Marathon: Training Advice for Your Recovery Weeks

Von Uta Pippig
A relaxing bath will help you in relieving muscle soreness and rejuvenating your body. © Betty Shepherd
A relaxing bath will help you in relieving muscle soreness and rejuvenating your body. © Betty Shepherd

Your easy weeks of training will play a key role during your marathon preparation—helping you to stay in sync with all your training efforts, enabling you to build-up your fitness level most effectively, and allowing you to achieve an optimal result in your race. These weeks also build your concentration and mental strength at each running session, providing you a good platform for the entire training process.

Previously, we looked at the importance of those “Recovery Weeks” and when to include them in your plan. You can find these and other related topics in my article “Periods of Training for Your Marathon Preparation.”

Now I would like to share with you specific training advice for your “Recovery Week” at the end of your base period (roughly three months before your event) and your first build-up period of your marathon preparation in conjunction with your uniquely-tailored schedule.

Beginners I and II

For each of your Recovery Weeks, make sure that your mileage and intensity are lower compared with your “Hard Training Weeks.” Please run only 50 to 60 percent of the mileage of your “Hard Training Weeks.” The distance for your longest run in your Recovery Week is shorter as well—just 50 to 60 percent of your longest runs in your hard training weeks. Also, select lower intensities for your main workouts, and follow the principle of “Negative Splits” by covering the first half of your chosen distance slower than the second.

If you are training for a hilly 26.2-mile course, it would be prudent if you can make the longest run of the week on a similarly hilly course to prepare yourself. Move up from an easy to moderate pace—but only if you are rested enough from the previous hard training weeks.

Also, for Beginners II, please don’t add intervals or a tempo run, as is the case for your hard training weeks. Instead, run easy for four to five miles with eight to ten strides afterwards on that day. For information on strides, click here for the article “Would You Like to Run Better? Relax!”

Intermediate I and II

For each of your Recovery Weeks, you too will find that mileage and intensity are lower in comparison with your hard training weeks. Please make sure you run only 50 to 65 percent of the mileage of your intense training weeks. The distance of your longest run in your Recovery Week should be just 50 to 60 percent of your longest runs in your hard training weeks. Select lower intensities for your main workouts. And follow the principle of “Negative Splits” to ensure proper recovery.

Similar to the beginning runners, who are training for a hilly marathon course, it would be ideal to prepare yourself by running the suggested distance on hilly terrain—preferable on rolling hills. Many of my clients felt that a 10-mile run was a good choice for their longest run during a Recovery Week. You can cover this distance at a moderate pace, but only if you feel rested enough after recovering for more than 5 or 6 days from the previous hard training weeks.

I suggest integrating light interval training into your plan, such as a 200-meter program. You can plan a session like this in the middle of your Recovery Week—about four days after the completion of your previously hard training phase. Please pay attention to staying relaxed during these intervals, run in a “playful” manner and with enough reserves so that your muscles do not tighten up but rather remain loose. After all the endurance training you did, you do not want to overwhelm your body with too high intensities at this point of training.

The following day, you can plan a run where you will start in easy speed and finish in moderate speed. However, only decide on moderate intensity for this workout if you feel you have recovered sufficiently from your interval training.

I would stay away from a fast tempo run in your Recovery Week. An exception would be a scheduled competition. In this case, make sure you delay the onset of your next intensive build-up period by a few days.

Elite Athletes and Advanced Runners Who Would Like to Run Faster Than 3 Hours

Please, use your Recovery Weeks as much as you can to get ready for the next hard training phase. This way, you have a better chance to start your next build-up period with a higher level of fitness, but also with a much greater chance of being injury free, and not having to deal with training restrictions as your marathon preparation continues.

You will find that mileage and intensity in these weeks are lower, so “let go” from your intensive training mode and choose a relaxed and easy speed for your easy runs. Please focus on recuperating not only physically, but also mentally in each of the Recovery Weeks so you are able to get through the entire marathon training. Make sure you run only 60 to 65 percent of the volume of your hard training weeks.

Decide wisely on the distance for your longest run of your Recovery Week. Avoid going further than 75 percent of the distance of your longest runs in your hard training weeks. To be best prepared for a hilly race, it is ideal to run the longest run of your Recovery Week on a course with some rolling hills. You can cover this run at a moderate pace, but only do so after recovering for more than 5 or 6 days from the previous hard training phase, and if you feel well-rested. Your uniquely-tailored schedule will provide additional information for this workout.

By the middle of your Recovery Week, or three to four days after your previous long run of your just completed hard training phase, you can run an easy fartlek or interval program. For our stronger runners, I suggest an interval program with 300- to 400-meter repeats or as scheduled in your training plan.

A fartlek is a popular “free-flow” speed workout with a less structured form of alternating fast and slow intervals on the road or on a trail—ideally not on a track. A typical “off-road” fartlek on one of my favorite trails was a much-appreciated element of training for me, which I used during my time as a competitive athlete in all of my marathon preparations. Even today it is part of my fitness program because it is not only great fun, but also provides an excellent training effect.

Choose a loop that is relatively flat and does not exceed five miles, including warm-up and cool-down half miles. You could, for example, run fast on the uphill stretches and just jog easy on the downhills—or vice versa, depending on how you feel on that particular day and during your fartlek.

Alternatively, instead of the fartlek, you also could add short intervals, e.g., 200-meter repeats. Eight to 10 of them would be fine. One day after your fartlek or interval program you may do a longer run—not as far as the longest run of your Recovery Week. Train on an easier course and at a slow to moderate pace. Please only speed up and go “moderately” at the end of your run if you feel rested.

To All Our Runners

If you think you need even more recovery time because you still are feeling tired from your hard training weeks, then please focus on additional rest to be physically and mentally well-prepared for your next training phase. This means adding one or two more days to your Recovery Week with or without easy jogs—and doing only easy running for the entire week.

And how do you like the idea of a relaxing massage during those easy days of running? Perhaps you can find some time for it…

I send you good wishes for your training and I hope you can enjoy proper rest in your program as an important part of your marathon preparation.

Keep running,

Reading Suggestions:

  1. Periods of Training for Your Marathon Preparation and Distance Progression for Your Long Runs
  2. Uta’s Summary for Your Marathon Preparation. Part I: Training
  3. Training Advice for the Second Build-Up Period of Your Marathon Preparation

Updated January 26, 2016
Updated January 25, 2014
Posted in August 2013