Training Advice for the Second Build-Up Period of Your Marathon Preparation

By Uta Pippig

Dear Friends,

© Betty Shepherd
© Betty Shepherd

It has been a long road, but you are almost there! I hope you are happy with your training and can feel the improvements you have made. Every workout better prepares you for your 26.2 miles, giving you the ability to arrive at the starting line knowing you have trained well and effectively.

The upcoming weeks—encompassing the highest mileage and your longest runs—will determine to a large degree how well you run in your race. I hope you can stay positive and strong during this important second build-up period.

Of course, marathon preparation is composed of many elements and periods of training. But the more you can use the time now to build up your endurance and “speed endurance,” the stronger you will feel during your marathon. So, take advantage of your training every day.

See also: Tapering: Maximizing the Remaining Weeks of Training Before Your Marathon.

Good luck for your marathon preparation. ...together with Naoko Takahashi, the first woman to break 2:20 in the marathon, during the 40th Berlin Marathon celebration 2013. ©
Good luck for your marathon preparation. …together with Naoko Takahashi, the first woman to break 2:20 in the marathon, during the 40th Berlin Marathon celebration 2013. ©

Some of you might be competing in a 15K or a half marathon during these next weeks. I wish you good luck and hope it will increase your confidence for the marathon. You can use one of these events as a nice test of your form under “race-like” conditions. They also can give you the opportunity to experiment and work on things you might want to improve, like your equipment, marathon strategy, or pre-race nutritional routine.

I would like to share some general advice for each of the different levels of marathoners. But first I want to mention some thoughts all of you can use as overall training advice for your second build-up period.

  • Perhaps you might feel this period of long and hard workouts is getting to be too much. Maybe you are starting to question yourself and thinking, “Am I as strong as I need to be?” Yes, you can have confidence that you will be strong enough. Try to celebrate one workout after another, no matter where you are in your training at this point. Realizing that each day is bringing you closer to your goal can lift up your spirit and set free some extra energy—and as a result you will be able to run even better.
  • It is very common to begin feeling the pressure as race day is fast-approaching. But there is still time for good training, so I hope you can stay calm and focused. This way—even if you face a challenging situation or you are getting a little behind schedule—you will be able to save much-needed mental energy for your running and all the additional things in your life that you need to tackle.
  • Please, get help fast if you suspect you have any kind of injury or feel like any other health problem might be developing. Now is not the time to wait. The sooner you address a developing adverse situation the faster you can get back to your routine and resume your marathon training.
  • For our beginning marathoners: To be able to train most effectively, please give your body as much rest as possible the day before and the day after your longest run of the week. And for our advanced marathoners: Please focus on your longest runs and be sure to get proper rest the next day. This will enable you to tackle the rest of the week’s training while maintaining your workouts at a high-quality level.
  • Proper recovery time between each workout will not just help you to stay healthy and avoid overtraining, it also will support you in training more effectively. As a result you will enjoy a faster improvement in your fitness, together with an increased ability to recover after your workouts. This will enable you to extend the benefits of all your good workouts into your tapering phase and improve upon them—something that is so important for running well in your marathon.

Now, I would like to share some general advice in conjunction with your uniquely-tailored running schedule. Maybe it can serve as a little check list to help you during this “super-busy” time when you are taking care of many things simultaneously: your family, friends, work, projects, events, fundraising, travel, and, of course, your training.

I have customized these points for beginning, intermediate, and advanced marathoners.

For Our Beginning Marathoners

1. Schedule your long runs with a sensible plan. It can be too physically tough to do a long run each week, so it is best to alternate an easy week (no long run) with a “long run week.” Please choose the distances depending on your individual running capability. I would suggest scheduling the last long run not later than roughly three weeks before your event. At this stage, giving your body time to recover well will be more beneficial on race day than additional mileage. For information on distances for your long runs, you can check the table at the end of my message.

2. Make sure you are rested enough the day before your long run—and take time off the day after. Use the recovery period after your long run wisely and get as much rest as possible so that you can go on to effectively resume your training. It will help you to be fit and ready for the shorter workouts later in the week.

3. Add at least two additional runs to your long run per week. These should be much shorter than your long run and could be done, for example, on Tuesday and Thursday if your long run is on the weekend. For those who feel stronger, adding three runs to your long run is OK—for example, one run on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, followed by a long run on Sunday.

4. If you feel good and you would like to be better prepared for a hilly marathon, choose a course with rolling hills for one of your runs during the middle of the week as well as for your long run.

5. For stronger beginning marathoners, you might exchange one of your easy, shorter runs for a moderate run or a tempo run or even an interval workout. An ideal day, if you follow my suggestion under point three, could be Wednesday.

6. Continue adding speed to your training in the form of strides. This topic has come up often during my coaching with beginning marathoners and I always explain it this way: Strides are fun and not intense. They encourage a feeling and understanding of the higher speed you get from them. They are helpful in keeping a better running form—and improve your ability to maintain that good form at a higher speed during your training and in the marathon. They also can “teach” your muscles how to relax while helping you run smoothly and maintain a good running rhythm at that higher speed.

