Updated: July 24th, 2013

There are many roads to Rome, in terms of training, when preparing for a major race. I have seen many different methods work to produce similar results, but one of the most mysterious aspects of race preparation and illusive qualities of being a good coach is the art of peaking.

“Peaking” for a running event denotes the point in a particular training cycle where the athlete is at their fittest. Your legs may start feeling fresher on runs, your aerobic system working at full-steam-ahead, and you may be at your leanest after several months of devoted training. The ultimate goal when training for a race is to time this peak according to the date of your most important race.

Not just a “taper” in training, truly peaking for a race requires that you be mentally fresh, physically rested, and fully primed to take your running to the next level. This series of articles will help you maximize your training by effectively peaking at the right time for your event.

Peaking for Performance: One Month to Go

When you are one month out from your goal marathon race, the tendency of many coaches is to start backing off the volume and begin implementing shorter, faster workouts in place of the tempos and long runs. NOW IS NOT THE TIME for a reduction in mileage or marathon-specific intensity. Between 8-3 weeks out from your marathon is still prime training time; this is the metaphorical entrée after a period of appetizers in terms of training.

As a high school and post-collegiate coach, I view training as a funnel rather than a pyramid. You start from a period of lower mileage and intensity, and then build every element in your training progressively towards the demands of your particular goal event (allowing for a brief “taper” period, of course).

So, if you follow this paradigm, in the 4-5 week block noted above, you would be completing your most specific marathon workouts (long tempos, long runs, workouts within 10% of goal marathon pace). There is very little connection between some fast repeat 400m’s on the track and racing 26.2mls, so why include that as part of your specific training?

The below sample weeks serve as a model for two hypothetical runners as they enter the final month of marathon training. Note the difference in ability level and experience, and how that affects the overall pattern of their training.

Runner 1:

First or Second Year Runner, Limited Background in Formal Training

Time Goal– 4hrs

Sun- Long Run (18mls; longest run ever)
Mon- Rest
Tues- 45min XT
Wed- Easy 50min Run, Strides
Thurs- WU, Tempo Run (8mls @ Goal Marathon Pace), WD
Fri- Rest
Sat- Easy 50min Run

Runner 2:

Highly Competitive Runner, Extensive Background in Formal Training

Time Goal– 2:40

Sun- WU, 14mls @ Goal Marathon Pace, WD
Mon- Very Easy 30min
Tues- Easy 70min
Wed- Mod 60min, Short Hill Sprints
Thurs- WU, 6x 2K @ Half-Marathon Pace w/ 400m Recovery Jogs, WD
Fri- Very Easy 40min
Sat- Easy 70min, Strides

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