Top Tips For A Successful Marathon Taper

March 30, 2012

Information, Training

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.

Initially your taper will have just a slight decrease in mileage heading toward a more steady decline as you progress towards the end of your taper.  Keep the intensity the same throughout the week but just start to gently reduce the amount of miles you run.  This is still training though and it will all count towards the BIG DAY. Suggestion: decrease total weekly mileage by 20 per cent this week. You’ll still need mid-week runs, one being of about 8-10 miles.  Your weekend long run should be around 12-14 miles. Avoid running particularly hilly areas if you can and don’t attempt hill repetitions or speed workouts.  This will only lead to fatigue and further muscle damage .. the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. Try to get plenty of sleep and add more protein to your diet to help repair those muscles.

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.
1 Week to Go: So, your final week before your marathon and you really shouldn’t be running any further than 4 miles on any given day.  Training this week is just to keep things ticking over; nothing you do to try to boost your efforts at this stage will make much difference.  It’s time to really relax, breathe deep and enjoy the scenery!  Any running that you do this week should be easy and slow. For example: 4 miles Monday, 2 miles Tuesday and a couple of 1 milers. Try to eat more carbohydrates during the final days before the marathon.  Cramming them in the day before probably is less effective than gradually building up and ensuring you have carb rich foods over the 3 days preceding the marathon.  During your taper focus on eating a mix of healthy proteins and carbohydrates (including pasta, potatoes, rice, cereals and fruit).  Don’t forget your hydration levels before the marathon must not be neglected.  You need to maintain good hydration levels but, remember, alcohol won’t count towards fluid intake as it has a diuretic effect.
If you’re unsure of anything pre-Marathon, it’s always a good idea to ask for help and advice.  Help is available at your local running club, your GP and the numerous forums on Runners World are packed full of information & encouragement.
You can also Like Just One More Mile on Facebook and get involved in the discussions there or leave a question for some of the experienced runners who are only too happy to help.
Whatever you do, be sensible and, with a little taper planning, your final weeks of marathon preparation will go smoothly. Taper well and give yourself the best chance of a great marathon experience all the way to the Finish Line.
, , , , ,

3 Responses to “Top Tips For A Successful Marathon Taper”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Thanks Joanna,
    There’s a lot of conflicting information out there and this article makes it nice and simple. Just what I needed!
    Andrew

    Reply

  2. Jayne Says:

    What would you recommend for tapering before a half-marathon?

    Reply

Leave a Reply