Runners train long and hard to prepare for a marathon, but in the weeks before a race they start making changes to their schedule. Training hard up to the day of a marathon will leave you weak and tired going into the race so most runners begin tapering down their training approximately two weeks before race day. This involves not just reducing training time but may include dietary changes and other schedule alterations as well.
Decrease both the distance and intensity of your training runs in the two weeks before your marathon. A reduction of about 20 percent per week gives your body time to rest and heal without you having to stop your training completely. Strength training and cross training exercises should be reduced in intensity as well as interval training, hill training and other training runs. Reduction is preferable to simply stopping training since it prevents your body from becoming used to inactivity prior to a marathon.
As with strength training and other training regimens, the distance of your long runs is tapered down to allow your body to rest and recover leading up to the marathon race. Tapering of the long run should include a 10 to 20 percent reduction in distance both two weeks and one week before the marathon. You should eliminate a long run entirely on the week of the race, allowing the marathon itself to serve as your long run for the week.
Proper nutrition is essential in the two weeks leading up to a marathon but doesn't have to include carb loading the whole time. Carbohydrates should be eaten within the first 30 minutes after completing a training run, and in the three days before your marathon you should shift your diet so that you get approximately 70 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrates. Research published in "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise" shows that exercise followed by carbohydrate intake can significantly increase glycogen levels in the muscles within 24 hours, resulting in more energy being available to you the next day. Be sure to watch your caloric intake when shifting to a high-carbohydrate diet in the days before your marathon, however; if your caloric intake increases during your tapering period you may end up gaining weight.
To be at your best on race day it's important that you get sufficient rest during your tapering period. This is especially important in the week before your marathon as rest helps your body to recover from the stress that your ongoing training places on it. Getting sufficient sleep the night before a marathon is also vital to your performance as it ensures that you aren't tired or fatigued at the beginning of the race.
After completing your marathon it's important that you don't try to resume your pre-marathon training levels right away. Marathons are hard on the body so you should take at least one week to recover after your event. Rehydrate your body with water and sports drinks that contain electrolytes as well which replenish essential salts you lost during the race. Abstain from exercise for at least two or three days after your marathon, then begin resuming your exercise routine with light exercise for several days after that. Don't resume your full training routine until all muscle soreness and fatigue have faded, increasing distances and intensity gradually over one to two weeks so that you don't push yourself too hard to get back into training.