The Procrastinator’s Guide to Marathon Training

Signing up for a marathon can be exciting, terrifying and empowering all at the same time — until you realize that actually training for said marathon isn’t as stimulating as you had imagined. Before you know it, you’re way behind in your training, and you’re even considering bagging the whole thing.

If this scenario is all too familiar, fear not. There are ways to approach last-minute training so you don’t have to give up your bib number. These seven tips (and a can-do attitude) will help you be 26.2-ready come race day.

1. Adjust Your Expectations

If you were hoping for a PR in this race, it might be time to rethink that goal. Expecting the same results as if you’d been on schedule with your training isn’t realistic and will likely set you up for disappointment.

Consider using this race as a training run, just in case you have to walk or bow out before the finish — then you won’t feel as if you’ve failed.

2. Pick a New Training Plan (or Adjust Your Current One)

Let’s say you selected a four-month training plan, and you’re now less than two months away from race date — with little or no training miles logged. At this point, the original plan would have you clocking miles or times you’re likely not ready for, which could lead to injuries.

If your weekly mileage is below 20 miles in the final four or five weeks, you should re-evaluate your current training plan, says Pete Rea, head coach at ZAP Fitness Distance Running Center in Lenoir, North Carolina. This re-evaluation should include the length of your taper, overall training volume and intensity of your efforts.

3. Focus on the Important Runs

The key runs in your training should be the ones that build endurance. Since we’ve already established that this race is probably not going to be one for the record books, you don’t need to focus on getting faster.  

To build endurance, don’t cram in as many double-digit runs as possible. Instead, prioritize one key long run per week over completing every single tempo run or hill repeat.

4. Fuel Your Miles

Being late to the training game means you have less wiggle room for empty calories or a boozy night out on the town. You’re going to be putting a good amount of stress on your body — and it needs the right fuel in order to perform at the level you’re asking of it.

Fill your diet with lean protein (like chicken and salmon), whole grains, healthy fats (such as avocado and nuts) and plenty of fruits and vegetables.

5. Build Your Miles Safely

To prepare your body for the demands of a marathon, Rea recommends logging at least three long runs of 18 miles or more before your taper period. To safely build up to this distance, increase your mileage by no more than 10% each week. If you don’t have enough time to follow the 10% rule, Rea suggests picking another race.

“There’s always another marathon,” he says. “I would rather someone recognize their buildup has not gone well than struggle through a race underprepared.”

6. Respect the Taper

While most plans don’t call for you to run the full 26.2 miles during training, you’ll want to make sure you’ve completed your longest run at least two weeks before the race date — and, if possible, three weeks out.

Whether your longest run is 18 miles, 24 miles or something in between, this critical taper time lets the body repair itself after all that training to be ready for its biggest challenge yet.

7. Don’t Skip Rest Days and Cross-Training

And now for the easiest to follow tip on the list: Honor your recovery. While you may not be as far along in your training as you’d hoped, that doesn’t mean you should skip your scheduled rest days to make up for lost time. The same goes for cross-training, including weights or cycling. Too much too soon is one of the quickest ways to injure yourself, which could put you even more behind on your training.

While you might feel like you’re wasting valuable time, do yourself a favor and stick to your scheduled rest — and active rest — days.

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Erica Schuckies
Erica Schuckies

Erica is a runner, gym rat and outdoor buff based in Austin, Texas. She is a lifelong athlete, having participated in a number of sports from her youth years well into her adult life. Erica has a passion for creating and sharing information, motivation and inspiration to help athletes-in-training across the world. She previously worked as the Running Editor at ACTIVE.com (find her articles here), where she connected with runners of all levels to help them reach their running and fitness goals. You can follow Erica on Twitter or Instagram.