Time to Taper - by Ken Hoye
The taper, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “A gradual or incremental reduction,” is a much debated part of the marathon build up. Over the six marathons I have run the build up varied considerably from an “Aggressive taper” when I injured my foot 2 weeks out and didn’t run until the Thursday before the race, to a much more controlled 10 day taper before my current pb in Barcelona in 2017.
What the elites say about tapering:
It seems it is a very individual thing and here I look at the views of the great and the good of the British running scene to get a more rounded view. Mark Burgess, a sports physiologist suggested “it takes 10 days to recover and adapt so the last hard session can be done here. Keeping some intensity in is good for maintaining VO2 Max as this can tail off quickly.” He also suggests keeping a similar routine but reducing the volume of the sessions, and the overall volume gradually over the 3 weeks leading in.
This seems common amongst the elites, with 2.10 marathon runner Scott Overall saying “I do taper, but not massively. I like to keep ticking over with some fast reps. Not the sort that build fitness but just to keep the routine.”
2.15 Marathon runner Ben Moreau wrote before the commonwealth games in 2014 “What’s been interesting is our very different taper approach. I basically just run less, and slower, and eat a bit more carbs.”
Mark also commented on carbohydrate intake “Increase your carbohydrate intake the last week or so but don’t over do it, as the reduced training volume doesn’t require the same volume of calories going in.”
Physiotherapist and Paralympian Noel Thatcher agrees with this approach and commented “Lower the volume, keep the frequency and a little intensity. Don’t over eat or over hydrate.”
What about the non elites? What do they say about tapering?
So what does this mean for those of us who are not elite? Someone has commented on my training in the past saying “it’s hard to taper when you don’t run many miles!” Obviously elite marathoners can clock up over 100 miles per week, so dropping volume here and there is relatively easy!
Before her 6th marathon Jordan, better known as Project marathon girl wrote this “(Tapering) can depend on the individual, some people love the idea of winding down ahead of a big race whilst for others it feels them with dread! The idea of reducing miles and training can put people into a panic. Visions of losing fitness and all the progress you’ve made disappearing before your eyes is completely normal (so if this is you, don’t worry!) but it simply is not true. Tapering (alongside rest & recovery) is a key part to any marathon training plan, and should not be ignored.” “For me personally, I still keep active during my final taper week, I still run & go to the gym, but just make sure I take it a bit easier!”
Ultra runner Susie Chesher says “Taper is normally 2 weeks. I have started to do a 10k race or parkrun the week before the race and drop my mileage enough the week before so I am not racing the 10k on tired legs so recovery is quick. It preps my legs for marathon race pace. I then do short easy runs for the days up to the marathon.”
Blogger and Iffley road ambassador Steve Skinner also advocates getting used to marathon pace. “I generally drop the mileage down three weeks out by about a quarter each week and do more at marathon pace, even if its shorter runs to dial the pace in.” “I also keep an eye on hydration the last few days before the event, I tend to drink more water and use electrolyte tabs where required.”
So whilst it does vary a little with each individual there is a general consensus that it is a gradual reduction in training. Remember it is better to start the race 100% healthy and 90% fit than the other way round. Keep an eye on your food and drink intake over the last week or so and testing marathon pace before race day could be of benefit. For me this helps to prevent the age old mistake of going off far too hard on race day as the first mile always feels great!
Thanks to our contributors, @scottoverall on Instagram, www.benmoreau.net @noelthatcher on twitter, @projectmarathongirl @sooszy and @steveskinner_ on Instagram
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