Marathon ? a few weeks left to the zero hour

Participation in a marathon is a special event for everyone who practise sport. Exactly ? for those who practice, as it?s impossible to finish this royal marathon without specialist preparation.

This distance has been surrounded by legends and many myths which has often originated from incomprehension of basic physiological processes necessary for this two-hour effort and the basic failures concerning the last phase of preparations to the marathon. As far as the specific kind of this competition is concerned, the last six weeks appear to have the key meaning as for the purpose - running 42 kilometers in possibly shortest time...The ultimate ideal would be to work out such a form that the participation, no matter how difficult, would result in a full control over our reactions during the exertion.

Finishing the marathon

There is no bigger pleasure than reaching the last kilometers with comfortable speed. For professionals it means great time and an efficient finish. The amateurs associate it with a smile on the face, perfect body, admiration of supporters and friends. That is of course an ideal to which everyone taking part in the marathon should aspire.

Unfortunately, there is also the other side of the coin mostly known to the people finishing the marathon. These who haven't finished the run are not even fully conscious of what is going to happen... But taking the risks is definitely worth it. It may be painful, but at the same time it would make you noble. This is a kind of runner's baptism - to finish the marathon no matter that every normal human being would withdraw a long time ago. There must be some magic and something mystical in this distance.


However, we intend to eliminate the risks maximally! Shortly speaking, the marathon is one of the easiest physiological efforts. The whole distance, regardless of the exertion, should be accomplished with the oxygen metabolism which is responsible for delivering energy to the working muscles. Does it sound easy? Yes. The only thing strongly needed is the consciousness of the reactions taking place in our body during the two-hour exertion and have these reactions formerly trained.


Marathon's DSP

Last 40 days before the start, that is about six weeks, should be dedicated to so-called DSP /direct start preparations/. During this period, we should efficiently prepare all the adaptation mechanisms for running 42 kilometers with maximal speed possible for a competitor. 

There are a lot of various theories and ways to accomplish the purpose - the choice is up to the coach or the runner. However, some trainings and activities are strongly recommended at that time, so the aim would be easier to reach. Good understanding of the physiological processes taking place during the two-hour effort is unavoidable to act knowingly. The marathon run is the exertion during which the main source of energy should be the breakdown of lipids, that is the free fet acids /FFA/. These are the mechanisms that we should exercise and bring to perfection during the last six weeks before the marathon. In short, we have to learn our organism to use the lipids and not the carbohydrates (glycogen) as the body fuel. The level of carbohydrates is limited and surely won't be sufficient for the whole marathon.


The trainings during this period should be based on calm runs with low intensity - the time of effort from 40 to 60 minutes. We must absolutely make the organism get used to the long lasting effort which would last similarly long as the marathon run. We should at least try 3 or 4 times to endure the 2,5-hour lasting effort with a low intensity. Such kind of trainings could be called ‘LSD"- long slow distance. A couple of such runs could be helpful to understand the physiological reactions during the big test.

Our organism should also know the ‘medium marathon speed'. We should make a couple of runs measuring the real speed with which we could run the marathon. General rule that should be obeyed during last 6 weeks is the rule of calm, slow runs. Nothing is so bad for our condition as fast running!!!



- LSD - ‘Long Slow Distance' - long runs with the low level of intensity

The example: 2,5 hour of light running with the pulse /HR/ up to 140 beats a minute

- RE -  running endurance with so-called ‘marathon speed' (dependent on real time possible)

The example: 3 x 5 km with the 5' break

A for the runner 2.20 h - 3 x 5 km after 3.15' /km

B for the runner 2.45 h - 3 x 5 km after 3.45'-3.50' /km

C for the runner 3.30 h - 3 x 5 km after 4.10'- 4.15' /km

D for the runner 4.00 h - 3 x 5 km after 4.30 - 4.40 /km


- GRE - general running endurance

The example: light runs from 40 to 60 minutes, short and medium runs with low intensity constitute the basis of the preparations

The crucial issue is to knowingly plan the particular training units - regarding both their time and structure. The easiest way to observe it is to take a look on the table mentioned below. The last 6 weeks have been divided into two periods with a one week break in the middle. Please, consider how is the intensity decreasing in the last week before the marathon. The same counts for LSD units- they are planned for the first part of preparation cycle. The last such training is recommended two weeks before the start. Of course, this plan provides just one of the possible versions of preparation, but the certain structure should be kept in each long-term preparation scheme.

Picture nr. 1: The example of training units during 6 weeks before the marathon

The participant running 3-4 times a week (from 2:45 to 3:20 hours)


Activities recommended:

- The last intensive training should be done 10 days before the planned start

- Most of long trainings should be done on the solid ground (asphalt, pavement, concrete) so that our bones and muscles will be prepared to the specific conditions during the marathon - the marathons are organized on the streets of large cities. Essential condition: good shoes!

- During long trainings: prepare your digestive system to fluids - water and isotonic drinks

- Runners exercising longer than 3 hours: the organism must get used to the carbohydrates in the solid form - bananas, roisins, energetic sweets etc.

- At least 3-4 trainings with the effort's time similar to the marathon's time should be done

- Test your equipment few weeks before the planned start (shoes, t-shirt, shorts)

- The diet during last 10 days should be modified - the participant should eat more complex carbohydrates (potatoes, bread, pasta) and less acids (meat, some milk products, some vegetables) etc.

- Prepare the exact schedule. Define the control points for time measurements.

The general rule: we should be always slower than assumed finishing time - at least 35 kilometers!

- Plan your trip - book the hotel and organize the meals etc. Each useless effort can damage your condition!


The most common failures in the last weeks before the start:

- Doing more intensive trainings than recommended, that means than so-called ‘marathon speed'

- Doing the trainings in groups and informal rivalry. That has an impact on the metabolism and energy managing. This common mistake is popular even among professionals!

- Experimenting with food and supplements

- Strict sticking to the trainings - without considering the condition of the particular day

- Jumping suddenly to the long runs - speed should rise slowly until the last training unit

- Testing some new equipment in the last week before the marathon. The equipment, and especially the shoes!, should be prepared a couple of weeks before the zero hour


The truths about the marathon - remember!

  1. Remember - you can't improve more in the last week before the marathon, you can only spoil your form. Concentrate on active forms of relaxation!
  2. Remember - the training is not equal to rivalry and exhausting your organism. Not being fed up after training doesn't mean you haven't trained enough!
  3. Remember - 2-3 minutes of too fast run in the first half can result in 30 minutes loss in the end. Consider if it's worth it...
  4. Remember - The ideal of preparation and planning is to accomplish both parts of the marathon in equal time. Plan the tempo of the first part, so that you'll finish the second part similarly.
  5. Remember - 10 seconds a kilometer faster mean only 7 minutes in the end, but the difference between 4,10' and 4, 20' per kilometer is huge!
  6. Remember - the average speed to reach 3 hours time is about 4,20" per kilometer. Running 15 km with the speed of 3,50 is not a big deal. You have to train some other mechanisms!!!!

Kamila Gradus

Darek Kaczmarski