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Training to compete in a marathon


Whatever you do in training is no good unless you can reproduce it under race conditions. It is vital to rehearse as thoroughly as possible the situations you are likely to encounter in the race. These include getting up and breakfasting early for an early start, practising the pre-race diet before long training runs, taking drinks during the run and wearing the shoes you are going to wear in the race. The best way of doing this is to incorporate some races into your programme, preferably over distances from 10-20 miles (15-32km).


Recovery is an essential part of the training, which must be programmed, to take account of the effects of the training runs and the races. Proper post-run routines should be worked out, including eating, drinking, bathing and, if possible, massage.

The last month

In the last month before the event, you should be focusing on running efficiently at race pace. The critical sessions will be the repetition runs over 2-4 km at speed, which varies between your expected marathon pace and a pace that is about five seconds per kilometre faster. The athlete who is hoping to run 3 hours will do their repetitions from 6:50 to 7:00 minutes/mile (4:15 to 4:20 minutes/km). It would help if you also were doing timed 'pace runs' at your marathon speed, up to 10 miles in training, or possibly in the form of a controlled half-marathon race.

Countdown to the race

The following table provides advice on the training focuses each week in the final three months leading up to the race.

Weeks to go The Training Focus

From now on marathon training takes preference over races. Undertake your first two-hour long run and repeat it every week.


Introduce the quality sessions, once a week at first, increasing to two a week, plus one long run, pace run or race. A typical session would be 6 x 1 mile or 5 x 2 km, with 3-4 minutes rest between each.

11 Assess the training load for the first two weeks. From now on you should establish a pattern, based on either a 7-day or a 14-day cycle, which will enable you to do the hard work and recover from it by the beginning of the next cycle.
9 After four or five weeks, you should be running a race to measure your progress, and also getting up to two-and-a-half hours for your long run.
8 At the end of this week, you should allow yourself a recuperation period to absorb what you have done.
7 The next four weeks will include the hardest training, but you should rest up before having a serious race or pace run.
5 This is probably the best time to put in your three-hour run. It also allows you to try out drinking before and during the run.
4 Your last race. Rehearse the pre-race routines of carbo-loading in the previous two days before the race, and the pre-race meal. Decide on the right shoes. During the next three weeks, most of your serious running will be done at a marathon pace to get into the right rhythm.
3 Your last long run. About 20 miles, with a few sections at marathon speed, the rest at a relaxed pace.
2 From now on, you are tapering. The mileage should be cut to two-thirds of normal and you should concentrate on feeling good, just doing a bit of striding out to keep the leg speed and the stride length. Run no more than 15 miles with two weeks to go. Focus on the quality of running not the number of miles.
1 You will have done 8-10 miles with seven days to go, and after that, it does not matter. I advise a little running each day, no more than half an hour. If you are going to carbo-load, the right period is from Thursday evening to Saturday evening before a Sunday race. It is advisable to be at the race venue the day before to check out the exact finish of the race and the arrangements regarding getting to the start.
Race Day Get up three-and-a-half hours before the race, have breakfast, and bring a drink with you to take 10 minutes before the start. Make sure that you have clothing for either a warm day or a cold day. Finally, run the first mile as close to your target time as possible.

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2011) Training to compete in a marathon [WWW] Available from: [Accessed