30 Tips For Dominating the Last 60 Days of Your Marathon Training

Simple ways to dial in your nutrition, get your gear right, and make sure you have a stress-free race day.

You're so close, yet so far. You've worked hard to get here, but the toughest road lies ahead.

The last few weeks of a marathon training plan are in many ways like the last few miles of the race itself—they can be the toughest, or the most rewarding. How well you perform here will do the most to determine whether your marathon is a success or . . . something you don't remember so fondly. (No one should never use the word "failure" to describe running 26.2 miles, no matter how far off their finish time is from their goal time.)

Marathon Training

Behind you are many weeks of mileage buildup, especially if you've been following a 20-week marathon training schedule. But still to come is the "monster month," a brutal period in which 20ish-mile-long runs become your weekend norm. Your training logs might start looking like those of Ryan Hall in his heyday (although hopefully you're not going so far as to run triple-digit mileage per week). (In the video above, you can see how regimented a day in the life of America's Fastest Marathoner used to look like.)

You have a big task outside of training too. Now's the time to start dialing in the logistics of your race, how you'll get to it, and how family and friends who want to cheer you on can find you amid the pack.

To help you stay on top of everything coming your way during the last 60 days before your race, we've developed this list of tips, to-dos and definitely don't-dos relating to your training, nutrition and race strategy. Save yourself stress and worry by letting them guide you to the start line. (Marathon rookies may also want to check out these helpful first marathon stories, where people share what they wish they knew before going 26.2.)

Hydration Station

  1. Start getting used to the food and drink they'll be serving on the course. Do some research and find out which sports drink (brand and flavor) volunteers will be handing out, as well as any sport beans or gels that'll be available. Buy them and try them on your long training runs. See how your body responds when you consume them.

  2. If the race's choice of food or drink causes GI distress, start putting together a backup plan. If you find that you can't eat the gels the race will be serving, or that their sports drink makes you queasy, it's time to take matters into your own hands. That could mean carrying a fuel belt with food that's more to your liking. Or it could mean coordinating with friends or family to meet you with provisions at specific spots on the course. Or your plan might include both. Just note that the bigger the race is, the harder it will be to find your loved ones in the crowd. So if there's something you "must have" in order to go the distance, you're better off keeping it on your person and carrying it until you need it.

    Marathon Training

  3. Keep yourself safe on long weekend runs. The monster month means you'll be spending Saturday or Sunday morning covering around 20 miles. That's a lot of ground to cover if someone needs to find you. So leave a map of your route with family or friends. This is especially important if you do your long runs on the trails.

  4. Turn off the tunes. You may not like the sound of this tip, but: Turn off your headphones. Two big reasons why. First: When you're off on a multi-mile adventure, you need to be aware of  your surroundings—especially if you will be near traffic. Second, it's good preparation to run your race headphone-free. What? You say. I can't race without my jams. Yes. You can. And you should. You'll want to remember the sounds of the race. Your Maroon 5 playlist will always sound the way it sounds, and you can listen to it any time. But the sound of total strangers shouting their lungs out trying to encourage you to go the distance will only happen once. You should be present to hear it.

  5. Throw yourself for a loop. Consider structuring your long runs into loops around or near your home so that you have a built-in fuel station and bathroom stop. This also ensures you're never too far from home if you encounter issues like cramping or a sprained ankle.

    Lace 'Em Up

  6. Start breaking in the shoes you'll wear on race day. It's OK to want to run in a pair of shoes that are clean and relatively new. But it's a mistake to try and take on 26.2 in a pair of kicks you've never worn before. Log at least one of your long training runs in the shoes you plan to wear during your marathon. That way you'll know that you can comfortably cover a lot of ground in them. If you're worried about getting them dirty, do it on a good weather day.

  7. On the topic of shoes, change them up throughout the week. It's a good idea to wear something that's slightly more built/more protective on long runs. You can switch to a lighter, more minimal kick for your shorter, faster runs. Why? Different shoes have different heel-to-toe drops, setting your feet closer or farther from the ground. This subtle shoe difference can have a big effect on your lower leg muscles, working some more than others. By using a variety of builds, you have a better chance of developing your legs more completely—and better protecting them from injury. (Here are 5 soothing ways to treat sore feet after running.)

  8. Get to know thyself. Wear a heart rate monitor on your runs. The monitor will track the intensity of your training and teach you how your ticker responds to different paces and inclines. The goal for your marathon is to maintain a steady, sustainable pace. Knowing your target heart rate for that pace will help keep you on track when race day comes.

    Heart Rate Monitor

  9. Learn to protect yourself where it counts the most. Muhammad Ali once said, "It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe." He could've added chafing to that mix. Nothing will make your strides feel worse than inner thighs or nipples getting rubbed raw by a technical short or tee. Use Vaseline or another protective lubricant on trouble spots so that you can run pain-free.

