There’s a lot of talk about marathon tapering at the moment. If you’ve been gradually building up your miles for a Spring Marathon, like the Virgin London Marathon, Congratulations you’re almost there! But when it comes to the final 3 weeks before race day, nerves begin to set in and we all fret about what to do leading up to the BIG DAY. So, trying to keep it simple and not give you anything else to worry about, here are some Top Tips for a successful marathon taper.
1. What does Tapering for a Marathon mean? Usually three weeks before a marathon, runners begin to cut significant distance from their training. It is a time to make sure you get adequate rest, prepare psychologically and allow your body to heal from the intensity of training that has been building up over weeks and months.
2. Why do we need to Taper? You need to have your body in tip top condition for Marathon day, so it’s important to give yourself some time for a little TLC beforehand. Why? Well, what you can’t see is that as a result of all your splendid efforts in training, your muscles have developed tiny micro-tears that need time to heal. Your body also needs adequate time to restock those all-important glycogen stores that you will need to reach your marathon Finish Line.. without crumpling in a heap somewhere between miles 14 and 20, having hit the dreaded Wall! Whilst you’ve been building up your strength, cardio-fitness and stamina during all those training runs, you may have picked up an injury, a niggle here and there, so your taper is a perfect time to sort everything out & get race-ready.
Ask yourself this: Do you want to race on the day and achieve the best result you can? or.. Are you just going for another long slow run?
If you’re going to do the latter & not bother with a taper, best of luck to you & hope it all goes well. If you want to achieve the former then read on for more information on how to get the best out of your marathon taper.
3. Will my Taper ruin my fitness levels? Not if it’s done properly. Starting your Taper approximately 3 weeks before your marathon will allow you plenty of time to decrease the mileage whilst retaining the intensity of training. In other words, run shorter distances but still put in the same effort – it doesn’t mean just relying on slow jogging for a few miles.
4. How long should you Taper for a marathon? Three weeks is the average time to taper for a marathon. Some people are able to taper for less time but generally taking 3 weeks is recommended. Your Taper starts the day after your longest run .. which tends to be around 20+ miles.
5. Why does Tapering work? Your training to date has prepared your body for the marathon and has taught it how to efficiently burn fat and carbohydrate for energy, whilst holding onto glycogen stores for longer. If you are sensible during your taper, you will be able to replenish your body’s nutritional requirements to optimum levels. This allows you to start your marathon on the day feeling fresh and rejuvenated. Give muscles time to repair, get plenty of rest before your race and you’ll stand on the start line with the opportunity to run in peak physical and mental condition.
6. What will a successful Taper achieve?
- A better finish time
- More enjoyment on marathon day
- It will help to lessen the potential for injuries on the day
- Your taper can help you to avoid hitting the Wall
- Rest will help to strengthen your immune system
- A reduction of the production and build up of lactic acid
I have summarised an excellent article by Bob Cooper on RunnersWorld.com which you can read in full here. However, the major points are covered below:
3 Weeks to Go: Your first week of your taper should start the day after you finish your last long run. This last run is usually about 20+ miles or so – some stick at 20, some do a little more..it’s personal preference really.
2 Weeks to Go: Mileage this week drops to about half to two-thirds of your highest mileage week. Weekday short runs should only be about 4 miles with your longest being 6-10 miles. Your weekend long run (1 week before the race) should be about 8-10 miles. You can now afford to drop the intensity of your pace, reducing it to 1 1/2 to 2 minutes slower than your marathon goal pace. However, keep one of your runs at marathon pace to keep you mentally focused on what will be required. Try to address your mental approach to the marathon. Set goals such as ‘Not Walking’, ‘Finishing Strong’, ‘I will enjoy myself’. Preparing for 3 finish times can help reduce the pressure many runners feel when asked the dreaded question “So what time are you aiming to finish in?” What time would you consider to be ‘Fantastic’, ‘Really Good’ or ‘I can be happy with that’? Don’t forget to keep the calories up during this week of training. Just because you’re running fewer miles doesn’t mean you can cut back on food. Continue to ensure you have a plentiful supply of healthy carbs and protein to repair and rejuvenate your muscles.