The Marathon Taper Period

I’m coming to the end of my second week of a three week taper as I go into the Tokyo Marathon.  Many runners dread the taper period for a variety of reasons (usually psychological), but I actually look forward to it after many weeks of intense training.  The key, I believe, in successfully getting through the taper period is to realize that you really can’t improve in the final few weeks leading up to the marathon and the rest and recovery your body is receiving during the taper is critical for a peak performance come race day.  I’ve heard it so many times, you are better off being 10%  undertrained than 1% overtrained.  Having run 17 marathons, I’ve come to appreciate this adage and through trial and error the benefits of good taper.

For a marathon, I normally begin to taper three weeks out.  Here are some tips I’ve learned to help me get through the taper period.

1.  Reduce your mileage about 25% every week from your peak training week, but keep the intensity in your runs the same.  For example, if your normal weekly tempo run was 10 miles during peak training, reduce it to 7 or 8 miles (but keep close to the same pace) during the first week of your taper, then 5 or 6 miles the second week, and 3 miles the final week.

2.  You’ll probably feel flat on some of your runs during the taper period.  Don’t worry, this is normal, your body is in recovery mode so there are some physiological things going on.  But believe me, if you did your taper properly, you’ll feel great on race day – especially with the adrenalin that will be pumping through your veins.

3.  Self doubt may begin creeping in and you may be reconsidering your goals.  This is where you’ll need to be mentally tough and realize that if you trained properly during the build up period, you’ll do just fine.  After a few miles into the marathon, the butterflies in your stomach will fade away and then you just need to stick to your strategy.  But you need to be realistic about your fitness level, don’t expect any miracles come race day – running will only give back what you put into it.

4. Try to relax and take it easy the last week.  Keep your activity level low, especially the last couple days before the marathon and don’t fret too much about things you can’t control – this is not the time to pile on unneeded stress.

5.  Nutrition during a taper is tricky, as you start to decrease the length of your runs you will be burning fewer calories.  If you continue to eat the same volume of food, you could end up with unwanted weight gain.  I think you want to try to balance you caloric intake with the energy you expend the first couple weeks of the taper and try not to gain too much weight, but it is probably inevitable that you’ll gain 2-4 lbs during the taper period.  This may actually be beneficial since you are storing more glycogen and water, but you probably want to make sure you are not carrying more than a few extra pounds.  The type of food you eat the week prior should be the same as when you were training.  Any drastic changes the week or night before a race may not agree with your system and sub-optimize your race day performance.

6.  Enjoy and have fun on race day – the vast majority of us are not making a living doing this – so there’s really no need to be overly serious about it all.  The marathon is a tricky race with so many variables, so expect the unexpected, and just focus on the process and let the outcome take care of itself.  And if the outcome isn’t what you wanted, then remember, there’s always your next marathon.

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4 Responses to The Marathon Taper Period

  1. Hay Yau says:

    Great post!

    I was actually in Europe for 2 weeks and just got back.
    I did a 23km run yesterday (felt great as being in Europe was sort of a mini taper as I didn’t do much running) and intend to just take it easy with a 10km and 5km run at MP and a 45 min swim during this last week.

    There’s a lot of information out there with regards to nutrition and tapering and it can be all confusing as I find the more you read, the more unsure you feel.

    Thanks for breaking it down with a cool, logical and encouraging post!
    Hay

    Btw, what are you thoughts on carbo-loading? 3 days prior? 5 days prior? There are so many schools of thought out there.

    • Hay,

      Thanks for the comment, the taper is always a tricky thing and a lot of it depends on the individual. As far as carbo-loading, I plan to start on Wednesday, but I take a more moderate approach as is seems to work better for me. Instead of gouging on pasta or other carbs the day or two before the marathon, I’ll just start eating a moderate amount of extra carbs (maybe an extra 500 calories daily) than I normally do. So what this means is I may have an additional serving of carbs a couple times a day. For examples, maybe I’ll have energy bar (250 calories) in the afternoon followed by an extra serving or rice or pasta (another 250 calories) and the remainder of my diet remains unchanged. By doing this about 4 days prior, it should provide enough time for the carbs to be converted in your energy stores without a lot of disruption to your digestive system and limits any gastrointestinal problems. My opinion is that since our bodies can only store a finite amount of glycogen, you just want to make sure you have a full tank and no more at the start line. Again, this is what seems to work for me, but something else may work for others.

      RI

  2. Hay Yau says:

    Thanks for the advice RI!

    I was reading your ‘about me’ section; are you a churchgoer?
    My wife and I go to a bilingual service in Tokyo and I also attend a men’s bible fellowship on Monday evenings called BSF.

    If you are interested, find me at hayyau (at) gmail (dot) com

    Best of luck with the tapering and the race!
    Hay

    • Hi Hay,

      Thanks for the comment. Best of luck to you as well, looks like the weather is going to be very good!

      I’ll send you an e-mail later regarding church. I’ve been to a couple churches in Yokohama, but never really found one to attend regularly, but would be interested in what is available in Tokyo.

      Take care,
      RI

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