MARATHON PEAKING: by Tom “Tinman” Schwartz
Peaking for a marathon is an important consideration for runners because so much time and energy is invested in the weeks and months of preparation for the event. After all, who would want to work so hard yet not perform well on the most important day?
Marathons are brutal beasts. Compared to 5k or 10k events, they require a longer buildup period, more mileage per week and a more drastic tapering phase. Why more drastic? The amount of stored sugar in your muscles and liver must be exceptionally high in order to last the duration of the event. Without an overloading effect due to proper tapering and nutrition, you lose speed drastically after about 90 minutes of running. Additionally, because mileage tends to be quite high and long runs, a common training element of marathon preparation, tends to be quite abusive to connective tissue in your legs, more tapering will help mend beat up legs.
Think of tapering as relative to the type and amount of training you have done. If you have pushed the limits of volume and duration of your runs, you will need a longer tapering phase. If you are putting in 100-mile training weeks, your legs might be thrashed after several weeks of it. Therefore, tapering for 3-5 weeks might be necessary for you to race a marathon well. On the other hand, if you choose to be more conservative and run 70-80 miles per week, your legs might be considerably more fresh. In such a case, a long taper will not be necessary at all.
Your muscle fiber types also determines how long you must taper. People who are naturally endurance oriented and not speedy will need short tapering phases. I have observed that slow twitch runners tend to lose aerobic endurance quickly upon cessation of mileage and suffer greatly in races when they taper too soon and too much. At the other end of the continuum, runners who are speedy tend to retain aerobic endurance more easily, so they can afford to taper longer. Most runners are somewhere in between these two extremes. However, no matter what you do, remember, if you are not tired, sore, and beat up, you don,t need to taper much.
Failing to do well in a marathon typically has one of two reasons. The first is due to tapering too early and not having sufficient endurance to last the event duration. The second is due to sore legs. If you have sore legs in the first 10 miles or your legs are stiff and you are laboring, it probably due to excessive training: too much, too hard, too long, for too many weeks. If you do fail to perform well, ask yourself which one of the two is the cause, and learn from your mistakes so that next time you will conquer the beast!
I suggest that you pick one of three peaking plans: short, medium or long duration. Choose the one that fits your situation and needs. The short peak phase lasts 4-5 days only. The medium one lasts 8- 10 days. The long one last 15-21 days. If in doubt, pick the middle one.
Long runs are a critical element of marathon training, but it is important to back off the duration so that your legs won,t be too sore on race day. If you having been really pushing the mileage high and your long runs long, then start tapering the long runs about 4-5 weeks before race day. If you have been reasonable and not overextending yourself, your last long run can be 22 days before your race. I suggest cutting your long run by 20-25% on day 15 before your race and 30-35% on day 8 before your race. For example, if you have been running 20 milers regularly for a long run, then two weekends before your race run 15 miles only at an easy to moderate speed. Then, one weekend before your event run 13 miles at a Slow pace.
Key workouts are an important consideration too. In the last three weeks, I suggest you do one mid- week workout that is a bit more speedy than your long run. The three key workouts I recommend in order of succession are as follows:
1) warmup, run 5,4,3,2,1 mile at Marathon Pace (be realistic), rest 2-3 minutes between each, cool- down; (if in doubt, skip the 5 mile rep)
2) warmup, run 5-6 x 1 mile at Lactate Threshold Pace, jog 1-2 minutes between each, cool-down;
3) warmup, run 2 x 1 mile at 10k pace, jog 2 minutes between, cool-down.
Good Luck! Tinman
Medium Length Peaking Plan
Listed below is a medium length peaking plan. The sample runner has been running 70 miles per week for 3 months.
Day 22 – Long Run, 20 miles Easy, including 6 x 100 at 5k speed
Day 21 – 4 mile Slow
Day 20 – 2 runs, each 4 miles Slow, including 3 x 100m at 5k speed, in each run
Day 19 – 10 miles Easy
Day 18 – 1 miles Easy, 5,4,3,2,1 mile at Marathon Pace, rest 2 minutes between each, 1 mile Easy Day 17 – 4 mile Slow
Day 16 – 7 miles Slow, including 3 x 100 at 5k speed
.... 70 miles total for the week
Day 15 – Long Run, 15 miles Easy, including 6 x 100 at 5k speed
Day 14 – 4 miles Slow
Day 13 – 2 runs, each 4 miles Slow, including 3 x 100 at 5k speed, in each run
Day 12 – 10 miles Slow
Day 11 – 1 mile Easy, 4 x 30 second striders, then 5-6 x 1 mile at LT (about 10-12 mile race pace, no faster), jog 2 minutes between each, then 1 mile Easy
Day 10 – 4 miles Slow
Day 09 – 4 miles Slow
.... 52-55 miles total for the week
Day 08 – Long Run, 13-14 miles Slow, including 6 x 100 at 5k speed
Day 07 – 4 miles Slow
Day 06 – 1 mile Easy, 4 x 30 second striders, 2 x 1 mile at 10k pace, jog 2-3 minutes, 1 mile Easy Day 05 – 4 miles Easy
Day 04 – 4 miles Easy, including 4 x 100 at 5k speed
Day 03 – Rest
Day 02 – jog 3 miles
Day 01 – jog 2 miles, including 4 x 100 at 5k speed
..... 34- 35 miles total for the week
Day 00 – Marathon Race