The Austin Marathon is less than three weeks away now, and prospective marathoners are thinking about how to handle final preparations.

In recent years, the value of the traditional three-to-four week "taper" has been questioned. Runners who cut back sharply on running and avoid fast workouts often find themselves getting sluggish and irritable.

Today the traditional pre-marathon taper has been replaced by the concept of "peaking" for the marathon.

Regardless of what you call it, setting yourself up to run well for a 26.2-mile race calls for reducing your mileage in the final couple of weeks. That means less running and more recovery. The trick is to rest up without losing any fitness or gaining weight.

So what is the best approach? Research suggests that simply cutting back on mileage and running more slowly does not deliver you to the starting line in peak shape. Rather, most coaches agree that you want to keep your focus on some quality work during the last three weeks.

Just don't go overboard.

That means don't try to squeeze in one more 20-miler or knock out a long marathon-pace run. Those workouts should be behind you. Instead, try shorter workouts like a tempo run of 25 to 35 minutes at 15 seconds per mile slower than a 10K pace. Or do mile repeats at faster than marathon pace.

A classic workout, typically done 10-12 days prior to the marathon, is repeat 800s. Do as many as 10 of them, at a pace slightly faster than your mile repeats and put a two-minute jog between each. Those workouts will keep you sharp and make marathon pace feel easier come race day.

As for the last couple of long runs before race day, certainly do them, but scale back. Instead of going 18-20 miles next weekend, do a relaxed 15. And over the weekend of Feb. 6-7, go an easy 12 for your long run.

Your overall mileage will be lower the last few weeks, but you should start to feel race-ready, rather than fatigued from all of the months of marathon training. There's always a temptation to cram in some extra miles, or notch a personal best on one of your training loops, but running like that would compromise your marathon.

Instead, stick to your pre-race plan by backing off some, and keeping your edge. You'll be glad you did when you hit mile 20 of the marathon and still feel strong.

"Peaking starts about two to three weeks out," said Jacob Frey, who won the Austin Marathon in 2008. "You've been putting in big mileage, and you've adapted to that. So when you drop down, you're rejuvenated.

"You'll start to feel fresher, and your body starts to come alive," Frey said. "You should still continue some high-intensity workouts. I'll usually do one last shorter and faster session two weeks out — it's usually maybe four to five miles at marathon pace — then I hit it hard, dropping to 10K pace for a couple of miles. That gives me more of a mental confidence boost than a physical one."