This post was last updated on February 16, 2017

Whether you’re training for your first marathon or just want to pick up a new, studied approach to training for a big race, there’s always room to improve your training regimen. In our Marathon Training 101 post we covered the first two of seven phases of training: off-season building and endurance. Now that we’re into March, you may have moved into the next phase of your training. In this post we’ll cover phases 3, 4, and 5: strength and speed, race preparation, and taper.

3. Strength/Speed Phase

The third phase, taking place in February and March for people running the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon, is about building aerobic capacity. In this phase you should put a focus on cross-training and strength training. In order to build strength, consider adding hill workouts where you do a 45 to 75 minute easy run, incorporating uphill segments at a faster pace.

To increase your speed, begin to add tempo and fartlek runs into your training schedule. A fartlek run is a 45 to 75 minute easy run with fast segments intermixed. Similarly, a tempo run is a fast-paced workout where you increase your speed to run faster than your goal race pace. We suggest doing a 45 to 90 minute easy run and intermixing 15 to 45 minutes of tempo running.

4. Race Preparation Phase

Towards the end of March and moving into April you will be moving into the fourth phase of marathon training. The focus during this phase is to meet your goal pace. To do this you should run a portion of your runs at goal pace. For example, marathon runners should run eight to 14 miles of their long runs at their goal pace.

Marathon runners can also incorporate a tune-up race into their training schedule. Tune-up races are races you enter for the purpose of having fun with your long run and practicing your race day routine. Full marathon runners should plan to incorporate a half marathon tune-up race and aim to run the first 10 miles at their goal pace and then speed-up for the final 3.1 miles.

5. Taper Phase

The taper phase of your training is one of the most important phases as you approach race day. During this phase you’ll begin to reduce your weekly mileage and distance of long runs. Starting three weeks out reduce weekly mileage by about 25 percent from the highest mileage you’ve ran. At two weeks reduce mileage by 40 percent, and finally on the week of the race reduce mileage by 60 percent.

While you should reduce your mileage to allow your body to be rested for race day it is important to maintain intensity during these runs. During your final week incorporate dress rehearsal runs where you do a 15 minute warm-up, followed by a 20 minute run at your goal race day pace, and finish with a 15 minute cool down run.

Also remember that no workout during your final week of training will improve your race day preparedness. Listen to your body and structure your runs based on how you’re feeling.

While continuing to train for the May 6 Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon, remember there are other aspects of training to focus on, including:

The marathon experts at UPMC Sports Medicine are available to answer questions you may have during training. To ask a question of our experts, call 1-855-93-SPORT (77678) to set up an appointment.

Never Miss a Beat!

Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!

Message and data rates may apply. Text STOP to opt out and HELP for help. Go to for privacy and terms.