to training for a marathon—choosing a race, setting a goal, and getting the gear. Now it’s time to get down to business and start running (or start running with purpose!)

Training for a marathon can be as intense or relaxed as you want to make it—the only requirement is that you commit to the mileage. With deliberate, well-informed training and enough time for your body to adapt, you’ll be prepared to achieve your goals on race day.

In each training section, we’ll go through each phase of training including physiological objectives, how to reach them, and some sample workouts. We’ll also offer nutrition advice tailored to each phase.

How To Master Marathon Pacing

Pacing is the key to surviving your marathon and training intelligently. Knowing what pace you can sustain will help you set the benchmarks for your workouts and can help determine your race strategy. Here are a few common ways to set your marathon goal pace:

  1. Do a 30-minute threshold test. This will help you determine your threshold pace, or the fastest pace you can sustain before going anaerobic. You should calculate your goal marathon pace assuming you’ll run a little slower than your threshold. For example, if your threshold pace is 8 min/mile, you’ll want to shoot for around 9 min/mile on race day.
  2. Use your half marathon pace. If you’ve run a half marathon, you probably have a good idea of the pace you can sustain. Again though, you’ll want to account for some drift for the added length of a marathon.
  3. Use the average pace of your longest run. This is a great option for newer runners who don’t necessarily have the fitness for a 30-minute threshold test, or who haven’t yet run a half marathon. If you’re in this category, keep in mind you’ll most likely get faster as you train, and you may have to adjust your goals accordingly!

Speed in running comes largely from neuromuscular endurance and technique, which runners can only build over time. If you don’t have the miles in your legs yet, upping your pace too fast can put you at risk of injury or illness. That’s why it’s important to know your pace and set realistic goals!

Marathon Training Fundamentals: Base Miles

Why: Increase aerobic capacity, gradually increase mileage to reach 30 to 35 miles/week over the first eight weeks of training.

When: Emphasis is on the first eight weeks of training, with base workouts continuing until race day.

How: Consistently add 10 percent distance or time to your weekly total, focusing on running in your aerobic zones.

Goal: Work up to being able to run comfortably for an hour.

Base training, or building volume, is a great way to get your body used to the demands of running longer distances. It consists of long, slow workouts designed to help you build your aerobic capacity. By keeping your heart rate relatively low for a long period of time, you’ll train your body to process oxygen more efficiently and metabolize fat for fuel (rather than quick-burning carbohydrates).

You might be surprised at how slow you actually need to run to avoid going anaerobic, but it’s worth it to slow down—even if it means walking—to stay in an aerobic zone. See our quick guide to setting heart rate zones if you’re not sure what this means. Your body will gradually adapt, and soon you’ll be running the same pace with a lower, more sustainable heart rate.

You’ll almost want to do only base training workouts in the first few weeks of training, and it’s important to keep a day or two dedicated to long slow efforts every week throughout your marathon training. You’ll rely on this aerobic conditioning when you’re running your marathon.

Quick Tip

If you tend to get competitive with the people around you, or like to gun it on hills, set an alarm on your watch or fitness tracker to tell you when your heart rate exceeds your target zone—it will get so annoying that you’ll end up running as slow as you need to run to make it stop, we promise.

What to Do When Your Marathon Training Doesn’t Go to Plan

It’s easy to put ambitious workouts on a calendar and imagine yourself completing each one perfectly, but everyone encounters challenges in their training. You might find yourself stepping into a blizzard for your long run; you might have a family emergency during your most important interval block; or you might just catch a cold and have to take a few days off. Here’s what to do when you need to adjust your training.

Don’t panic

A missed day or three or ten isn’t ideal, but it’s not the end of the world, either. In the case of injury or illness, you’ll only dig yourself into a bigger hole if you don’t listen to your body when you need to back off. In the case of outside life circumstances, sometimes there are things more important than training. Remember to keep your “big goals” in focus, and try to enjoy the bonus recovery instead of beating yourself up about it.

Rearrange workouts with an eye on the weather.

A little planning at the beginning of the week can go a long way. If you’ve got a rest day planned on the nicest day, and a long run planned when a storm will be rolling in, switch them! Over the course of sixteen weeks, the order of specific workouts won’t matter as much as consistency and volume.

When in doubt, take time off.

