Top Ten Tips For a Terrific Marathon Taper
By Rick Morris
You spent a lot of time and expended tons of effort while training for your latest half marathon, marathon or ultra. Now it’s time for your taper and some relaxation. Nothing to worry about at this point, right? All of your work is done. Not so fast! Yep, most of your hard training is done but that doesn’t mean you can forget about any type of plan. A proper taper requires planning and a bit of effort. An effective taper can spell the difference between success and failure. An effective taper isn’t difficult to accomplish with the correct amounts of the proper components. Here are our top ten tips for a terrific marathon taper.
Don’t Jump Off the Cliff
This may seem like a no-brainer, but pay attention to the word. Taper means a gradual decline in distance and intensity. The key word is gradual. Don’t simply stop running. A proper marathon tapers is a gradual process. Use the full duration of your taper to gradually wind down to full rest on the final day or two.
Your marathon taper isn’t just physical. You needed a lot of extra calories to support the demands of your body during your training. Now that you are starting your taper, your calorie demands will decrease. Taper your tummy along with your training. If you continue to eat the quantity of food you were scarfing down during training you will almost certainly put on some weight – generally a bad idea before a major race or event. Keep eating sufficient amounts of high quality complex carbs, lean proteins and essential fats, but cut down on your portion sizes a bit to adjust for your decreased training level.
Goal, Goal, Goal
Your marathon taper period is a great time to focus on some goal pace running. Try to do at least 2 goal pace sessions per week. These goal pace taper sessions won’t do much for your fitness at this point, but they will improve your physical and psychological efficiency at goal pace. A very good thing, going into your race.
Speed Doesn’t Kill
Don’t make the mistake of eliminating all speed or high intensity training sessions during the early to mid portions of your taper. A high speed session once or twice per week will keep you mentally and physically sharp. Just keep the distance short and aim for active recovery.
All of those training miles or kilometers took a toll on your leg muscles. Your legs may feel a bit heavy and unresponsive at this point. You may even be suffering from some pain or nagging injuries. A good way to accelerate your recovery and healing is with ice baths. Nope, they aren’t pleasant, but they will pay big dividends when you go into your race fully recovered.
Your recovery taper isn’t just physical. It’s also mental and spiritual. Use your taper period as an opportunity to center yourself spiritually and prepare for your race mentally. Use meditation and visualization techniques to help your head and spirit reach the same peak your body is in.
Be a Needy Runner
Pay attention to your needs as a runner. During training you no doubt noticed that you were strong in some areas and weak in others. Use your taper period to do some short workouts focusing on your weaknesses. Even a small improvement in weak areas can make a huge difference in your race day performance.
Lose the Load
Carbo-loading has always been a pet peeve of mine. Eating huge amounts of carbohydrates during a taper or as a pre race meal is counterproductive. It puts on the pounds and makes you sluggish on race day. Simply follow a normal eating pattern, focusing on a mix of protein and high quality carbs, with slightly decreased portions sizes during your taper. You will avoid the extra pounds and that feeling of unresponsiveness on race day.
Drink it Up
No, don’t hit the bar. In fact, you should avoid the bar during your taper. You need sleep and you should avoid alcohol. But, you do need to be well hydrated heading into your race. So drink plenty of fluids during your taper so your body is fully hydrated on race day.
Be Anti Social
Runners are notorious partiers. During your taper I would suggest avoiding the parties and any other unnecessary contact with large groups of people. Heavy training tends to depress your immune system. So, there is a good chance you are more susceptible to illness and infection during your taper period. You really don’t want to go into your race with an illness. I know from experience.