When it comes to tapering many runners are wary about reducing their weekly mileage in fear that their overall fitness will decrease. However, research has shown that tapering is a vital part of any marathon training program and is intended to allow the body to fully recover in preparation for race day and maintain or improve fitness levels.
If you decide to forgo the taper and train hard up to the day before the race you could be looking at troubles with race day performance and recovery after the race.
Benefits of Tapering
Aerobic capacity does not change during a taper, meaning you won’t lose your fitness during your taper weeks.
Levels of muscle glycogen, enzymes, antioxidants, and hormones (all depleted by high mileage) return to optimal ranges during a taper.
Muscle damage that occurred during sustained training is repaired.
Improved immune function and muscle strength.
The average performance improvement has been found to be 3 percent. 3 percent for a marathoner is about 5 to 10 minutes improvement.
How To Taper
Just like the rest of your training program, the length of a taper is going to be individual to you and can vary anywhere from 14-21 days. Most marathon programs follow a three week taper model. Meaning, you’ll be running less and recovering more in the 21 days leading up to your marathon. Here’s what to keep in mind as you go through your taper:
Tapering is gradual, especially in the first week, because the training still counts and a large drop in volume isn’t necessary yet.
Follow your regular weekly running pattern and be sure to reduce or remove strength training and cross training.
Your last demanding long run (~20 miles) should be 2-3 weeks out from your marathon.
Weekly volume suggestions:
60% of average volume for two weeks prior to race.
30% of average volume the week of the race.
Example: 30 miles two weeks out (long run of no more than 120 minutes) and 15 miles the week of the race (long run of 60-75 minutes).
Your last demanding effort (“speed”) workout can be 5-10 days before the races.
Marathon Taper Tips
Don’t do any fast running.
Eat well and hydrate well.
Avoid excess: alcohol, caffeine, fatty foods, high sugar foods, highly processed foods, etc.
Get plenty of sleep.
Use motivational tools: books, movies, podcasts, etc.
Prepare race plans: outfit and extra layers, shoes, socks, anti-chafe salve, headlamp, fuel, race strategies, etc.
Tapering is a vital part of training that helps you optimally prepare for race day. Skipping taper weeks and training hard right up to your race can increase your risk for injury as well as decreased athletic performance.
If you have questions about tapering, race day strategies, or anything else training related please reach out using the contact form at the bottom of our website.