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Marathon Training - The Fear of the Taper

Updated: Nov 17, 2021



What is Tapering?

Many runners who are experiencing training for a marathon or half marathon for the first time, reach the tapering stage and have mixed feelings. If you've been following a set training plan successfully, you will no doubt be feeling strong and rather pleased with the mileage that you've clocked up. It is quite common at this stage to fear not lacing up the trainers for another long run each week, but it is crucial that you continue to follow the plan as strictly as you have been in training all along. The taper is a critical component of the plan to ensure you are rested and recovered and in top form for race day.

Tapering is when you reduce your training volume in order to optimally prepare your body for an event. Generally 2-4 weeks is needed to give your body time to recover from training and to store energy for the race itself. It’s time for your body to recover and repair itself from the intense training you’ve been going through in order to complete your marathon.

When you train hard you improve your ability to access the fuel you need to run and the ability to recover afterwards. As you reduce your training you take away the need to have a high level of fuel in your body, and the idea is that your body will then store that fuel.

How long should my taper be for a marathon?

Research suggests that three weeks is ideal for marathon tapering. In that time your muscles are repairing all the tiny amounts of damage that are done each time you go for a run and your glycogen stores in your muscles are being refilled to their maximum. If you don’t taper for the race it’s like starting with half a tank of petrol.

Does that I mean I stop running completely?

No. The idea of a taper is to reduce the long runs that have a huge energy demand on your body. The best thing to do is maintain the shorter, higher intense sessions of speed and power. The quantity of theses sessions should also be reduced gradually, without compromising the quality of your sessions.

What do I do week to week with my three-week taper?

Your longest training run should be the week before your three week taper. Your next long run in the first of your three taper should be at 80% of your last long run. So for example, if your last long run was 20 miles, then your long run in the first week of your three week taper should be 16 miles. The second week you should be running at 60% of your longest run (12 miles) and the last run a third of your longest run (6 miles). In your second week of taper, you want to cut down the number of your training sessions, but maintain the quality.

What do I do in the last week of taper, just before the race?

Less than you’d like. There’s nothing you can do in that last week that will improve your marathon race. If you’re feeling a little sluggish because you’ve gotten so used to running on a regular basis, then you’ll find a couple of light, short runs will help this feeling. Definitely avoid doing anything you’ve not done before that may jeopardise your race. You often see advice to go swimming or cycling which has less impact on your joints during your taper period, but you don’t want to do a half an hour swim if you never normally swim because that will be a quite a stress to your body if you don’t normally do it.

So you’re all fit to go!

Don’t forget to fuel your body appropriately during your taper and drink plenty of water to maintain high hydration levels for the marathon itself, as dehydration can lead to poor performance.

Lastly, don’t forget to book yourself in for a pre-race sports massage around a week before the event to omit the last remaining waste products in your muscles and stimulate the last little bit of healing that your body is going though in order to repair your muscles.

Best of luck!

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