There’s an old adage that says you’ll be faster off the couch than you will be if you’re overtrained. If you’ve got niggling pain, the beginnings of a cold, or just feel off, listen to your body. This isn’t a free pass out of every workout you don’t feel like doing (spoiler: there will be those workouts!), but rather a friendly reminder that sometimes you’ll just need more rest than you thought.

Focus on the long game.

Even if you suffer a big setback like a season-ending injury or major life change, there’s always another marathon. Sometimes taking care of yourself means taking a step back and refocusing later. These times can be discouraging, but remember you’re in control of your attitude and your day-to-day health. Stay present, make good daily choices, and you’ll be back on track before you know it.

Slow Burn: Marathon Base Training Nutrition

Because aerobic training causes increased fat metabolization, you want to make sure you’re fuelling with plenty of healthy fats throughout the day. While you don’t necessarily want to eat a slab of salmon and avocado right before your run, definitely make sure you’re including those good fats with your meals.

Base training is also a great time to dial in your run nutrition. Because you’ll be logging your longest miles at base pace, these workouts are a good time to see what your stomach can tolerate over time. Experiment with liquid and solid calories. You may find that sugary foods and drinks give you gas, which means you might want to try starchier carbohydrates. Or, you might find that you absolutely NEED a coke and some potato chips after the first hour. Every stomach is different, and it’s only through trial and error that you’ll find out what works for you.

Quick Tip

Keep notes on nutrition with your workouts in TrainingPeaks, or wherever you log your workouts, so you can look back on what worked and what didn’t.

Introduction to Speedwork

A good introductory interval workout might look like this:

Introductory Interval Workout

Session:

  • 10-minute warm-up jog – building from Zone 1 to 2
  •  Five sets of 60 seconds Zone 4-5 effort,  Followed by two minutes easy – Zone 1
  • 10-minute warm-down jog

Further Ideas:

Interval Progression

You can progress the number of sets (building from 4 to 6 to 8 to 10)

You can also progress the interval work, such as:

  • 30 seconds hard, followed by 90 seconds easy
  • 60 seconds hard, followed by 60 seconds easy
  • 90 seconds hard, followed by 90 seconds easy

See coach Lance Watson’s article on running speed for other basic interval workouts, and head to the next section to learn how to effectively integrate speedwork into the next phase of your training.

Marathon Training Weeks 8-16: Increasing Intensity and Mileage

Marathon Training Weeks 8-16:
Increasing Intensity and Mileage

Chapter Three

10 Minute Read

Welcome to the next phase of marathon training! At this point you should be six to eight weeks into your training and have a good feel for your average pace. On your long runs, you should be reaching an hour comfortably. Not there yet? It might be a good idea to go back and review the last section.

If you’re ready to move on, bravo! It’s time to start increasing the intensity of your workouts, adding more mileage, and bringing in some characteristics specific to your race, like hills or flats.

When: 6 to 8 weeks, or whenever you feel comfortable running at a steady pace for 60 minutes.

Why: Increase endurance, lactic threshold, and technique.

How: Find a track or low-traffic area where you can focus on running hard for specific intervals, and keep extending your long runs. Speedwork should not compose more than 20 percent of your weekly training.

Goal: Continue to add 10 percent distance or time to your weekly total (add more and you’re risking burnout or injury!).

Once you’ve got a solid aerobic base, interval workouts can help you build your speed, increase lactic clearing efficiency, and help you refine your technique. If you’ve already logged a solid base or are transitioning from a past marathon into a current one, you can alternate intervals with your longer endurance runs. If you’re starting your marathon journey off the couch, you may want to skip the intervals and simply focus on building volume—jumping into speedwork without the right neuromuscular adaptations can lead to injury!

At this phase in your training (weeks 6 to 8, to weeks 12 to 14) you want to be getting close to hitting 10 miles on your long runs. If you’re planning speedwork after these long runs, it’s good to give yourself a day or two buffer to recover. Similarly, you don’t want to schedule your long run the day after a taxing interval workout. Since most of us will do long runs on weekends when we have the most free time to train, that means speedwork will usually happen mid-week.

