The final week of training before running a marathon can be frustrating to say the least; your instinct is to run further and further at faster and faster times, but you have to hold back in the week leading up to the 26.2 mile race. Your priorities must change; the focus shifts from your training schedule and building up your running times to taking care of yourself, making certain your are healthy and getting plenty of rest. This is the only way to re-fuel your body for what will be one of the biggest physical challenges of your life.
What Not to Do in the Final Week of Marathon Training
Firstly, let's take a look at what not to do. The main mistake runners tend to make in the final week of their training programme prior to a marathon is fuelled by one of two things.
If you are fearful that you haven't done quite enough in terms of training or you've been forced to take a week or two off due to injury or illness, do not try and cram in extra training to make up for it. This is the worst thing you can do in these all-important final days. If you haven't built up your running distances adequately by this point, it will only be detrimental to your results on race day to try and go from nought to one hundred in a few days.
Assuming you have done enough training to actually reach the finish line on marathon day, you would be much better off getting by on what you have done so far than trying to make up for lost time for the sake of shaving off a couple of minutes. If you cram in extra long distance runs, the likelihood is that your body will suffer greatly from the extra mileage and your results will be severely hampered. You may even force an injury which could be disastrous to your progress at this late stage. At worst, if you know that you don't stand a chance of completing the race, then contact the organisers and ask to defer your place for a year.
2, Unused energy
You may find the thought of not running long distances or sprinting for short bursts for an entire week unbearable. If you have followed a strict training and dietary plan, you will probably be in the best shape of your life. You must resist seeing the final week as just another week of intense training. It is essential to ease off. If you belong to this group, the frustration you feel may be even greater than the first group, but it will be worth it. By resisting the temptation to run and run and allowing yourself to take a well earned rest, you will be giving yourself the best possible chance of success of race day.
So now let's take a look at what you should be doing in the last week of your training schedule.
How to Approach the Last Few Days of Training
How much should I run in the week before the marathon?
The short answer is you should run very little in this critical week. Your body has been pushed to its limits and needs time to rest and recover for the ultimate challenge. Most good training schedules will ease off significantly in the final week. The best running programme for race week is one that focuses on minimising damage to your body.
The idea of the training in the run-up to the marathon (which also includes, to some extent, the penultimate week) is to keep your muscles warm and your joints moving. It is often better to use the gym for the last few days of training; a treadmill can be far kinder on your body than the pavement and you will reduce the risk of injury. If you prefer to train outside, stick to running routes that you are familiar with.
A good, well structured plan will have you doing around two or three light sessions of around half an hour or less each. It is perfectly acceptable to walk on your last practice run, but make sure to keep the muscles active and to stretch so you don't stiffen up.
How about other types of exercise?
As with running, don't do anything too strenuous. It is vital not to set new goals or put your body under unnecessary strain at this time. Don't experiment with new forms of exercise you've never done before - they could have an unpredictable affect on your body. This week's aim is to save yourself for the big day itself.
Never has the phrase 'food is fuel' ever been more pertinent than in the week before running a marathon. The energy you'll need to get you to the finish line is derived from the food you consume during these seven days. You will hopefully have picked up some good eating habits in the preceding months; it is critical that you don't stray from this routine now.
As you probably know, the most important food group at this time is carbohydrates. Pasta, rice and potatoes have most likely become staples of your diet and the final week is no different. Make sure though, that you don't try anything new. Even the sauces you choose to accompany your pasta should be tried and tested. You don't want to risk trying out anything new that may have an unexpected impact on your energy levels. This rule should also be applied to any running-related snacks such as energy bars, gels and drinks; if you have been using a certain brand, stick with it.
More articles that may be of interest:
Have You Got What it Takes to Run a Marathon?
Your guide to the commitments you'll need to make when training for a marathon.
What to Eat and Drink on the Day of a Marathon
Helpful tips for getting nutrition and hydration right on race day
Making it to the Finish Line
A guide to keeping your stamina and focus during a marathon