Tapering Before Your Race

 

Research has shown that many marathoners start their race overtired. (This applies to half marathoners, too). For the past several months, you have been building up your miles to prepare for your goal race. Now it is time to gradually scale back a bit on the mileage and allow your body to rest/recover and get ready for racing. Tapering is the final phase of training before the main event and it is important to maximize performance. Any training effect you get from hard activity during the last 10 days before the race will be minimal.

 

The key to tapering is gradually reducing the volume of all workouts, including pace work, prior to the race. The last extra-long run should be done three weeks before the marathon. Midweek mileage should be reduced the last two weeks before the race. Mileage is first reduced to about 75 percent of current mileage and then reduced to about 50 percent the week prior to the race. However, you should not quit running totally. The amount of rest needed depends on the amount of mileage you are running. First time marathoners and those running lower mileage generally take longer to recover and need more rest than runners who are able to handle more miles. A small amount of pace work during the week before the race will keep you sharp and reinforces muscle memory for your goal race pace. As the miles go down, your body will start recovering from the past months of long runs and workouts.  

 

 The purpose of tapering is to:

  • Help you rebuild depleted nutrient stores (glycogen). In order for stores to be replenished, you need to reduce the amount of work you are doing. Carbohydrate loading is an important part of tapering, especially during the last week before the marathon. It takes about two to three days of lowered activity to rebuild your glycogen.
  • Rest your muscles so minor damage to muscles and connective tissue can be repaired by the body. This can take a minimum of five days.
  • Provide time to rest mentally for your race effort and to prepare yourself for the “what ifs” that can take place race day.

 

For some the tapering phase is harder than the training itself. When you’ve achieved a level of fitness where you’re no longer worried about your ability to complete the long runs and high weekly mileage, the thought of less training and losing fitness during the taper is scary.

More importantly, the taper phase is also the time when runners can make the most costly mistakes. Whether it is too little running, not reducing mileage or adding new speed workouts, it’s easy to ruin months of training during the final two to three weeks. The reason for the taper is to give your body time to recover from a long season of training so that you can be well rested and have fresh legs for your race. 

 

Continue to eat healthy foods and hydrate. This is NOT the time to try something new. Making drastic changes to your diet can really mess up your digestive system on race day. Hopefully you have been consistent with the foods you ate prior to long runs; stick with the plan and don't add anything out of the ordinary. This is not the time to do anything crazy; this is not the time to be an “overachiever”. Spend your time getting both physically and mentally prepared for the race by resting and visualizing your race.