Terry at the Serpentine - photo by David Knight

Terry at the Serpentine

In the three weeks before the marathon, you should cut back your running mileage. This is called “tapering”. Tapering enables your body to rest, rebuild its energy stores and be fully hydrated for the rest.

With three weeks to go, cut your weekly mileage to 75% of your peak.  With two weeks to go, cut back to 50%.  And in the final week, run just 25% of your peak weekly mileage.

It is the training you do months before the race that will determine your success.  In the days before the race you can make yourself tired, and run down your energy levels, but there is no time for the cycle of stress and adaptation to occur to improve your performance.

Although you are cutting the distances you run, you should not cut back the intensity of your training until the final week.  For example, you should continue to do track work, at or about your race pace, but cut the number of repetitions.

Don’t fall into the trap of doing too much cross training in these final weeks.  Many athletes get restless because of the lack of activity, and start to swim and cycle. Far from storing up energy, this can result in higher energy expenditure than if you were to keep on running.  Reserve your enthusiasm for swimming for after the marathon.

“Running big city marathons is a great way to visit other cities.  Take a few days to relax and sight-see while you are there.”

George Tarbuck

For the final few days before the race, cut your running back to nothing.  The key is to get plenty of rest.  The day before the race you may want to do a few strides to keep the blood flowing, and stretch, but you should not run.

Runners all too frequently come down with an infection during the tapering phase before a marathon.  See Chapter 8 for advice on how to minimise this risk.


Your nutritional needs before and during running are discussed in Chapters 6 and 7.  For marathons, you should spend the last three to six days before the race increasing your intake of both carbohydrates and water, to ensure that your muscle glycogen is fully stocked, and that you are fully hydrated for the race.  Don’t just eat pasta: make sure you eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and grains. There are some ideas in Chapter 7.

The old practice of carbo-depleting just before the carbo-loading phase has now fallen out of favour, as there is no evidence that it works.

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