How Running Intervals Work

Intervals essentially teach your body how to go faster. When you increase your pace, your muscles will demand more oxygen to keep functioning. You’ll end up breathing harder to bring more oxygen into your lungs, and your heart will beat faster to deliver that oxygen to your muscles. At a certain pace, however, your muscles won’t have enough oxygen to process energy aerobically (called aerobic cellular respiration), so they’ll switch into anaerobic cellular respiration instead—handy, right?

Well, sort of. The byproduct of anaerobic cellular respiration is lactate which, at a high enough concentration, will limit the capacity of work your muscle can do. Without lactate, you’d basically be able to sprint forever, but because we’re stuck with it, we have to do the next best thing: train our bodies to clear it away efficiently.

When you do a hard interval and recover, you’re teaching your body how to build and clear lactate. You’re also effectively raising the threshold where your cells switch from aerobic respiration to anaerobic respiration (this is called your lactic threshold).

Simply put: if you can run harder without going anaerobic and producing lactate, you can run harder for longer.

Example Workout from coach Andrew Simmons:

Example Workout from coach Andrew Simmons

Session:

4-5 x 1,200-meter or 3:00- to 5:00-minute efforts on short recoveries (one- to two-minute recovery)

You’ll want to integrate these workouts early on in your build phase to increase your ability to handle larger loads at pace, and to prime the body’s faculties to buffer lactate. Skipping these workouts and going directly into short, fast reps will lead to an early peak or burnout.

The recovery here is normally done as a jog or light run, but you can also use a walk or static recovery as you build your endurance. Run these efforts at half marathon to 15-kilometer pace to keep lactate levels low to moderate. Progressive intervals in this workout are key, especially if it’s early in your training cycle. -A.S. (see full article here)

Quick Tip

No matter how hard you’re going, make sure you’ve got proper mechanics. Do drills to work on your form, chat with your coach, or visit a local running shop for a gait analysis — especially if you start to notice pain with running.

Marathon Crosstraining

Crosstraining is essential for injury prevention and general endurance, especially in sports that require repetitive movement, like running. Besides your standard core workout, here are three techniques to strengthen key running muscles and keep your body balanced.

Hip and Glute Activators

Knee and back pain can be caused by underdeveloped hip and glute muscles—a common symptom of desk-work. Coach Andrew Simmons recommends these nine moves (many of which require only body weight and a resistance band) to help address any deficiencies and balance out your stride.

If you’re looking for an easy hip and glute activator to do at home, the “bridge” (lay on your back, plant your feet, and lift your hips off the floor while engaging your glutes) can be a good place to start. Another good one to try is the “clamshell.” Lay on your side with your knees bent and feet together, then lift your upper knee by rotating from the hip, keeping your feet together. For added challenge, put a resistance band around your knees.

Deadlift

Coach Matt Pearce recommends the deadlift for engaging the glutes and hamstrings (otherwise known as your posterior chain). The deadlift mimics the proper motion you want to emulate while running by aligning your trunk with your knees and feet, and hinging forward at the hips. Plus, the strength you’ll gain will help you apply more force with each stride.

One way to strengthen your hamstrings and glutes at home is to do the same bridge as in the first section, but lift one foot into the air so your leg is straightened. This should work the hamstring of the leg still planted on the ground. Work your way up to holding for 30 seconds or more, and do equal repetitions on each side.

Barbell Upper Body Moves

Pearce also recommends two upper body moves to help counteract the rotational forces generated by your running stride. The overhead press and bent-over row are quintessential pushing and pulling moves, and will help strengthen your back, shoulders, and arms for a more efficient and natural stride.

To hit similar muscle groups at home, you can do “superman” and “bird-dog.” For superman, lay on your stomach and lift your hands and feet off the ground, pinching your shoulder blades together. “Float” for as long as feels challenging, then relax. Repeat as desired. For bird-dog, start on all-fours, and raise your opposite arm and leg so they’re parallel to the ground, holding a stable core. Hold for a few seconds, lower, and switch. Repeat as desired.

Rocket Fuel: Interval Training Nutrition

For faster, shorter workouts, the body prefers to have quick energy available, so carbohydrates (both simple and complex) are important on interval days. Bread, rice, and fruit are easy to include with meals, and you might find that a gel or other “energy” food is helpful during or immediately before your workout.

