By Matt McClintock

In December 2018, I ran my first marathon at the California International Marathon which served as the United States Championship for 2018. While walking away with an Olympic Trials Qualifier in 2:18:03 was on the low end of my expectations for the race, the entire experience, from training to racing, provided me with valuable insight into this legendary and sometimes daunting distance. In this series, I would like to share my marathon experience and some of the tips that I pass onto my athletes before they step to the starting line.

The Taper

This is one of the trickiest topics to give advice as everyone reacts to a taper differently. I, for example am a person who gets ‘stale’ very easily, and I therefore tend to limit my taper to the final 3 days of training even before important races. My mileage may naturally come back slightly as I switch from longer strength based workouts to longer speed based sessions as the season nears its close. I take a similar approach to the marathon, in both my own training, and the training I prescribe to my athletes. Though, by necessity, the taper for a marathon must be a little longer and a little more overt.

In the majority of cases I prescribe an athlete’s last ‘big’ workout 10-11 days from the race. It usually focuses on some variation of 1000m repeats. For less experienced runners I will prescribe this workout in the format of 3 minutes on (1-2 minutes off) as to train them to listen to their own bodies and to also keep them from staring at their watches!

It is at this point that I will begin backing down the athlete’s mileage. I look to take off about 25% from their peak training volume in the week before race week, with the biggest chunk coming off following that athlete’s workout 10-11 days from the race. So if I’m coaching an athlete that is running 50 miles per week during peak training, the second to last week of their marathon training block will be in the area of 38-40 miles. The final week I take off another 10-15% (depending on the athlete), so using the example above, the week of the marathon the athlete would run 33-35 miles (not including the race).

One nuance to this is that I do not include the race in an athlete’s mileage during the final week so for example, if an athlete uses a Sunday to Saturday week and their marathon is on Saturday, I will take that 33-35 miles, divide it by 7 and then multiply it by 6 to calculate how many miles that athlete will run in the 6 days before their marathon (Sunday to Friday, with the race on Saturday). So, continuing with the example above, 35 divided by 7 equals 5 miles per day, multiplied by 6 is 30, so I would have this athlete run approximately 30 miles in the 6 days leading up to the race.

One Final Workout

Also, during this final week, I will include one last workout for my athletes, usually 4 days before the marathon. This workout is simply used to ward off staleness and my go to is 2×2 miles at marathon pace with 4-5 minutes rest in between.

One important note is oftentimes this is reported as one of the harder workouts of the marathon build up. This results from the combination of going into the workout thinking it will feel very easy (what’s 2 miles at marathon pace when you are running 26.2?) and the staleness from the taper this workout helps ward off! Just remember that if you do happen to not feel your best on this workout there is absolutely no cause for concern, it is a very common phenomenon among marathon runners and will have no impact on your race day!

Matt McClintock is an On ZAP Endurance athlete, Olympic Trials Qualifier in the marathon and VDOT Certified Coach. He has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science. To connect with Matt visit his coaching page on the VDOT Marketplace.