Marathon tapering is one of the most important parts of your training. Tapering allows the body time to recover from the gruelling hard work of Sunday long-runs and the everyday pounding of your feet on the pavement. It will also help you achieve (hopefully!) a personal best on your next 42km. 

Let’s face the facts — you have to be a little mental to find enjoyment in the pain and thrill of endurance sports. Luckily, we are all in this together. There’s nothing like the electrifying feeling of hitting that runner’s high on kilometre 29, or the sense of accomplishment when you’ve pushed past your steadfast wall of pain at kilometre 37 to reach the end. As endurance athletes, we’re used to pushing our bodies to their limits — that’s (relatively) easy for us. But once we’re told to back off — that’s when the anxiety begins. “Backing off” isn’t really in our vocabulary, so, many runners find the taper difficult to comprehend. The last three weeks before the big race is when most training plans suggest that you begin a taper, or, a steady decrease in mileage and intensity in order to give your body time to recover while still maintaining fitness. Here are some mistakes to avoid while on your marathon taper.

Marathon Tapering

1. Over Training

It might feel very bizarre to go from running 30km on the weekend to barely running for an hour on a long-run day. On the taper, runners commonly feel that they aren’t doing enough. They begin to worry that since they are decreasing distance and intensity, they will actively lose their fitness. This sometimes leads runners to over-train during their taper, by not lowering their mileage enough or maintaining marathon speed on every run. A taper is meant to help your muscles recover from the months of training. If you do not allow your body to rest, you’re putting a personal best at risk and there is a possibility that you will burn out before the race. It’s scary to back off — but it’s necessary!

2. Catching Up on Missed Training Too Late

Sometimes, life just gets in the way of training. Work has you coming in extra early and staying late, an injury has rendered you unable to run the distance required, your kid has a science project that he/she needs help on — it happens to everyone. But, when the dust settles, the injury is healed and your little girl or boy got an A on her project, you’ll feel the need to catch up on all the mileage and training that you have missed — instead of the 23km long run, you jump to 30km; instead of running at marathon pace, you go for a minute faster on each kilometre — two weeks before you actually have to run the marathon. This is a bad idea and will make you prone to injury. Your body will be fatigued prior to the race and you’ll end up feeling exhausted. Even if life gets in the way, stick to the training plan and don’t try to play catch-up.

3. Changing Footwear

You’ve been running 50 to 100 kilometres per week for months, so, your shoes are going to feel a bit worn out. Although it may be tempting to look at and grab all the shiny, new, cushiony shoes at your local sports shop, don’t. Breaking in new shoes the weeks before a race can give you blisters, sores, and tighten the muscles in your feet and legs, putting you at risk for injuries such as shin splints or stress fractures. Your old, tattered shoes have been with you through a lot these past few months, don’t leave them behind now.

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4. Altering Diet

You will be running less and less each week, so, naturally, you will think that since you’re not using as much energy, that you shouldn’t be consuming the same amount of food as normal. This notion is incorrect. Even though you are not running as much, your body still needs the same amount of calories as when you are at your highest weekly mileage. Now is not the time to cut down on food. Continue to eat normally because your body will need all the energy it can get as your taking on the marathon course!

5. Comparing Your Taper to Someone Else

Everybody is different, and every runner has found a training plan that works best for not only their body but their schedule and their everyday life. Comparing your marathon taper is a mind game and one that you do not want to play. You are reaching for your personal best on this race, not theirs. Stay focused and break down your own barriers.

Marathon Tapering

Here are some general tips on how to follow a three-week taper for your next marathon.

Week 1:

  • Decrease your weekly mileage by about 20-30%.
  • Enjoy some runs at your goal marathon pace, but most of your runs should now be at about 1-2 minutes slower than your goal pace per kilometre.
  • Avoid running hilly courses, running hill sprints, or participating in speed workouts.

Week 2:

  • Decrease your weekly mileage by 50-60%.
  • Run almost every workout at 1-2 minutes slower than your goal pace per kilometre. But, during about 2 runs per week, run a few minutes at your goal pace.
  • Your longest run should only be 10-16km.

Week 3:

  • No runs should be longer than 6-7km.
  • Visualize your race once daily to get excited and to also calm nerves.
  • On the day before the race, run about 4 kilometres. This will remind your muscles how to run and will get the blood flowing through your legs. It will also help you sleep better the night before the race.
By: Bri Doherty

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