Also, keep in mind that intervals will thoroughly deplete your muscle glycogen, which is the main fuel source your muscles rely on to function properly under stress. It’s important to eat within an hour after every workout to replenish glycogen stores, and this rule is especially critical when it comes to intervals. Don’t negate your hard work with poorly-planned nutrition!

Quick Tip

Stash energy bars in the console of your car, and in your desk drawer at work, so you’ll never go hungry after a workout.

Marathon Training Fundamentals: Building Mileage

How many intervals should you do relative to your long, easy base runs? Coach Matt Fitzgerald has written extensively about the 80/20 rule, which is based on the idea that ideal athletic adaptation comes when 80 percent of training is done at a sub-threshold pace, and 20 percent is done above threshold.

The 80/20 Rule

80/20 Rule
  •  Time spent on interval training
  •  Time spent on long, easy running

In other words, intervals should account for about 20 percent of your training in order to gain the maximum benefits of both aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. The rest of the time you should be working on long, easy running as you increase your body’s tolerance to extended mileage.

Get specific 80/20 Run Training Plans here.

Again, you’ll want to add around 10 percent to your weekly time or distance total to execute a good build. Add more and you risk overdoing it; add less and you won’t be stressing your body enough to create the right adaptations.

Every three to four weeks, you’ll also want to give yourself a “recovery” week and not add any distance or mileage. You might even decrease in this period to give your body time to catch up. This is the basic idea of periodized training, and it’s something a coach can help you plan and execute.

Once you’ve built to 18 to 20 miles on your long runs, it’s time to plan the longest run you’ll do before your race. This usually takes place about four to six weeks before race day and should be between 20 and 22 miles long. The next section will give you the rundown on planning and executing a successful long run.

Marathon Training: The Long Run

Marathon Training:
The Long Run

Chapter Four

7 Minute Read

In the last section, we covered the advanced stages of marathon training, including speedwork (for experienced runners), and building mileage. The culmination of all your hard work is the “long run,” a 20- to 22-mile effort which should take place about four weeks before your race.

As daunting as it may be to go out and run for 20 to 22 miles, this is an essential element of marathon training. The long run gives you a chance to experience what your body will go through in the final stages of your marathon, allowing you to mentally prepare. It’s also a great opportunity to fine-tune your pacing, nutrition, and hydration strategies.

Much fuss is made over the long run, but it shouldn’t be a huge leap in mileage from what you’ve been running already. If you’ve been adding a mile or two to your weekly long runs (except on recovery weeks when you’ll back off a bit), you should be in the territory of 18 to 20 miles the week or two before your 20- to 22-mile run.

If you’re still in the 15 to 17 mile territory, you may want to add one more build week to make sure you don’t overextend yourself and risk an injury. But if you’ve logged the right mileage, you’re in the right time frame, and you’re ready to get this thing done, here are some tips to having a successful and productive long run:

Plan your week

Your mileage for the week of your long run doesn’t need to be crazy. In fact, you’ll probably want to shorten your other workouts a little to save your energy for the big miles. If you’re doing speedwork, make sure to give yourself a one- to two-day buffer to recover before attempting your long run.

Plan your route

It’s really difficult to simply go out and run for 20-plus miles without making a solid route plan. Choosing your route ahead of time will not only ensure you reach your goal mileage, but will help keep you focused on running rather than figuring out where to run. It’s best to choose a route you’re familiar with so you won’t be surprised by terrain changes, and to choose terrain that roughly matches your race course.

You can use tools like Google Maps, Google Earth, or GPS routes from past workouts to help you plan your ideal long run. Since you’ll most likely be out for multiple hours depending on your pace, it’s also a good idea to plan your route around a few potential bathroom stops and water refills (think coffee shops, public parks, gas stations, etc.).

Plan your nutrition

Consider your last long run to be a final test of your marathon nutrition plan—that means prepping for your run like you would for race day, including the dinner, breakfast, and possibly lunch you’ll eat before you run. Bring the gels, bars, gummies, and/or hydration mix you plan to consume while racing as well. If something doesn’t agree with you, it’s better to find out on a practice run than on race day!

Marathon Nutrition and Hydration

Your marathon (or long run) nutrition and hydration plan won’t just come together on race day; it should be the result of weeks of experimentation. The following timeline is an excerpt from coach Asker Jeukendrup’s Complete Guide to Marathon Nutrition. Study it, practice it on your long runs, and be fuelled just right on race day!