  10. Keep yourself in check. Don't think you're supposed to chase your race pace on long runs. These runs are not meant to mimic race day but are designed to help build an aerobic base and train your body to be efficient with its fuel. Depending on your training plan, you should be 30-60 seconds slower per mile than race pace. Running faster can defeat the purpose of the run and break your body down unnecessarily.

  11. Bounce back from hard runs faster with a little help from your bathtub. Following a long run or hard-effort interval or tempo session, boost your recovery with a cold bath. More isn't necessarily better here, so don't overdo it with long periods of time or ultra-cold temperatures. Temperatures in the 60s with dip times 6-8 minutes long can deliver results.

  12. Remove stress from your results. Other than your closest family, friends and anyone who wants to watch you run, DO NOT TELL ANYONE YOUR GOAL PACE. Why? Because telling people a goal time only creates undue pressure that you do not need. What happens is this: If you set a goal, then run a PR but don't quite hit the goal, upon hearing your finish time, people will act disappointed. Don't let that happen. Keep people free of expectations, then let your results speak for themselves.

    Snooze Button

  13. Remember that rest is training too. Recovery is huge during monster month. Sleep is one of the biggest factors in determining how well your body recovers. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.

  14. Earn extra credit when it's crunch time. Consider adding a nap wherever you can in the week leading up to the race.

  15. Be careful not to overtrain. The big weekly mileage totals you rack up during monster month make you a prime candidate for overtraining. Watch for signs like irritability, fatigue or illness. If they start showing up, increase your rest time. You're better off going into a race over-rested than over-worked.

  16. Don't let the flu bug bite. Even if you're not overtrained, your immune system can be compromised by the increased demands of monster month. Try to up your intake of water, vitamin-rich foods like oranges, and sleep.

  17. Remind yourself that relaxed is fast. Many elite runners repeat a mantra (or several) over and over during difficult stretches. This technique helps them control their breathing and stay motivated as they chip away at the mileage. Their mantras usually remind runners of an inspirational element or person in their life for whom they are running and fit the rhythm of a relaxed breathing pattern.

  18. Plan ahead. Figure out what you'll wear on race day—socks, compression shorts, shirt, shorts, hat and anything else. You don't want questions about what you're going to wear or what you need to pack stress you out the week of the race. Once you have this all dialed, then . . .

    Marathon Runner

  19. Take test runs in your race-day getup. Consider it a dress rehearsal for the main event. Try and go at the same time and on the same day of the week as the actual event.

  20. Practice your race-morning nutrition. Experiment with your night before/morning of meals. You want to know what you'll eat and when, and how your body will respond.

  21. Practice your pre-run warm-up too. You want the routine nailed down by race day. The warm-up could involve foam rolling, dynamic movements like skipping, and light stretches so that your body is warm and loose before you toe the starting line. Or you could just jog to loosen up. Matter of preference, really. Find what works for you and stick to it. (Check out Ryan Hall's pre-run warmup routine.)

  22. Trust in the taper. Don't give in to the temptation to add miles to it. You may feel lazy, or worry that you're losing your fitness. But you're not. You're giving your body a chance to reload so you can crush the race.

  23. Support your supporters. Help your spectator friends by plotting your race time against locations on the course map. Calculate arrival times based on best-case and worst-case scenarios.

  24. Shop ahead to stay warm. Wear baggy, warm clothes before the start. With early morning start times, even races in seemingly warm climates can be chilly in the athlete's village. You'll also want have some garbage bags to protect your shoes and more in case it rains.

    Pre-Race Meal

  25. Exercise carb control. Don't overdo carb-loading in the week leading up to the race. That can result in unwanted bloating and weight gain. Aim to take in about 75-100 grams of carbohydrates at each meal for three days leading up to the race. There's no need to stuff your face with a huge pasta dinner the night before.

  26. Keep it simple the night before. Complex carbs or fibrous foods can take longer to leave the gut, which can spell GI distress on race day. Stick to simple carbs as the race gets closer.

  27. Fresh feet are fleet feet. Stay off your feet as much as possible in the days leading up to the race. This can be especially challenging if you're racing in a new city that you want to explore. Give yourself permission to take the bus tour for once.

    Marathon Gear

  28. Lay it all out. Set out your gear the night before the race so you aren't scrambling on race morning. Pin your bib to your shirt. Make sure your smartwatch is charged, and dial in any other details that you don't want to be worrying about once your alarm clock goes off.

  29. Don't do anything new on race day. Now's not the time to add something different to your gear or nutrition plan—even if the hotel's Continental breakfast looks really good.

  30. Relax. You're going to do great.

More Marathon Training Content to Help You Conquer 26.2 Miles:

8 Things I Wish I Knew Before My First Marathon

Foolproof 20-Week Marathon Training Plan

20 Healthy Dinner Options for Marathon Training

7 Tips to Help First-Time Marathoners Avoid Pitfalls

24 Power-Packed Snack Options for Marathoners

15 Health Breakfast Options for Your Marathon Training


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: RUNNING | MARATHON | FITNESS | ENDURANCE | ROAD RACE