After one or more of your easy and short runs, when your muscles are still warmed up, choose a 60- to 100-meter course. Start the first 15 meters or so easy, and then accelerate to 80 percent of your peak running speed for the next segment and stay on this comfortable pace. Then accelerate again for the next 15 meters up to almost 100 percent, and finally decelerate. Repeat this stride five to eight times—for stronger runners, up to ten times.

For Our Intermediate Marathoners

1. As well as your long runs, focus on tempo runs and possibly interval workouts. You may schedule two of the upcoming three weeks as harder training weeks, and implement the following schedule. First week: one long run, one tempo run, some easy runs, and for the second week: one long run, one interval workout, some easy runs. Also warm up and cool down properly before and after these intense running sessions. If you decide to taper a few days later due to a forced delay in training, you can add a recovery week in between these two weeks. In that case, you might include a light hill workout or a short interval program or a shorter run in moderate-to-fast pace in the middle of your recovery week. You can find more information about this topic in my article “Training Advice for Your Recovery Weeks.”

2. Extend your interval programs to 800- to 1000-meter repeats. I would suggest up to 8 times 800 meters with 400 to 600 meters jogging between each fast 800-meter interval. For stronger intermediate runners, these kinds of longer interval programs should have been part of your schedule for the past three or four weeks. If they have not been, but you have used this training method for a previous marathon preparation, it would be perfectly fine to include an interval program now.

3. Use the next weeks not just for building up your endurance, but also for improving your overall strength. Choose courses with rolling hills for your long runs and if you can, choose a slightly hilly course for the tempo run, especially if your marathon is taking place on hilly terrain. During your tempo run, focus on the downhill sections as well as the up-hills, since this will give you much-needed training and preparation for any downhill running you may face in your race. This training approach will enable you to maintain a relaxed running rhythm while alternating between flat and hilly terrain.

4. For information on distances for your long runs, you may check the table at the end of my message.

5. Focus on your overall training in such a way that the last week of this second build-up period with the highest mileage will include some of your best workouts in terms of quality.

6. As mentioned for the beginning marathoners, continue adding speed to your training in the form of strides. Please see the explanation in the above section under point 6.

For Our Elite Athletes or Advanced Marathoners Who Would Like to Run Faster Than 3 Hours

1. Besides the long runs, focus on one long interval program, for example 1000-meter up to one-mile repeats (or even 2000-meter intervals), and one tempo run for each week. Also warm up and cool down properly before and after these intense running sessions. For the most effective training, schedule no more than two hard training weeks followed by a recovery week.

2. Make sure your interval workout and your tempo run are properly scheduled during the week. Many athletes I work with like to schedule the intervals two—or often three—days after their longest runs, and the tempo run two days after their intervals. This would automatically move the tempo run to two days before the next long run. This has proved to be a good combination, but it is just one of a number of variations you can follow. For stronger marathoners, another training option would be a run of about 20 to 25 kilometers one day after the interval program, followed by an easy day of running, and the tempo run the day after that.

3. Training on courses with rolling hills is essential if your marathon takes place on a hilly course. However, if you have the chance and the terrain allows it, add an easy run from time to time on flat courses to relax and recover. Allow how you are feeling to dictate how hilly your training courses can be. Stick to rather rolling hills at this point of your marathon preparation, since it is best to stay in a “smooth” running rhythm. The reason for this is you need strength, speed, and endurance for your marathon. Try to make it a habit to take the hills aggressively all the way to the top, then “let go” and run downhill in a more relaxed mode. For information on distances for your long runs, you may check the table at the end of my message.

4. Develop your “speed endurance” with your interval programs, tempo runs, and if possible semi-long runs of 20 to 25K at a moderate pace. In addition to your long marathon-specific runs, these are important running sessions to help you simultaneously build-up your speed and endurance.

5. Focus on your overall training to ensure that as well as running your highest mileage in the last week of this second build-up period, you also include some of your best workouts in terms of quality. At the same time, continue to run smoothly and train wisely to avoid overtraining.

6. As you probably already do, keep adding strides to your training. Also focus on some short downhill runs after one of your easy and short running sessions. I always added them after an easy run a day before my interval workout of the week. It proved to be another helpful tool for running well on hilly marathon courses like Boston or New York.

Table with Distance Progressions for Your Long Runs

By end of First
Build-Up Period*
By end of Second
Build-Up Period**
Beginners I 17miles20miles
Beginners II18miles20-22miles
Intermediate I18miles22miles
Intermediate II 18-19miles22miles

* 7 to 8 weeks before your marathon.

** Please do not plan your longest run too close to your event. My suggestion is to not schedule it closer than three weeks before your marathon and during the last days of your highest mileage period.

*** For our advanced marathoners, only go further than 22 miles if you are feeling confident and strong. And for our elite athletes, move up to 25 miles only if you feel you have enough reserves for this distance and have been training with confidence.


I am thinking of you! Good luck for the remaining weeks of training for The Big Day.

Keep running,

Reading Suggestions:

  1. Tapering: Maximizing the Remaining Weeks of Training Before Your Marathon
  2. After the Marathon: A Guide to Quick Recovery

Updated February 25, 2016
Updated March 3, 2014