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The "Don't Be Sh*t!" Series - Marathon Build Up (1 Month Out)

The "Don't Be Sh*t!" Series - Marathon Build Up (1 Month Out)

If you’ve made it this far and you are still in one piece then congratulations!

If you’ve managed it with no breaks in your training then you are doing exceptionally well.

For the not so lucky ones who’ve had some enforced down time due to niggles or illness, don’t panic, you are not alone.

Very few make it through a whole marathon campaign without the odd break so focus on all the training you have done, not the bits you haven’t.

Although the majority of your training is now in the bank, the last 4-5 weeks are just as crucial with some important decisions to be made.

Three big subjects which I repeatedly get asked advice about are when and how long your longest run should be, what tune-up races to do and when to start your taper.

All three are hot topics and I suspect you’ll get different advice from any marathoner on all of them, normally based on their own personal “experiment of one”.

There are no definitive answers but hopefully I can help guide you a little with your decision-making.


Your longest run in your build up will vary drastically depending on how experienced a marathon runner you are and what your goals and expectations are.

If this is your first marathon and just completing it is your target then making it to 20 miles in training could be an appropriate goal. If however you are a seasoned marathoner and are looking to get the best out of yourself then I feel you really should be looking to make it up to 24 miles at least once in training.

I would also go as far as suggesting for those that are more than comfortable with the distance and respond well to the really long runs, a single run at full marathon distance is not out of the question as long as it is no faster than a minute a mile slower than target marathon pace.

In terms of when, your longest run should be in the 5-3 weeks from race day window. The exact weekend will depend on how long you are tapering for (if you are going for a full 3 week taper than move your longest run to 5 weeks out) and how well you recover from these really long runs.


Tune up races are a real dilemma.

Let’s be honest, racing in the final month before your target marathon is less about “tuning up” for your target race and more about cashing in on some of that hard earned fitness you’ve gained from all the training.

Although, I have previously said there are no definitive rules when it comes to these things, one thing I am absolutely certain of is no-one should be flat out racing a 20 miler in the build-up to a marathon.

I personally suggest not going beyond 15 miles at marathon effort in a race as well, it simply takes too long to recover from and will impact your next week’s training in some fashion.

Full effort half marathons are okay if you know you can recover reasonably quickly from them, but be honest with yourself. If you know from past experience that you are still hobbling the Wednesday after a half marathon then just keep a little in reserve while racing and don’t bury yourself in the final mile, try some showboating down the finishing straight instead!

No closer than 3 weeks out for a flat out half is a safe bet but a 10K race two weeks out or a parkrun the week before are also good options for having some fun in the taper.


This leads us to the final question, when to start tapering?

This is a really tricky one and can be very different from one runner to another.

A lot of people follow a standard 3 week taper simply because they read once that this is the thing to do.

We taper by dropping our training load to allow our body to recover from the cumulative fatigue built up during a marathon campaign and clear up any niggles we picked up along the way.

If your training hasn’t been consistent with a number of breaks then you may not need as much time to freshen up as you normally do.

If on the other had you have put together a great build up with consistent training and are starting to pick up a few niggles then this would be a good time to take a more cautious 3 week taper approach and start cutting back your mileage a little earlier than normal.

The other main thing to consider is how quickly you start to lose your fitness. I know from personal experience that I can lose a lot of fitness and performance in two weeks and I also freshen up very quickly which is why I tend to use a 7-10 day taper in a standard build up.

If it’s your first marathon then my suggestion would be to play it safe with the full 3 weeks dropping your mileage by 20% each week, if however you are a more experienced marathoner then don’t be afraid to experiment a little and find what really works for you. 

Two Week Out Speed Session

10 min @ Target Marathon Pace (2 min jog recovery) / 8 x 2min (1 min jog recovery) 

A great session as you get closer to marathon day where 10 min at target marathon pace should be a nice and easy confidence booster followed by some 5K pace 2 min intervals to sharpen up that speed.

Tip of the Month


Had a great build up race on the way to marathon race day?

Don’t let your excitement influence your planned marathon training where you suddenly think you are invincible and double your training load, stick to the plan and keep the ego in check!

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