If you’re training for a marathon, the final three weeks of your plan should be your ‘taper’. This is the period when your mileage starts to decrease before marathon day itself, to make sure you are well rested, any aches, pains or muscular niggles have time to heal, and your muscles become restocked with all-important glycogen, ready to fuel you through race day.
Sounds easy, yes? Er… not quite. The taper can feel mentally tough: it’s the time many runners start to worry they’re losing fitness and wonder whether they should sneak an extra long run into the mix, just to make sure. Don’t.
Even if you missed a long run during your schedule, or your longest run wasn’t quite as long as you’d have liked, the tapering period is essential to ensure you peak at the right time… on race day!
If you taper correctly, you will likely have a better marathon experience, achieve a better finish time than you otherwise would, reduce your chance of injury and hopefully avoid hitting the dreaded ‘wall’.
Here are our top tips for a successful taper, to see you hitting that marathon start line rested, refuelled and ready to go!
Retain the intensity
A typical marathon taper should last 21 days (3 weeks). Aim to maintain the intensity of your training, but simply reduce the mileage. So, if you have been running four times a week, including a threshold session and long run, maintain those sessions, just reduce the mileage you cover during them.
Try a speed session
While you do need to rest, cutting back your running too much can leave you feeling sluggish. Try the odd short speed session: even a couple of 200m at threshold pace could help.
Reduce your mileage
With three weeks to go, decrease your total weekly mileage by about 20 per cent. With two weeks to go, your mileage should drop to roughly half of your highest-mileage week. With a week to go, you shouldn’t run more than four miles on any run. Any runs you do should be relaxed and easy, and get plenty of rest.
Stick to your training plan
A good training plan will incorporate a three-week taper. Trust the plan – and don’t do any more!
While tapering your training, keep your food intake the same: this will ensure your carbohydrate stores will be fully replenished in time for the marathon.
Stretch it out
Remember to stretch regularly during your taper. These 3 essential stretches are a great place to start. It's also worth considering getting a sports massage in the final weeks before the marathon. However, if you’re not used to these, only get a light massage.
Importantly, try not to worry and don’t listen to that little voice in your head telling you you’re losing your fitness: your body is able to retain most of the benefits of your endurance training for around 30 days, so your taper will not see your marathon performance suffer as a result of cutting back.