Weeks Before

  • Study the course (including the nutrition on course) and develop a plan based on the availability of the food and drinks you’ll need.
  • Aid stations can be very basic. If you’re uncertain about the available resources, you’ll need to carry your own, which means wearing a hydration belt or vest.
  • Practice practice practice: Train with your race nutrition plan, train with the drinks on course, and train with gels or whatever you will use.
  • Practice your breakfast plan and also the meal plan for the night before. Find out what works best for you (skip forward to our pre-race meal section for ideas).
  • If traveling, make a reservation for dinner the night before at a place that you know is good. Don’t wait till the last moment.

Days Before

  • Buy your race nutrition. Again, don’t wait till the last moment.
  • Increase your carbohydrate intake by eating more carbohydrate rich (not just generally eating more)
  • Reduce fiber intake one to two days before the event if you often suffer from gastrointestinal problems.

Pre-Race (or Run)

  • Have your standard race breakfast that you have trained with 2.5-4 hours before.
  • Avoid high fiber, high fat and high protein foods.
  • Aim for at least 100 grams of carbohydrate.
  • Drink enough fluid and check that your urine color is light.

An Hour Before

  • Start your race fueling 5-15 min before the start (a gel with a few sips of water is an example).

During Your Marathon (or Run)

  • Don’t experiment with anything new. Stick to what you have practiced.
  • Aim for 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. Use sports drinks gels, chews, bars, depending on your personal preference. You can mix and match to achieve your carbohydrate goals.
  • Avoid high fiber fat and protein intake during the run.
  • Don’t over- or under-drink. Try to match your sweat loss, or a little less. Some weight loss at the end (around 2% of your body weight) is fine.
  • Don’t use excessive salt or electrolyte intake.

Common Carbohydrate Sources

  • 1 Banana 24-30 g
  • Gel 21-27 g
  • Energy bar 20-40 g
  • 4-5 Chews 16-25 g
  • 10 Jelly beans 11 g

Make a backup plan

A lot can happen on a long run, so tell your support system when you’ll be running, where you’ll be, and when you plan to be back. Bring a phone in case you need to make an emergency call, and make sure whoever you plan to contact knows to pick up their phone!

You’ll also want to check the weather carefully and dress accordingly. If the conditions will change while you’re running, make sure to bring layers or stash them somewhere on your route. It can be helpful to choose a route that loops back over the same place a few times, that way you can park a car there with snacks, water, and extra clothing you might need over the course of your run.

Enlist your friends!

One of the best ways to melt miles is to run with a friend. Just make sure your running buddy has a similar pace and goals—you might end up running a lot slower or faster than you planned, or focusing on your friend rather than your own training.

If you don’t want to subject your friends to your pace, try joining a running group. Local clubs, shops, Facebook groups, and even triathlon clubs will often start training groups around the bigger marathons, which can help you find runners with similar pace and mileage goals. Plus, they’ll most likely have valuable marathon experience to share! Some group runs will even set up routes and aid stations for their long runs, which can save you the logistical wrangling.

Pay Attention to How You Feel

Don’t get discouraged if your long run doesn’t feel good. It’s supposed to be challenging! Most marathoners will tell you that the hardest part of the race is the last six miles, which can be difficult to truly understand if you’ve never run that far. Giving yourself an idea of how you’ll be feeling mentally and physically at mile 20 to 22 will prepare you for the last push of your race.

Quick Tip

Your longest long run is a great opportunity to find weaknesses in your race plan. Did your favorite bar end up tasting like cardboard? Did your drink mix upset your stomach? Did you get blisters or chafing? Anything that goes wrong during your longest run presents a valuable opportunity to adjust before race day!

Once you’ve completed your long run, it’s almost time to taper! Head to the next section to learn what you need to know about resting up for race day.

Marathon Training: Tapering

Marathon Training:
Tapering

Chapter Five

5 Minute Read

Race day is two weeks away, and your hardest training is behind you! Now it’s time to taper, or rest, and it’s a deceptively difficult part of the training process. As counterintuitive as it might be to ease up on your training before race day, tapering is a critical step in fully adapting to the training stress you’ve put your body through. Nail your taper and you’ll feel magical on race day—fail, and you’ll fall flat. Here’s how to do it:

When: Seven to 14 days before your marathon

Why: Allow your body to absorb training stress while maintaining neuromuscular adaptations.

