Training

What is tapering and why is it important

A few thoughts on doing less to achieve more.

Yee ha! The 2016 Virgin Money London Marathon Race Day is almost here. Just two weeks to go and you’ll be toeing the start line with thousands of other runners all excited, nervous and uncertain about what lies ahead. It’s going to be awesome and a day that will be etched into your memory forever. But first, you’ve got to get through these next two weeks and arrive in Greenwich ready to go and not busted or broken.

At this point in your marathon buildup all the training and hard work is done. All of the long runs are behind you. The endless pavement pounding on dark winter nights is complete. You’ve already put in the hard yards and as the 2016 London Marathon approaches you are so close to achieving your goal. But, you can’t sit back and coast just yet. The art of running a great marathon is reaching a peak at the right time and hitting Race Day feeling fresh, energised, motivated and ready. Putting the final touches to your marathon preparation is called tapering. Get the final few weeks leading into Race Day right and you give yourself the best chance of hitting your target, get it wrong and you could seriously jeopardise achieving your goals.

How to get your taper terribly wrong and seriously risk race day.
  1. Chuck in loads of extra training. Yep, heard it all before. You panic that you simply haven’t done enough training and decide that packing extra miles into your final few weeks is a good idea. You simply can’t squeeze marathon training into the last two weeks. It’s all too easy at this stage to make the classic mistake of doubting the training you’ve done to reach this point, think you haven’t done enough miles, panic and run more in the final weeks than you’ve run in the past three months. This won’t work. You will not get any fitter by smashing out extra long runs or testing yourself as the race draws closer.
  2. Push on through injury or illness. It’s easy to think that the most important thing to do at this time is to ramp things up or play catch up ignoring signs and symptoms that could be a game changer. An injury at this stage could spell disaster. Head down battering your way through pain or illness isn’t going to see you reaching race day in tip-top condition. You are far better off to arrive on the start line slightly underprepared than completely, or even partially over-cooked. Worse case scenario you pick up an injury or illness serious enough to stop you from participating at all.
  3. Over-do everything else. Work stress – check. Family stress – check. A little race day panic – check. Feeling overwhelmed and underprepared – check! Lacking sleep – check. Neglecting healthy food and quaffing down a few too many buns and beers – check! If all of these things are ringing true for you then you could be on on twenty-six point two collision course!

Get it right! Taper time.

Tapering involves a reduction in the volume (how long you run) and the intensity (how fast you run) in the weeks leading up to the race whilst maintaining some frequency (how often you run). It also involves effective nutrition, rest and developing mental strategies to help you reach your best when it matters. The goal of your taper is to maintain your fitness, revitalise your muscles and reach physical and mental peak on Race Day!

Keep running but recognise less is more. Run smart. Run less to achieve more when it matters. This doesn't mean do nothing. It means maintain the frequency of your running routine but drop the volume. Include some shorter workouts and some marathon-paced efforts but make sure as the race draws closer you feel fresh and recovered and not tired. If you normally run three or four times a week then keep that regular routine going right up until race week but run for a shorter duration and cut the volume of your individual workouts but also your weekly total. After you’ve completed your final long run around three weeks to go then it’s time to drop the distance each week. Running long (more than 75 minutes) the week before the race will only serve to tire you out before you’ve even started your race. Typically, think about it in terms of 90% of your weekly total volume three weeks out, 60% two weeks out and 30% with one week to go.

Trust the training you’ve done and let your body adapt to the miles you’ve covered. You won’t lose any of the fitness you have gained over the past few months by being sensible and doing less as the race draws closer. Even though you might have a little more time, don’t fill your taper period with extra jobs at home or over-commit work wise (if possible!) or socially. Leave the DIY until after Race Day!

Finally, remind yourself of all the good things you’ve achieved in your training over the past few months, flick back over your training diary or blog, think about how far you’ve come and just how much your fitness and readiness to race has improved.

Panic!

If talk of doing less not more as the race draws closer send you into panic mode, stay calm. It’s common for marathon training to not go to plan and for runners to feel like they should have done more than they have. If you are having a few concerns, or illness or injury hampered your progress and you are really starting to doubt your ability to complete the 26.2 miles then your choices with two weeks to go are really important. The likelihood is that you’re just having a few last minute jitters and the miles you’ve covered, although these might not be as many as you’d have liked, will be sufficient to prepare you for tackling the marathon.

Your time is coming. Be brave enough to resist, be patient enough to hold back and deliver when it matters, and be confident enough to trust in your ability and believe in yourself.

You are going to do this.