The spring marathon season is upon us, the last few weeks and months of training are starting to come to a crescendo before the big day.
I’ve spoken to a few runners in the past couple of day about their marathon training; how they are starting to feel the build up of the runs and miles in their legs and are looking forward to tapering down before race day.
The taper for a marathon is a fine balance of adequate recovery and maintaining fitness so its important to get it right so all that training pays off after 26.2miles!
Here are a few of my key tapering principles:
1) Gradually reduce weekly mileage
Over the final few weeks you’ll want to reduce the mileage you are running so that your legs are feeling fresh by the time of the marathon. Generally you want to reduce your volume down to 80% of peak mileage 3 weeks out, 60% 2 weeks out and come down to around 40% in the final week.
Don’t worry about losing fitness during this time: It takes a few weeks for effect of training to begin to wear off and the decrease in volume allows your body more time to recover from the hard training that’s been put in.
Try to reduce the mileage across your training week. So if your midweek run has been around 8 miles, drop the distance down to around 6 miles 3 weeks out, then 4 miles and 3 miles in the subsequent weeks. The same applies for your longer run too.
- 1st week of your taper: 12-16 miles
- 2nd week of your taper: 8-12 miles
- 3rd week of your taper: Marathon!
“You can taper too much” Jack Daniels
2) Keep the weekly routine
It can be tempting to start dropping running days as you start to taper but its best to keep the routine going and avoiding feeling sluggish because of the change in activity. If you have been running 5 days a week regularly in your training build up then keep to that.
You’ll also want to maintain some intensity in your training. That doesn’t mean blasting some fast intervals but something more specific to the marathon. Trying to hit some fast laps round a track will more likely hinder rather than help, especially if you haven’t been doing any fast paced running as the new challenge to the body will actually fatigue your muscles more.
Running some miles at marathon pace is a great way to practice some more time at your goal pace without leaving you drained. Your session with 3 weeks to go could be 40 mins at marathon pace while 2 x 15 mins at marathon pace with 3 min recovery is a great option 2 weeks out. Early in the final week its good to try a short run at marathon pace. This could be 10 mins at marathon pace or split into 6 x 2 min at marathon pace with 1 min easy jogging between.
3) Don’t panic. Keep the faith
The taper can be hard going mentally. Those long runs and tempo runs take more than a few days to recover so don’t expect to magically have fresh legs after a couple easy days. It’s also important not to be tempted into catching up missing mileage or sessions as its likely to lead to additional fatigue or worse, injury.
Have trust in the training you have done, reflect on what has gone well and the times when you have stuck at it when its become difficult:
- All those runs in the dark after a busy day at work
- The days when you had to change your plans or miss out on something else so you could get your run in.
Keeping those positive thoughts in your head on race day over the final few miles can really make a difference.
Looking after yourself is really important too: a relaxed body and mind will perform much better than a stressed and tired one. Keep stretching and foam rolling to avoid tight muscles and even consider a massage so your body is in top condition for the race. It goes without saying that getting good quality nutrition, maintaining hydrated and ensuring you get an adequate amount of sleep are all essential too. Doing something that takes your mind off the marathon is a great idea; spending some time with friends and family can help ease the mind as well as paying a little bit back to them for all their support over the long weeks of training.
How do you find tapering for a marathon? What are the best bits about the taper? What are the worst?