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Best Pre-marathon Workout

The Question

This question is from Julia, who has a marathon coming up and wants to really nail her final workout:


“This is my fourth marathon. In the past I've built up my long run gradually to about 20-22 miles and done that two weeks before the marathon. This time I've been doing long runs all the way through my training, so the final long run isn't going to be such a big thing. What I'm looking for is something a couple of weeks out. If it helps I always seem to have a bad patch around 16-19 miles.”

Phil's Answer

Phil - running coach
Phil - Marathon coach and parkrun fan

“Wow! Tough question. So, the answer will of course be different for everybody, but I find the workout below is excellent for covering lots of bases and really help give you the confidence you need to tackle the marathon.

I've adjusted the workout to fit the needs of somebody like you who is comfortable with long runs and has some marathon experience.

I would recommend doing it two weeks out and making sure you do it on fresh legs.

  • 4 miles easy
  • 4 miles at marathon pace
  • 2 miles at 10k pace
  • 1 mile at marathon pace
  • 1 mile at 10k pace
  • 4 miles at marathon pace

That's 16 miles of running. What you will find really tough is not so much the faster bouts at 10k pace, but following that up with longer bouts at marathon pace (instead of what you usually want to do after 10k pace, which is to jog or walk).

One problem with marathon running is that it's difficult to do very specific training. I.e. you can't really go out and run the distance several times in training since it'll prove too fatiguing and limit the amount of training you can do.

This isn't the case for other distances. For example, a 5k runner could very well go out and race the distance every week, and even half marathon runners tend to get in a few practice races before the big day.

What we can do, however, with the marathon is try to simulate how you will feel during the later stages of the race. And we can achieve this by having you run moderately long runs with early bouts at faster than marathon pace, so that you "pre-fatigue" yourself for later race-pace bouts.

I've tried this with quite a few runners that I coach and they always report back with a feeling of pride and excitement at having achieved the session.

Do let us know how you get on with it.”

Our Member's Answer

Al in Nottingham thinks a half marathon is perfect prep.

Al - half plus

“A half marathon with a couple of miles before and after, and run the half at your goal marathon pace. This all means you end up doing a long run with loads of marathon paced running. Plus, you probably won't be able to stop yourself picking up speed a bit towards the end of the half marathon. That way you'll get lots of confidence - all the other runners will be going flat out and you'll be holding back. You'll feel great. Trust me.”

Thanks, Al. A great answer that covers both the physical and psychological elements.

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