How: Decrease volume 20 to 25 percent while maintaining some intensity.

Goal: Allow your body to recover; find ways to occupy your mind with decreased training.

Tapering is highly personal, so it will look different for every athlete. Some runners race best carrying a little fatigue, while others perform better when fully rested. Still, the basic principle is the same—you’ll want to decrease your training load 20 to 25 percent in the seven to 14 days leading up to race day, with your long runs decreasing to the low teens (10 to 13 miles maximum).

On short runs, you can do some basic tempo work to maintain neuromuscular activation, but remember, the main goal is to give your body adequate time to recover. There’s a saying about tapering: “You can only do too much, never too little.” If you were to simply sit on your couch for the week before your race, you’d be better off than if you try to run too much.

For many athletes, tapering is the biggest challenge of the training process. It’s easy to feel like you’re losing your “edge” when your training load decreases. These feelings can be compounded by the physiological processes taking place—the feeling of fatigue in your muscles can be replaced with springy energy, lethargy, or just generally feeling “out of it.” Some athletes might even get sick during their taper, or niggling injuries might come to the surface.

If you find yourself feeling anxious, remember you can gain no significant fitness in the two weeks before your race, and extra recovery will only benefit you.

Quick Tip

To keep your mind off training, spend some time fine-tuning your hydration and nutrition, working on your race day logistics, or reviewing the course to plan your pacing strategy.

It’s important to remember during your taper that your caloric expenditures won’t be the same as when you were revving up your metabolism with long runs and speedwork. Don’t fall into the trap of eating as you habitually would during hard training (i.e. a lot). Instead, focus on lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those with anti-inflammatory or antioxidant properties, which will help optimize your recovery. Think of this period as a time to be gentle with your body and digestive system.

Quick Tip

Keep frozen fruit handy for a filling and vitamin-packed smoothie.

The Week Before The Race

The last few days before a race can be some of the hardest, as training hours decrease and nerves escalate. To keep yourself from stressing out or second-guessing your training, it can help to focus instead on race-day logistics. Here are some ideas:

Thoroughly Read the Race Materials

These will have all the important information about parking/shuttles, drop bags, number/bib placement, timing chips, and other last-minute questions you want to have answered before race day.

For example, do you know where the aid stations will be? Do you know what they’ll be stocked with? You’ll want to plan ahead of time how much you’ll rely on aid stations for your nutrition and hydration.

Do a Marathon-Specific Grocery Run

This is a good time to shop and plan your race nutrition, from dinner before the race (see the next section for ideas!) to your post-race snack. Make sure you have lots of portable, quick options you know will agree with your stomach and fuel you adequately.

Check the Weather Forecast

Do you have the right gear for the course and conditions? Many races with cold starts will have a “donation box” a few kilometers into the race, where you can drop layers. If this is the case, you’ll want to bring some old warm-up clothes you don’t mind discarding.

Make a Travel Kit

If traveling, do you have everything you need for a smooth and comfortable trip? Travel is a vulnerable time—you’ll likely be changing your sleep patterns and exposing yourself to plenty of new germs. It’s a good idea to adjust your sleep as much as you can beforehand, and travel with a kit of snacks and toiletries. Coach Tatjana Ivanova offers some great travel hacks for athletes to stay healthy, no matter what happens en route to your race.

Make a Mental Plan

What mile will be the most challenging and how will you get through it? Do you have your mantras ready? Sometimes even planning a walk break where you anticipate needing one can help avoid disappointment on race day.

Finish Your Final Workouts

Depending on your coach and/or training plan, you’ll most likely have some tune-up interval workouts in the final days leading up to the race. These will clear out your muscles and prime your system for the effort ahead. Some athletes feel terrible after their taper, and others will feel amazing. Whichever type you are, try your best to stick to your plan and trust yourself! You’ve done all the hard work already.

Ready for race day? Continue to the next section for race-tested techniques to get you from start to finish with (relative) ease.

Race Day: You’re Running a Marathon!

Race Day:
You’re Running a Marathon!

