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Posted January 10, 2023 by Laurie Regallis, AT
If you’ve been around veteran runners, you may have heard them mention that they are “tapering” before a big race. What is this taper that they talk about? The taper is a very important part of any marathon training program. Usually started three weeks before race day, the taper consists of cutting back on your mileage to allow your body time to rest, recover and prepare for race day. When done properly, the taper has proved to significantly boost performance, increase glycogen stores and repair damage from training. When done correctly, tapering can boost race performance by as much as 3 percent, which is a personal record (PR) for some runners. Here are some general guidelines for the pre-marathon tapering period:
Three Weeks Before Marathon Day
Begin tapering three weeks before your marathon. At this time, the last long run of your training plan is to occur and should be treated as a “rehearsal” for race day. During this run, your outfit, shoes, hydration and nutrition should all match exactly what you plan on doing for race day. Once this long run in completed, mileage should be reduced by approximately 80 percent of what you were doing that week.
Two Weeks Before Marathon Day
Mileage should be cut even more – to about 50-75% of what you have been doing in your training. The temptation to run longer or faster will definitely be there since your body and mind are accustomed to that, but resist the urge and allow your body time to recover. During the taper process, sleep is very important to allow your body to heal and store up carbohydrates for race day. Aiming for around 8 hours of sleep every night is key.
One Week Before Marathon Day
Mileage should be further cut to about 1/3 of normal. Your pace should be kept “normal” – a little less than race pace, but not too slow so you don’t alter your stride. Nutrition during this week is the focus, as a diet rich in complex carbohydrates is crucial. This means whole-grain breads, pasta and cereals are all fair game, along with adequate amount of fluids. Alcoholic beverages should be avoided as they have a dehydrating effect and can interfere with your sleep pattern. Allow yourself recovery days! This is marathon week and you need to reward yourself. Taking one or two days off from running will not hinder your performance.
If you have been strength training along with following a running program, avoid strength training the week before your marathon. This will allow proper time for your muscles to recover.
The taper can be a very relaxing or stressful time for runners. This is the chance for them to rest and recover; however, the sudden cut in mileage makes them feel like they are hindering their performance. If you are a family member or friend of runners who are tapering, support them by helping them stay stress free and keep their mind clear. Race day is stressful enough.
The marathon is an amazing race! It will humble you, but it will also be your most rewarding experience. Enjoy every minute of it. You have put in the work and it will all pay off in the end!