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Marathon Race Week Countdown

16th April
by Martin Yelling

It’s almost here.  Race week.  With the realization that ‘the big one’ is approaching it’s common to hit the panic button and allow poor last minute preparations and race day mistakes to spoil your marathon race day.  It’s vital as race day draws closer to stay focused, on top of your training, and confident you can reach your goals.  What you do in race week and in the race itself can either help you realize the desired results from all your hard work or see you crash and burn in spectacular style!

Finishing your build up. The taper.

There are no shortcuts to marathon success.  There is no magic potion that can suddenly supercharge your training so you can whizz round your spring marathon.  It basically boils down to good old-fashioned elbow grease and hard graft.  At this point in your training the hard work is done.  It’s firmly behind you.  (or at least it should be). As race day draws closer it’s about doing less not more.

You simply can’t squeeze marathon training into a month.  It’s all too easy at this stage to make the classic mistake of doubting the training you’ve done to reach this point, think you haven’t done enough miles, panic and try and run more in the final month than you’ve run in the past 3 months.  This simply won’t work. You will not get any fitter by smashing out extra long runs or testing yourself as the race draws closer

Don’t jeopardise race day by testing yourself out in the final week before you race.  The fitness you have gained through regular training doesn’t just disappear overnight. The last few weeks and especially the final days before the event you will need to ‘ease down’ or ‘taper’.  Be ready for your peak performance.

Tapering involves a reduction in the volume (how long you run) and the intensity (how fast you run) in the weeks leading up to the race whilst maintaining some frequency (how often you run).  It also involves effective nutrition, rest and developing mental strategies to help you reach your best when it matters. The goal of your taper is to maintain your fitness, revitalize your muscles and reach physical and mental peak on race day!

In general, the bigger and longer the race, and the more important it is to you, the greater the tapering process.  For example, a marathon taper may begin 3 weeks before the important race with mileage decreasing by 30% each week.

It’s a good idea to maintain some intensity in your running even in the final few weeks, just cut back on the length of your runs but stay sharp.  The key is to keep reminding your body what it feels like to run without over doing it.

It’s common to feel a little restless and full of energy or more lethargic than normal during a taper.  Don’t worry.  A great taper gets you ready to race feeling excited, fit, fresh and up for it.

Marathon running taper tricks:

  1. Aim to start your taper 3 weeks before the by running roughly 10% less than a typical week for you.  With 2 weeks to go reduce your volume by a further 30% and during the final week by a further 30% again.
  2. Eat a healthy, well-balanced and nutritious diet that is high in carbohydrate to help your muscles recover and load them up with energy for your big effort.  That doesn’t mean you need to stuff your face at the pre-race pasta party.  A reduction in training volume coupled with an adequate carbohydrate intake should optimize your energy stores.
  3. Even though you might have a little more time, don’t fill your taper period with extra jobs or over commit work or socially.

Stay injury and illness free. 

This is your number 1 priority. It’s easy to think that the most important thing to do at this time is to ramp things up, try and tick off a few more miles or play catch up.  An injury at this stage in the game could spell disaster.  Really listen to how you feel and how your body is responding to the running you are doing. You are far better off to arrive on the start line slightly underprepared than over do it, get ill, or worse case scenario pick up an injury serious enough to stop you from participating at all.  Help yourself stay healthy by paying extra attention to your nutrition and diet, eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, staying hydrated, washing your hands regularly and getting sufficient sleep.

Race week sleep

Although it’s unlikely that the night before your race will be the best uninterrupted sleep you’ve ever had you can ensure you try and sleep well by retiring early, relaxing for a few hours before you got to bed and getting everything organised so you don’t wake up at midnight in a panic that you’ve left your timing chip at home.  It’s really the sleep you have in the 5 days before your race that will help you arrive on race day refreshed and ready so focus on your average hours of sleep across these 5 days.

Your race week countdown.