Chapter Six

5 Minute Read

Race day is finally here! You’re down to the final few hours before your run. We’ve assembled some helpful tips in this section to carry you through the hours leading up to your marathon.

The Night Before the Race:

The night before the race is your last chance to gather your gear and top off your energy reserves with great food and sleep.

Interactive Checklist

Raceday Gear Checklist

The equipment needs for a marathon can be as simple or complex as you make them. If this is your first marathon, this list gives you a good idea of the basics you’ll need on race day.

View List Print List

Beyond Carbo-Loading—Your Ideal Pre-Marathon Dinner:

While you’ve probably heard of “carbo-loading” with a massive pasta dinner, it’s actually more beneficial (especially when it comes to distance efforts) to stick with something your stomach is used to, and a quantity you’re used to eating. The idea is to have dinner completely digested before you wake up, so you can do a quick, belly-friendly breakfast to top off before your race. You want to feel nourished — not stuffed.

Don’t have that go-to meal yet? An easy way to build your meal it to shoot for a nice mix of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat), with more of an emphasis on carbohydrates and less on protein, which will take longer to digest.

Carbohydrates

When choosing a carbohydrate, rice is a popular option because it’s gentle on the stomach, quickly processed, and tastes good with pretty much every other food. White pasta and bread can be good choices as well. Be careful with more complex carbohydrates like whole grain bread/pasta, quinoa, gnocchi, etc. These will take longer to digest and could sit in your stomach into your race, causing GI distress.

Protein

Everyone will have a different approach with protein, but in general you’ll want to avoid red meat, which can increase inflammation and be difficult to digest. Chicken or fish in small quantities can be tasty and filling, and vegetarians can go for legumes like cashews, peanuts, or peas.

Fat

When choosing a fat, stick with unsaturated types, which are easier for your body to process and use. Think olive oil, avocado, salmon, and nut butter. Try to avoid large amounts of heavy cheese or butter.

Choose vegetables found on the bland diet, like beets, carrots, green beans, peas, white or sweet potatoes, spinach, and pumpkin. Avoid cruciferous vegetables like brussels sprouts, broccoli, and kale, which are more difficult to digest and can cause gas.

Having Trouble Sleeping? Try these tips:

Everyone knows it’s important to sleep before a big race, which can sometimes make it impossible to do. If you tend to get pre-race insomnia, here are some tips to get some quality z’s no matter what:

  • Turn off your electronic devices two hours before you want to be asleep. Read a book instead, and avoid the circadian-disrupting effects of blue light.
  • Drink a relaxing herbal tea.
  • Meditate. If you’ve never tried it before, there are some great guided meditations online and through apps
  • Use supplements like melatonin or CBD— but only if you’re familiar with the effects and the dosage you can tolerate. Too much melatonin can leave you groggy in the morning!

Before The Start:

  • Make sure to have a breakfast you’ve tested for training runs, and that you know will agree with your stomach. If you usually have coffee, have coffee. Race day is not the day to try something new.
  • In addition to your race nutrition (check out that section here), remember to pack an extra water bottle and a snack (or even your full breakfast) for your trip to the race start.
    To time your breakfast so it will be fully digested before you start running (2.5-4 hours before your start), you may need to eat at the venue or on your way there.
  • Scope out the bathroom situation, and have a back up (coffee shop? Gas station?) if the race port-a-potties are full.
  • Don’t stress about nerves — everyone gets them. Find a quiet spot away from the venue to sit down and focus if that helps you, or make a new friend and have a chat. Everyone deals with nerves differently!
  • Find a quiet road or bike path to get a light warm-up, including some surges to help prepare your legs for the effort ahead. Only stretch if it’s something you’ve done for training runs.

You Got This! Run That Marathon!

After the start gun, it’s time to let all the hard work you’ve done carry you through the day. When your logistics are dialed, and your fitness is (hopefully!) where you want it to be, all you have to do is get through your marathon!

Remember to stick to your pacing plan, even if you feel amazing. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the runners around you, but a little discipline at the start will pay dividends by the end of the race.

When it gets hard, remember this is the moment you trained for! If you have a mantra, now is the time to use it. If you have to walk (or planned to walk), remember your race isn’t over — you can always get a second wind!

Once you’ve crossed the finished line, hugged your friends and family, and had a frosty beverage of your choice, head to the next section to find our best recovery tips and next (potentially wobbly) steps.

