For a lot of people who are currently training for a marathon, now is the time that the taper is happening. You’ve done the big scary miles and you’ve just got to survive until the big day.
Tapering is basically when you cut back your total weekly mileage by 20-25% approximately three weeks out from race day (e.g. if you are running 40 miles, you’ll drop to 30-32 miles). Then two weeks out from race day you drop down another 20-25% (24ish miles). Then when you hit the week of the race you’re just ticking over on a lot lower mileage to keep your body fresh for the big day.
You usually start tapering just after you’ve done your last big run, and usually the longest run you’ll do in the entire training. For a lot of people this might be anywhere between 18-24 miles. Then the following weeks your long run will drop down, probably not going over 16 miles.
For me, my last long run was 18.6 miles (I didn’t go over this as I didn’t fancy running 20 miles or above as I know how injury prone I am). Then the week after my next long run was 16 miles (last weekend), then 13 miles and then race day. I’ve tried this previously and it’s worked well. Some people like to drop down to 10 or even eight miles the week before and this is fine, whatever works for you! The intention is that you’re just maintaining everything you’ve worked hard for and letting your body freshen up ready for the race.
“During the taper, it is most important to remember this: physiological adaptations to training take a minimum of six weeks. Therefore, training hard during the final two to three weeks before your marathon is not going to improve your performance.” Runner’s World [Source]
Tapering sounds positively delightful when you’re in the thick of your heavy mileage and tiredness. But when you actually get there it can be a bit of a shock. You suddenly seem to feel rubbish. Niggles start cropping up – does my knee twinge? Why does my hamstring feel tight? And you feel so tired. Normal runs during the week can feel hard-work. I find myself struggling to run six miles and wondering how the hell I’m going to go 20 miles further.
This is NORMAL. Your body has just been put through a rather intense amount of running and training for the past few months. It’s suddenly taking a breath and adjusting to everything it’s gone through. This does not mean you’ve suddenly lost everything. This taper madness happens to most of us!
Don’t be tempted to squeeze in some more miles because your weekly mileage suddenly looks a lot less. And don’t try and whack up the intensity to compensate for the less miles. Keep things exactly the same intensity-wise but just reduce the number of miles you’re running. Keep doing the intervals, hill training and speed sessions; just shorten them.
And whatever you do, don’t try and make up for any lost training runs you might have missed previously. There’s not much you can do about it now. It is FAR better to turn up to a marathon undertrained than over-trained, or worse, injured. Give your body the benefit of the doubt – if you’ve managed to do most of your training without a huge number of weeks of no-running you should be fine.
On race day you’ll be pumped up, adrenaline-fuelled and ready to go. You don’t want to shuffle up to the start-line tired and over-worked. Ideally you’ll feel fresh and full of pent-up energy due to your lower mileage. The marathon is the victory lap – you’ve done the hard work.
Food-wise, just keep everything the same. If you want to carb load and have some experience with it before previous races, then go for it. But if you’ve never done it before don’t start loading up on pasta for every single meal leading up to the race. You don’t want to feel bloated or cause digestion issues. You honestly don’t need to pack your body silly with carbs. Normal balanced meals are perfectly fine. Your body usually has enough glycogen in the muscles to get you through, so just make sure you eat sensibly leading up the race. Do nothing different to what you’ve done before. The night before the race have a good-sized meal that you’ve tried and tested.
And remember, DO NOT panic. You’ve done the hard part. The mind is a very powerful thing. Even if your training hasn’t been exactly what you hoped, mental determination can do absolute wonders. My first two marathon trainings were plagued with injury, but I still got through with the help of sheer determination and belief that I could do it. There will always be other people who have had worse training than you and will still finish. You CAN do this.
Have you ever suffered from taper madness?
When do you do your longest marathon training run?
Do you carb load for races? I tend to stick to normal meals all week and then have a shop-bought pizza the night before if I can