Peak week training – how I train in the weeks leading to the marathon

peak week training

I’m nearly there. I can almost smell that 2-week freedom called taper. I have just over a month left before my first marathon and peak week training is the last wall I have to climb over before the race. Kind of like a rite of passage to test if I am ready.

It actually is one. Peaking adds a lot of pressure both physically and mentally. It really tests the motivation behind.

Over the past weeks I’ve been adding distance to my long runs and working on increasing the weekly mileage. Now in upcoming weeks I plan to add a my own sauce of intensity and speed to that.

Peak week training

Peaking is actually more relevant for shorter distances. The whole purpose is to gain the best possible form before the race. 

Still, even for a marathon it’s good to work on speed to improve economy. The most important thing is to keep it short and limited.

It is during this period more short and high intensity sessions are added to squeeze out that last bit of speed. Like a final shoe polish before the big party.

The idea behind peak week training is the same as with the rest of the training plan. It’s about adding fatigue to the body and supercompensating during the taper. 

The reason it’s peak period is that it’s the last block of training. The intensity is the highest because the body can sustain it.

It has to always be gradual – peaking is actually a period of 3-4 weeks with increasing intensity week-on-week. This period starts only after complete recovery, otherwise it’ll just add more fatigue and risk to over train or get injured.

Peaking without complete recovery before and after is useless. The whole purpose is to stimulate the adaptation in the body and not wear the body down.

Peak week training includes workouts with short intervals at close to maximum speed. Intervals are short for a reason – to prevent muscle fatigue. 

The lifespan of mitochondria is short. Therefore, workouts at maximum speed to improve endurance are included only in the end of the program.

Since peak week training is so intense, it requires caution. High intensity sessions tax body’s reserves. Natural defense system is weak, because white blood cells deal with cortisol and don’t fight infections. It can get so bad that some athletes won’t even shake others’ hands to stay safe.

Recovery between workouts and proper nutrition are critical at this time.

My peak week training schedule

It’s going well so far.

I’ve increased my mileage to 70km/week over the past couple of weeks (which is twice the usual for me). My legs seem to be able to recover before the next session, so I’m not accumulating fatigue. Good sign.

I finally did a 30K long run this week and tested some of the gels I will use during the marathon. The plan I have is to take a gel (around 30 grams of carbs) every 40 minutes or so. For an easy long run it went well and I went surprisingly fast.

Even a 30min interval at marathon pace towards the end of the run didn’t feel that hard at all.

I will have another 30K run next weekend, but will cut the distance in the peak week. I don’t think a very long run 3 weeks out is a good idea.

I’ve substituted 1K interval sessions at 70-80% with 400 meters at 90% this week and plan to even go to 200 in the last week. These fast sessions I do with very long rest (about 5 minutes) to avoid accumulating fatigue.

My peak week training will happen 2 weeks from now and will not differ much from what I’m doing now.

It seems intense, but I believe I will be able to sustain it.

My marathon training progress

I find this blog very good at keeping me focused on the goal and analyze the process. It helps me put things into perspective and understand what am I missing along the way.

For instance, I always look at my training program and evaluate fatigue to judge what works best and how I respond to training. It improves the quality of future planning and I am able to adjust upcoming weeks’ schedule to add more recovery if needed.

I also base my decision to substitute running for cross-training on this kind of analysis.

Throughout my marathon training the focus was always on 3 key sessions and as much recovery for my lower body as possible. These were long runs, steady runs at marathon pace and interval runs. Every workout had a specific purpose. However, together they improved my cruising speed and strengthened my legs to prepare me for what’s to come.

I drafted this plan myself based on my experience in other sports and it worked out pretty well. The only concern I have at the moment is how to pace myself during the race. I know I can finish, but what speed or effort should I run at I’m not sure. 

During half marathon last year I already had issues with pacing. Almost all the distance I ran several beats below my lactate threshold, but towards the end there were a couple of fast moments that threw me off track. 

Obviously, marathon is much longer and I will have to run slower. I just don’t want to run too slow to regret it at the end.

I guess I’ll stick to common sense – conversational pace at first and adjust as I go. It’s my first time after all – I should enjoy the experience.

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