Tapering for a marathon
Easing off as race day approaches
Performing well on marathon day isn't just about getting the miles under your belt – it's also about getting fully rested and recovered. Marathon running takes a lot out of the body and that is why it is important to wind down your running program as you head towards race day. Here's our guide on easing up your training, in what is known as tapering.
What is a taper?
The decrease in training volume leading up to a big event is called the taper. For marathon runners, three weeks is considered the optimum amount of time between the final long run and the race itself. If you haven't been training consistently, or started late, this could be shortened to a two-week taper, purely because you haven't got as many miles to recover from.
When should I ease off and taper the running?
After than final long run, the overall amount of training declines steadily. The length and intensity of all the sessions are reduced – but it’s the long runs that are most significantly slashed. Two weeks out from race day, your ‘long run’ should be just half the time/distance you achieved on your longest session. The week after, it’s cut in half again (so your 'long' run may actually be four to six miles). Do not worry about ‘losing’ your fitness during the taper – bear in mind that it took many weeks, or even months for those physiological adaptations to take place – they aren’t going to disappear overnight.
Research shows that reducing your training volume to a third of your highest level still allows you to maintain your cardiovascular fitness for around eight weeks, so don’t worry about a mere three weeks causing a decline in your potential.
Tapering can make you feel lethargic
It is not unusual to feel suddenly lethargic and heavy during the taper. This is partly because your glycogen stores are full (since you aren't continually depleting them with training), and each gram of glycogen is stored along with three grams of water. Your body also becomes accustomed to a large volume of activity, and taking this out of the equation can leave you feeling as if you could barely run a mile, let alone a marathon.
However, don’t see this as a signal to go out for a grueling training run – simply ensure you aren't overeating, that you are well hydrated and try some 'strides' (warm up, then run about 50 metres, gradually accelerating to a nice swift pace as you go) to wake your legs up. The last two weeks of training include shorter runs and a few pacier sessions to keep you ticking over. Sticking to grass and softer surfaces will reduce impact and muscle damage, but be extra careful on uneven ground and get the right shoes.
Put your feet up before your marathon
Try to get plenty of rest during the final few days. Avoid spending more time than you have to on your feet, or doing tiring activities such as gardening or DIY. Even if you don't sleep well the night before, you will be fine as long as you are well rested in the lead-up to the event. In the last 24 hours, if you aren't traveling to the race start make the most of your advantage and relax. Get out some uplifting videos and relax in front of the TV with a big bottle of water, read an absorbing book or go for a gentle stroll in the fresh air. This is also the ideal time to do your final check of all your kit and race instructions and run through your race plan.
One final thought: no matter how well organised you are, no matter how meticulously you have prepared, you can’t control everything. Whether it’s a sudden change in weather, an ill-timed attack of runner’s trots or simply not feeling good on the day – you must be able and willing to ‘think on your feet’ and re-adjust your strategy where necessary. So by all means, soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the race experience but keep ‘checking in’ with yourself to ensure you continue to stay on track to reach the finish line with a smile on your face.