Reaching the Peak: Marathon Training

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Photo by Emily Stone

With the Bank of America Chicago Marathon one month away, many runners will reach the peak of their training next week. Peak weeks feature the highest mileage of training. For marathons, long runs last between 20 and 24 miles about three to five weeks out from race day. At this time, runners need to listen to their bodies and stay keen with training plans to not overdo it or overwork their muscles and joints.

Long run and weekly mileage hit their highest levels during peak week to tax your muscles with the goal of preparing them for top performance. With this, you must also stretch more, ice muscles and be careful of injuries as well as ingest an adequate amount of carbohydrates to keep glycogen stores full and your muscles working properly.

As with any peak, a decline follows. This is where the taper comes in. After running weeks at high mileage, backing off so much can feel strange. However, tapering should keep the quality while reducing quantity of miles. Keep some workouts, such as tempo runs, in your schedule to keep your legs moving fast.


Although short and fast repeats can make you feel better by moving quickly, for a marathon, completing longer repeats at your goal race pace will be more helpful. Doing workouts at this pace often will teach your body how that speed feels, making it much easier to maintain come race day.

By separating the peak of volume and intensity, you avoid overtraining and keep your muscles going up until the race without falling flat. Intensity should reach its height about two weeks before the race.

For mileage, three to four weeks out you should run 80-90 percent of your peak mileage, and after that taper more with your last long run about two weeks out. Don’t try to make up lost miles or get anxious and run more long runs. Similar to cramming for an exam, any workouts or extra mileage in the last weeks won’t help on race day.

The week before the race, keep runs easy so your legs and body feel energetic and rested for race day. Do some maintenance runs during the week and an easy shakeout run the day before. Simply get enough sleep, eat well and hydrate sufficiently, and you’ll find yourself ready to tackle the marathon.