Tapering is defined as reducing the quantity and quality of training over a period of time prior to a race event. The goal is to improve running economy and allow for peak performance on race day.
How Does Tapering Work?
Your body is in rough shape three or four weeks prior to the marathon. All the miles and effort you put into preparation has left your body in a depleted and damaged state. The taper period allows for a full recovery while maintaining the benefits of prior training.
Studies show that glycogen, enzyme, antioxidant and hormone levels increase during taper. Your tired muscles have a chance to repair and become stronger. Tapering benefits your immune system to keep you healthy and see that you make it to the starting line.
The taper period is a time of preparation for the hard effort that awaits you. Focus on good nutrition, a sensible race strategy and choosing the right gear to get you to the finish line at your target pace.
What Does Tapering Look Like?
Just because you are tapering doesn’t mean you stop running. For my upcoming marathon, I am following a plan that calls for 45 miles, 33 miles and 17 miles for the three weeks prior to race day. Every plan is different, but almost all marathon training plans incorporate a three-week taper following a long run of about 20 miles.
The quality of training runs during the taper phase is noticeably different as well. You may have only a few speed or strength workouts during the last few weeks. Whereas, you most likely will have had more specific speed (intervals) and strength (hills) workouts each week leading up to the taper.
Racing During Taper
If you are like me, you like to race. What better time to race than when you’re marathon fit? If you are ready to run 26.2, you can easily recover from a 5K race a week or two before your marathon. It will give your legs a taste of speed, and more importantly, it will give you a chance to blow off some steam and satisfy your craving to run.
Anything longer than a 10K might be foolish. Every runner is different, but usually it takes longer to recover from a longer race effort. It would be a shame to make a mistake that could jeopardize your marathon performance after months of training. Choose wisely.
Nutritional Needs During Taper
Carbohydrates, proteins and hydration are the three big components to eating well before your marathon. You want your body to be full of fuel and energy. Try to eat less fats, avoid junk, and consume less alcohol. You’ll be burning fewer calories during the taper phase, so make each one count by eating healthy foods.
Am I Taper Crazy?
Many runners will feel a bit anxious during the taper phase, and with good reason. There is the nervousness and anxiety of the upcoming race for starters. Many runners will begin questioning their training plan, overall fitness or ability. This is normal. It means you are giving the race the respect that it deserves.
Many crazed runners abandon the taper plan entirely, because they are convinced their fitness level will plummet after months of hard training. Science says otherwise. Tapering is about letting your body rebuild and fortify itself for the stress you are about to unload upon it. Rest easy and race hard.