How to taper for a marathon - Women's Running

How to taper for a marathon

Author: Chris Macdonald

Read Time:   |  May 28, 2014

How to taper for a marathon

How to taper for a marathon

The following tips are designed to get you organised and through these final key weeks safely. Not only does the body need time to repair itself and any hard sessions or extra long runs in the final few weeks could leave you tired for race day. Your main aim now must be to arrive at the start line fully fit, fresh, injury-free and raring to go.

It’s time to start protecting what you have, rather than worrying about what you haven’t got!

Three weeks to go…

  • This is the ideal time for the last really long run. Try to run it at the same time as your marathon start time and practise getting up early, eating your correct breakfast and being race ready.
  • Part of this run should be easy and part of it should be at marathon pace, but not totally exhausting. Don’t run any more than three hours 15 minutes, or else you could see diminishing returns and excessive tiredness in the weeks ahead. Your last 60 minutes of this run could be completed at target marathon pace with the first couple of hours 45 to 60 seconds a mile slower.
  • It might be worth testing some of your race-day kit in this run and definitely wearing your marathon-day shoes. You need to know that the kit feels good.
  • Practise with your race-day gels and drinks on this run. Most brands recommend a gel every 30 to 45 minutes, to keep carbohydrate and sugar stores high. Get into the habit of taking gels from the first 30 to 45 minutes onwards, even if you don’t initially feel the need.
  • With this last long run behind you, you can now enter the taper phase. The first week might see you drop your weekly volume by 25 per cent, but try to keep the same training schedule – your body likes routine!

Two weeks to go…

  • From now on, there are no more fitness gains to be made, so don’t try to play catch-up.
  • Reduce your training further to 50 to 75 per cent of your normal total, but maintain the routine your body has become used to. The long run this week should be no more than two hours, with a segment at marathon pace built in for 30 to 45 minutes.
  • Keep the focus on your nutrition and hydration, as you are beginning to top up your glycogen stores for the big race. Don’t allow yourself to get hungry and top up throughout the day with quality complex carbohydrate snacks.
  • It’s important to get as much rest as you can. Try to get to bed early and aim for an extra 30 to 60 minutes’ sleep a night.
  • Physically you should be starting to feel good, due to more rest and slightly less training, but try to get an extra sports massage to check out any tight muscles.
  • Finalise your race-day plans. Confirm hotel accommodation and transport to the start, plan where you will eat the night before and what you will need for breakfast on race day.

The final week

  • Reduce your training to just easy runs, no longer than 30 minutes, with perhaps a little threshold or light fartlek running four to five days before the marathon to keep sharp.
  • Get plenty of rest – don’t choose this week to do all the odd jobs around the house!
  • Stick to your normal daily diet, with slightly more emphasis on carbohydrate.
  • Keep sensibly hydrated. Make sure your urine is clear or light in colour, as this tells you you’re hydrated.
  • Relax mentally and try to keep your mind off the race. Maybe even start to plan your next goal or target as a distraction.
  • Look back at all the good training you’ve achieved.
  • Because you are not training as much as normal, you may feel a little sluggish when running. Don’t worry – everybody feels like this! Your body is now cleverly starting to save energy for the marathon challenge.

The final 24 hours

  • Make sure you have a very relaxed day – stay off your feet as much as possible.
  • Complete an easy ten to 15-minute pre-race day jog, just to turn your legs over. You may not feel fantastic, but you will definitely feel easier as a result in the early miles tomorrow.
  • Graze on carbohydrates and have a number of small meals all day. Maybe even phase protein out of your diet from lunchtime onwards and take on a little extra carbohydrate instead. The protein won’t help you tomorrow, but the carbohydrate will.
  • Keep hydrated but don’t overdo it. Keep to your usual routine.
  • Avoid alcohol completely. You can celebrate next week, but alcohol won’t help tomorrow and could leave you dehydrated and less likely to sleep well.
  • Nerves may stop you from sleeping well, but don’t worry. Quality sleep earlier in the week will be the key to success.

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Chris Macdonald

Editor-at-Large, Women's Running

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