 That’s it.  You are so close.  Almost there.  The focus for this week is to stay calm and get to the start line illness and injury free, rested, de-stressed and ready to go the distance.  Here is a day-by-day checklist for race week.


  • Write a kit inventory and tick off everything you need to take with you.
  • If you need to buy anything (gels / socks / hat) then do it now (not trainers – you should have these!)
  • Read you race day ‘final instructions’ pack.
  • Do a very short, very easy paced run or rest – remember race week is not the time for last minute miles.


  • Write a schedule of where you need to be and when you need to be there from leaving home to standing on the start line.
  • Call your hotel and confirm your reservation. This reduces last minute panic.
  • Do a short interval session. For example 4x3mins at marathon pace. Feel controlled, strong and ready.


  • Write down your race strategy. Make notes of key splits (1m, 6miles, halfway, 20 miles).
  • Write down your 5 best training sessions / races completed in the build up.
  • Flick through previous race photos or results from events you’ve enjoyed – plus your training diary – feel good about what you’ve achieved so far.
  • Do a very short, very easy run or rest.


  • Using your kit inventory from Monday pack all your kit.
  • If you’re not sure whether to take something then take it – better to have it and not want it.
  • Do a short easy run. Just run, don’t think, don’t stress.


  • Travel to race location & complete all pre-race ‘to do’ such as collecting number (if you have to travel on the Sat don’t panic).
  • Go to the expo and enjoy the atmosphere and all the stuff that’s going on.
  • Eat well – be fuelled and hydrated.  No need to over eat and definitely don’t over hydrate.
  • Rest or go for a very short very easy run.


  • Lay your kit out and pin on the number.  Smile to yourself.
  • Eat and drink but don’t over-do it.
  • Have dinner early-ish (carbs at lunchtime) and don’t get caught up in group decisions (or lack of).
  • Relax, focus and remind yourself of the wonderful journey you’ve been on and the amazing one you’re about to take.

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  • John Potjewyd
    on August 13, 2015 at 10:53 am

    Can’t wait! Had to not run the Brighton Marathon this year due to food poisoning and pulled out due to tachycardia in 2014. Had most of my first training with Liz and Martin Yelling in Bath. I miss them. My first marathon was in Brighton 2013 when I was 63 in a time of 4:20:06. Could have made 3:55 but I hobbled and jogged the last 6 miles. Never again: more carbohydrate loading and water during the first half – I listened to my body and heard the answer. I will run to the end. I train year-round and love running.

  • Mark T
    on April 21, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    Martin your comments are still being taken n board even though I’ve had to defer my place to 2016, my gall bladder is being removed on Thursday but I’ll be back stronger n fitter for next year. Your talk at the ‘Meet the Experts’ was great too.
    Thank you!

  • Dan Wymer
    on April 21, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    More wise words Martin. I’m glad I’ve been ticking off these things already – just to stay clam now and enjoy race day. Thanks for your advice on the #extramile ambassadors day.

  • John Walsh
    on April 18, 2015 at 11:57 am

    thanks Martin I caught you talk at the meet the experts day and it was very good/useful. This article is awesome I am suffering from last week nerves and the advice here has helped me. Particularly the checklist approach. Thanks Martin very thoughtful and generous sharing of your hard gained knowledge. John

  • Kath roberts
    on April 17, 2015 at 7:39 am

    Thanks Martin, London is my first marathon and I’m 50 this year so doubts and nerves are beginning to set in – reading your advice has helped to calm me down. I think I will have read it 100 times before next Sunday

  • Thomas Fletcher
    on April 16, 2015 at 7:27 pm

    Great guidance, I went through the Oh s**t have I done enough training and miles rollercoaster in the first few days into the taper and then looked back at everything I have achieved and the progression I have made. That made me feel a lot better and have been reminding myself it will be what it will be on the day.

    Hayley has been awesome and can’t thank her enough in helping me get to this point in such great shape.

  • patrick voo
    on April 16, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    thanks for this rundown, martin – you’ve included a great series of reminders and encouragements here. getting ready to race soon!