Tips for Tapering for a Marathon

The big day is approaching to Deep river rock Belfast marathon and for many runners the big question is when do you taper?

Start to early and you will lose the fitness levels you have worked so hard to achieve.

Start to late and a long run won’t give your body time to recover prior to the big day. ( it takes about 7-10 days after your last long run for your muscles to recover!)

One of the biggest things to remember in marathon training is that there is no way to bluff it or cram at the last minute like you would for an exam. If the hard work isn’t done by 2-3 weeks out it won’t be!!! The taper is purely about refining your training.

Firstly, what is a taper?

It is a runner cutting their mileage of training significantly in the days/ weeks preceding the big event. It doesn’t necessarily mean slowing the pace down when running but shortening the length of runs to allow body recovery prior to the marathon.

Why taper?

When we train hard and consistently we push our muscles to the limit causing micro trauma of the muscle fibers. (please note, this is due to overloading the muscles in training not an acute muscle tear like feeling a sharp pain in your hamstring). When your muscles are damaged, your body will recruit amino acids. (the building blocks of proteins) to come and repair your muscle. However, as a coastal city might build a mightier dam after a flood, the body recognizes that this muscle will be subject to this type of damage and rebuilds the muscle bigger and stronger to adapt to this new stimulus.
In the last 6 weeks leading up to a marathon the stress on the muscles is increased weekly with less recovery time for the body to repair these micro-tears. This is were the taper is essential in the last few weeks to reduce the load and allow the muscle to repair stronger.

Aims of your taper:

1- Allow muscles time to heal and rebuild stronger
2- Let your body restock its glycogen stores
3- Minimise accumulated fatigue and allow your immune system to recover.

When to taper?

The majority of runners aim to complete their last big run 3 weeks prior to the marathon. So anyone running Belfast should hopefully have that complete. Although for more experienced marathon runners sometimes 2 week is sufficient but that would be the absolute minimum.

How to taper effectively:
From 3 weeks out cut the mileage to around 80% of maximum week but keep intensity of runs aiming a lot for marathon pace runs to get used to the speed. Plenty of rest days and stretching to aid muscle recovery. If you are planning on changing trainers for race day this must be done now to allow adequate break in time.

From 2 weeks out cutting miles to around 50% maximum but again keep running at marathon pace or slightly above it. At this stage beginning to carb load steadily to boost the now depleted glycogen stores. Steady carb loading is recommended rather than eating 14 bowls of pasta in the last 48hours

The week of the race, a steady run 6 days out is excellent to avoid staleness over the 3 week taper. A 12-18min easy run the day before can get you ready for the off on race day. Plenty of sleep, hydration and carb loading are essential. Whilst forming your plan for refueling on race day.
Most importantly on the day of the race don’t do something you have never done before. ( like eating 500 jelly babies) and repeat as close as possible the routine and plan you followed on the days of your long runs!

Now the only thing to do is try not to hit the wall!!!