Marathon Taper Time
It’s taper time and this is always a hard time for me. On the one hand, I look forward to the shorter runs but I also tend to get a little anxious about cutting back too soon or too late. There is a general rule of thumb. You should start to decrease your mileage by 20 % starting 3-4 weeks out from your “big race”. I do my last 3 hour run 3 weeks before race day. You still want to maintain your key workouts of the week, the long run (although now that has dropped back in mileage); the speed work and perhaps a tempo run if you have been doing a 2nd quality workout for the week. Your easy runs should be just that, easy allowing for some recovery. You can’t’ beat your body up every day!
I am a big fan of cross training and still ride a bike 6 days a week and am now getting back in the pool again after a year off from swimming. The cross training helps keep my muscles balanced and helps flush the lactic acid build up with an easy spin on a bike or easy swim in the pool. During this taper period, I have to resist the temptation to increase those workouts to supplement the reduced amount of time on the roads. It’s hard for me to sit still!
My focus for the last few months has been The Baltimore Marathon. I planned several races over the past months as tune up races, or key races to check my fitness level. Ideally, I would have run the Philadelphia half marathon which is 4 weeks before the Baltimore marathon. I have done this routine many times, and it is a good indicator of where my fitness level is at that point. This year, however, I had a conflict and have not run a half marathon since mid-august. That does make me a little nervous (hence the pre marathon anxiety that I am starting to feel!) I did run a few 5k’s over the past several weeks, trying to run them at the end of a heavy training week, to give myself a good speed workout on tired legs. The following day, instead of taking a day off, I ran my long run for the week, so I was running my 20 plus miler on tired legs. Over the years, with the more the 35 marathons I’ve run, I have tried different methods of training and tapering for a marathon and this seems to work for me.
But I have had many years of running and what works for me, may not be the best plan for you. The most important thing is to listen to your body. It is hard for an athlete to back off from training, but it is important in order for all your hard work in training to pay off. You have to allow your body to rebuild from all the training you have done. It is in those last miles of the marathon that the tapering will pay off.
Rest and sleep and nutrition are key parts of the taper too. In the several weeks before my big race, I also worry if the reduced amount of exercise will result in putting on added pounds that I don’t want to carry through a marathon. I am very aware of my diet and have to remind myself to eat a little less, because I am burning fewer calories. The peanut butter M and M’s have to be hidden!
During the week of the marathon, I really back off and run about 1/3 of my weekly mileage. This is the hardest time for me. Of course the anxiety level increases with the extra energy I have and it’s a battle within me to keep from running extra miles. It’s a good time to catch up on desk work, or read a book if only I could tie myself to the chair, that would help!