Marathon Training Plan: What You Need To Do A Month, Fortnight, Week And Day Before The Race

Because planning makes perfect 🏃🏿🏃

With the London Marathon fast approaching, it may be tempting to ramp up your training in a last-ditch effort to boost your fitness and finishing time.

But by now, you should have put the hard work in, so instead, it’s time to taper off your runs, nourish your muscles with good food and give your body a chance to recover before the big day.

It can be a little scary to step back, so to help, we asked Anita Bean – registered nutritionist and author of The Runner’s Cookbook – and Nick Anderson – founder of RunningwithUs endurance coaching and official Cancer Research UK coach for the Virgin Money London Marathon – for their top tips.

NurPhoto via Getty Images

Four Weeks To Go

Most marathon training plans will consist of one long run each week and several shorter runs. Anderson says you should reach your peak long three to four weeks before race day.

“Your long run should be at a maximum of 3 to 3.5 hours in length, regardless of the distance hit,” he says. Once this longest run is completed, you should incrementally reduce the distance you run each week in your “long runs”, but maintain the frequency of runs.

“If you normally run three, four or five times a week, keep this up in the final three to four weeks,” Anderson explains, adding that you should reduce the distance of shorter runs to “what your body feels comfortable with”.

To achieve your best running performance, you should refuel on any run over an hour long with food and drink, says Bean. Examples of what to take with you on long runs (each supplying 30g of carbohydrates) include:

  • 500ml Isotonic sports drink

  • 2 small bananas

  • 2 x 30ml energy gels

  • 40g raisins

  • 60g dried apricots

  • 6 jelly babies or 4 energy chews

  • 1–2 dried fruit or energy bars or homemade bars

Two Weeks To Go

By this stage, your long run should be at a maximum of 1.45 hours, regardless of the distance hit, says Anderson.

Now that your tapering is in full swing, you’ll have way more time on your hands than you’re used to. But resist the temptation to catch-up on socialising, says Anderson. Instead, chill out and get an early night.

“An extra 15-30 minutes [sleep] a night in these final two-three weeks could make a massive difference to your final performance,” he says.

And if you haven’t already, use this week to plan your race day fuel and hydration strategy. “You need to practice drinking on the move, work out how much you need to drink, train your gut,” says Bean.

One Week To Go

Your long run should be at a maximum of 60 to 75 minutes, regardless of the distance hit, says Anderson. He also recommends taking part in a local 5K Parkrun around one-week out where possible, giving it your full effort.

“This is a great way to help with leg turnover and it also makes your marathon pace feel nice and easy,” he says.

It makes sense to maximise your glycogen (carb) stores in the run-up to race day, Bean says, but that doesn’t mean indulging in your favourite pizza every night as this will make you feel sluggish and potentially slow you down.

“Include a source of healthy carbs like porridge, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes or bread with each meal and add two or three high carb snacks, such as bananas, fruit and nut bars or flapjacks,” she says.

Race Week

Depending how many days per week you usually run, Anderson says a usual race week should look something like this:

Monday: Rest.

Tuesday: 30-minute run made up of three sets of five minutes at your desired marathon pace and effort taking a three-minute jog recovery between the efforts.

Wednesday: 30-minute easy run.

Thursday: 30-minute easy run.

Friday: Rest.

Saturday: An optional 20 minute very easy run. Sometimes, with nerves, we are keen to get going so a nice easy leg shakeout today can really help with the nerves, just keep the pace very easy and relaxed.

Sunday: Race!

The day before the race, Bean recommends consuming most of your carbohydrate during breakfast and lunch.

“Avoid blow-out meals or eating too late in the evening – no need for huge bowls of pasta!” she says. “Overloading the night before a race can play havoc with your digestive system and keep you awake at night. You may also feel sluggish the next day.”

Instead, suitable meals include baked potato, chicken and vegetables; a simple pasta dish with salad; plain rice, fish and vegetables; or a turkey or tofu stir-fry with vegetables and noodles, she says.

“Aim to stay well-hydrated. Keep a water bottle handy so you remember to drink regularly throughout the day,” she adds. “This is especially important if you are travelling to the race venue on this day, as it is easy to forget to drink.”

Marathon Morning

You may need to wake up early on race day because Bean recommends eating breakfast three to four hours before the race start time.

“Fuel with a high-carbohydrate breakfast but stick with what you’re used to. Include a little protein or healthy fat to increase satiety and provide a more sustained energy release,” she says.

“A bowl of porridge or oat-based cereal with bananas or berries; eggs on toast; or plain yogurt with fruit, nuts and granola are good options.”

You can support Cancer Research UK’s London Marathon team to raise £2m by visiting cancerresearchuk.org/sportschallenges for more info.

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