What you Should Know About Tapering for a Marathon
You’ve put in the miles, workouts, and scheduled your social life around your weekend long run. With just a few weeks left before your race, you only have the taper left to go. Tapering for a marathon (or any race) is the period of reduced intensity and miles leading up to race day. In theory, this is supposed to improve your race by running on rested legs.
But does it?
I struggle during the tapering phase of my training. After months of high intensity, I feel off running only a fraction of the miles in previous weeks. It feels like all that hard work is being wasted in the final weeks of lower intensity, but in reality, the taper is one of the most important parts of the training cycle. Here’s why:
The Benefits of Tapering
It’s necessary to rest your legs for race day. All the stress and fatigue placed on your body and muscles during the intensity of training are reduced during the taper, giving you fresher legs. The journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise published a review of 50 studies awhile back and found that,
levels of muscle glycogen, enzymes, antioxidants, and hormones–all depleted by high mileage–return to optimal ranges during a taper. The muscle damage that occurs during sustained training is also repaired.
This is great news because the physiological benefits you’ve gained during training don’t go away (assuming you stick to an appropriately intense tapering plan). Anytime you run, you’re placing stress on all aspects of your body. You do this, knowingly, and now you need to be smart about rest to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself.
How to Taper for a Marathon
There are many philosophies on tapering, and they vary depending on race distance. When tapering for a marathon, most training plans suggest beginning the taper three weeks out from the race and reducing your mileage by 80%, 60% and 40% of your peak (respectively) in the final three weeks. While you want to reduce total miles, try not to eliminate your workouts. You can still gain speed in those weeks.
Another element of the taper that some people don’t consider is nutrition. Since you’re used to eating a lot, it’s ok to lay off that extra bowl of cereal before bed. Believe it or not, you may gain a few unwanted pounds if you don’t taper your eating habits as well as your running. Eat smart, stay hydrated and keep healthy.
Resist the Urge to Run Fast
A common mistake during the taper is running faster than you normally would on easy runs. You should be feeling a little more pep in your rested legs those final weeks, but now isn’t the time to set a new 5k PR. Except for your workouts, keep everything easy. Relax, and remember your hard work will pay off if you leave that extra energy in your legs for race day.
Keep your Routine
Another important thing to remember while tapering is to stick to your normal routine as much as possible. If you’re used to running 6 days a week, stick close to that, but drop your daily distance. If you run in the morning, keep waking up early. I recently had to switch to running in the afternoon for about a week and it totally threw me off. Your body craves consistency, so give it what it wants.