Training the Month Before a Marathon

Workout in the Park
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The month before the marathon, you need to concentrate on two things: getting in your long training days of 18 to 22 miles, and final shakedown of your gear, shoes, clothing, and snacks.

The Longest Days

In the final month before the marathon, you need to do your longest training day of 18-20 miles, followed by a two to three-week taper. During the taper, your longest mileage should be no more than 13 miles or 21 kilometers. From my experience, the most important thing is to get on that long day. If you have five weeks, you can put in a long day that is 2 miles more than your previous longest distance, and then a recovery weekend at 13 miles, then the 18-20 mile day, leaving 14 days before the marathon. If you have only four weeks, then do a long mileage day that is 2 miles more than your longest previous mileage, and a week later do another long walk that is 2 miles more than that, leaving 14 days before the marathon.


Effects of Long Training Walks

These long slow distance days prepare your feet for the marathon distance, as well as testing your mental game. You may discover blistering, chafing, or other irritation at this distance that you don't at a lesser distance. You may want to schedule a massage for the day after a long walk as you may find that your shoulders, back, and neck are tense from the hours of being in one body position.


Pace training is of less importance vs. doing the distance. At this stage, you may worry about your marathon finishing time. But you will always go faster on the actual marathon. You may want to use the first 10K (6 miles) of your long day to pace yourself at your desired marathon pace. But don't try to keep that up throughout your long training day.


Two weekends before your marathon, cut your mileage in half to achieve the tapering effect. It gives your body a chance for final rest and repair. It also lets the body convert slow twitch muscle to fast twitch muscle, giving you that burst of speed during the actual marathon. Give yourself an easy weekend at race pace (up to 10 miles at race pace) the weekend before the marathon.

Marathon Shoes

Your marathon shoes should have 80 to 150 miles on them, tops. You don't want to wear brand new shoes for the marathon, but you don't want to wear dead shoes, either. It is best to start your marathon shoes fresh the month before the marathon, break them in at lower distances, and train in them for at least one of your longest walks.

Marathon Gear

Every item you will wear during the marathon should be worn during your long training days. Do not wear anything new, period, for the marathon. This is your final chance to ensure that all items work well for you over the long distance.

Marathon Snacks and Sports Drink

It is critical to test your marathon snacks and the actual sports drink variety being served at the marathon during your long training days. This is the time to discover whether you can tolerate sports energy gel or whether the sports drink they will distribute gives you stomach pains. Often the marathon will post what they are using on their website. If not, email or call the race director and ask.

Marathon Companions

The exhaustion and pain of the marathon will test your social skills to the breaking point. If you will be marathoning with a friend, it is critical to train with that person on your long training days. Be open and honest with him/her about what sort of mutual support (or lack thereof) you will give and expect in return. Will you both stop at the portable toilet when one needs it? Will you split up if your paces are different? Do you find your companion irritating by mile 12? Will you both put on headphones and enjoy music rather than conversation? Come to an agreement in advance about what you will do when you are both exhausted and in pain and one is moving stronger than the other. Test this all out in advance on your long walks. Everyone now knows not to talk to me past Mile 18.

Mental Training

It is typical that you will go into the final month feeling unprepared and bound to fail. But if you can do three long days as I suggest, your confidence will be boosted so you can "gut it out" those final miles during the marathon. Your body will carry you well till Mile 21. After that, it is sheer willpower to finish.

Get Ready for Race Day Weather

Check to see what the weather is likely to be on race day and try out the gear you may need for those conditions. Train at the time of day the race will be held. If it is a night race, you will want to experiment with using a headlamp or flashlight.

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