Your Marathon Recovery Plan and Next Steps

Your Marathon Recovery Plan and Next Steps

Chapter Seven

5 Minute Read

Congratulations! You’re done with your marathon. Whether you had the race of your life or a challenging day, just making it to that start line is a huge accomplishment. Now it’s time to put your feet up, enjoy some recovery, and start thinking about what’s next.

Race Hard, Recover Harder

After your marathon, you will need to recover before you start training again. It’s important to give your body this time to repair itself after what was most likely a very challenging effort! Newer marathoners usually need to recover for a week to ten days before running again, while more experienced runners will likely feel ready more quickly.

You may or may not want to hear this — recovery doesn’t just mean laying around in bed! Here are some steps you can take to make your post-marathon recovery more effective (and interesting!).

Get on a bike: Increasing blood flow will help move the byproducts from your marathon out of your muscles, and cycling is a great way to do it in a low-impact way. If you’re feeling stiff and sore after your marathon, try a 30-minute spin on a stationary bike, or head outdoors for some fresh air.

Sign up for a yoga class: Yin yoga is a great choice for recovery, because it involves more passive stretching than the strength-intensive poses you’ll find in a vinyasa flow class. It’s also a great way to check in with any pain points or imbalances in your body after your marathon.

Treat yo’self: A massage, acupuncture, or a pedicure never feels better than after you’ve tortured yourself for 26.2 miles. Other than a nice indulgence, a treat like this for your body is a way to mentally acknowledge the hard work you’ve done and to reward yourself for it before you get back to work!

Eat well: After burning all those calories, chances are you want to reach for the saltiest, fattiest burger (or veggie burger) you can get your hands on. And while there’s nothing wrong with rewarding yourself with a satisfying post-race meal, you’ll be better served in your long-term recovery if you focus on inflammation-reducing foods. Load up on antioxidant-rich options like blueberries, dark-green vegetables, nuts, and fish for the nutrients your body needs to recover faster.

Prioritize sleep: Often neglected in favor of more active recovery tools like self-massage and diet, sleeping is actually one of the most effective things you can do to help your body recover. So take a nap, hit snooze, and try to get to bed early. Sleep is a powerful regenerative force for your entire body, and the more you get the faster you’ll feel recovered.

You Finished Your Marathon, So What’s Next?

After you’ve recovered from your marathon (or maybe while you’re recovering), the final step in racing a marathon is to take some time to unpack what went well and what didn’t on race day. If you had a great run, what would you repeat? And if you didn’t have the race of your dreams, what went wrong?

Nutrition, pacing strategy, logistics, and training are some basic areas to examine, but you can add any others that you think are relevant. Give yourself a letter grade, a rating from one to 10, or a gold star (whatever works for you!) in each one, and start thinking about how you can improve for next time. We suggest the following strategies if you’re interested in seeing some real gains before your next big race:

Track Your Metrics

A great place to start improving your marathon PR is to track your metrics as you train. You can do this the old-fashioned way with a calendar and a pen (we won’t judge!), but it’s also worthwhile to check out the variety of apps and insights available to help.

The TrainingPeaks app syncs wirelessly with most leading fitness trackers to streamline the data-gathering process, and it gives you real-time insights into your performance. Simply run, sync, and watch metrics like lactic threshold, pace, and more improve over time. Start a free trial to see what we’re all about.

Find a Training Plan

If you’re already tracking your metrics but aren’t sure how they should be trending, or aren’t sure if you’re doing the right things to see improvement, a training plan should be your next step. A simple Google search for “marathon training plans” will give you hundreds of plans of varying levels of commitment and detail.

Choose a plan from the TrainingPeaks store and you’ll be able to apply it automatically to your TrainingPeaks in-app calendar. This lets you use your fitness metrics to track workout compliance and see whether your training is having its desired effect.

Hire A Coach

As they get more serious about their training and performance, most runners will eventually turn to a coach for perspective, wisdom, and accountability. TrainingPeaks offers our free CoachMatch service (which includes a detailed questionnaire and direct contact with our team) to help you find a coach who will align with your training style and help you achieve your goals. If you’re looking for a more personalized training plan and adaptable approach, getting a coach is the perfect place to start.