Training

Tapering Your Training

It’s important to ease up (taper) your training programme in the last few weeks before the Virgin Money London Marathon. Here’s what you need to know:

Why do I need to taper?

You need to cool down your training before the Virgin Money London Marathon so your performance peaks at the right time – on Race Day. To give the race your best shot, you’ll need to arrive feeling fresh and fully recovered from your training.

How do I taper?

Tapering doesn’t mean you should stop training altogether, just that you should cut back on the volume and intensity. It’s also a good idea to use the time you save on training during your taper to get some rest.

How long should I taper for?

The length of your taper depends on the event you’re preparing for. For the Virgin Money London Marathon (26.2 miles), a three-week taper is recommended. If you’re running a half marathon or a 10km distance, taper for two weeks. For a 5km race, you’ll only need to taper for a week before.

How will tapering help my body recover?

Your training will probably have caused some muscle damage, left you mentally and physically fatigued, and used up the stores of carbohydrate in your muscles. Tapering your training before the race will help reduce the impact these factors have on your performance. Click the links below to find out how:

Muscle damage

Marathon runners often find their legs give out towards the end of the race – the risk of this happening is increased if you’ve got sore muscles and tired legs before you start. Cut down your training nearer the race, particularly the long or intense speed sessions, and you’ll arrive at the Virgin Money London Marathon with fresh legs.

Fatigue

When you’ve been training hard for a prolonged period of time (10 weeks or more), you’re likely to suffer from fatigue. And the longer you’ve been training, the longer you’ll need to taper to recover.

Tapering will also help to combat mental fatigue and give you a fresh burst of energy – taper before the Virgin Money London Marathon to give yourself the focus you need to keep going in the final stages of the race.

Carbohydrate stores

Your body can only store a limited amount of energy in your muscles (around 600g of carbohydrate and a small amount of fat), and this store will have depleted during your training. So it’s important to maximise your intake of carbohydrate, and build your energy levels back up before the Virgin Money London Marathon. Usually food intake is relative to your training - the more you train, the more you need to eat. But, by tapering your training and keeping your food intake the same, you’ll replenish your carbohydrate stores.

Another good tip is to time your meals so you eat no later than 30 minutes after training – this will ensure you store less food as body fat and more as muscle glycogen. Click here for more information about nutrition and fluid intake during your training.

Will tapering undo all the hard work I’ve put into my training?

Although it’s important to taper your training before the Virgin Money London Marathon and let your body recover, you don’t want to lose the adaptations and improvements to your fitness you’ve worked so hard to achieve. Here are the key areas of your training you need to maintain while you taper – click them for more details:

Cardiovascular (aerobic) endurance

Your body will retain most of the benefits of endurance training for around 30 days (for example, improved red blood cell numbers, haemoglobin numbers and blood capillary density in the muscles). So although it’s important to keep up some cardiovascular endurance training as you taper, you don’t have to worry your performance on race day will suffer as a result of cutting back - you can reduce your cardiovascular endurance training to a third of your maximum level and still maintain your cardiovascular fitness for roughly 8 weeks.

Cardiovascular speed

Your taper should include cardiovascular speed training, however, you should reduce the amount you do to limit the risk of muscle damage before the race.

Here’s an example of how to taper your cardiovascular speed training:

  • Two weeks before the race
    Run half the Virgin Money London Marathon distance (roughly 13 miles) at speed.
  • Eight days before the race
    Run a quarter of the Virgin Money London Marathon distance (roughly 6.5 miles) at speed.

Muscular endurance

Adapting your muscle endurance for long distance running is an essential part of your Virgin Money London Marathon training – your taper needs to keep you up to scratch so you can be confident your legs won’t slow down too much in the final stages of the race.

Here’s an example of how to taper your muscle endurance training. Please note, when tapering it’s a good idea to run on grass to reduce impact and any potential muscle damage:

  • 10 days before the race
    Train for 60 minutes at a third of your maximum muscle endurance level. Half of this session should be made up of hill running and reps of uphill distances (for example, 8 x 400m), at your projected race intensity (PRI).
  • Six days before the race
    Do a similar training session to the one above, but shorter in length and less intensive. These tapered sessions should feel fairly taxing on your legs, but relatively easy in terms of cardiovascular effort.

What else do I need to consider while I taper?

Here are some final things to keep in mind as you taper your training:

  • Monitor how you feel
    Sometimes runners can start to feel ill when they taper their training, so it’s important to keep check of how you’re feeling. If you become lethargic, it could be a sign that you need to do some speed training to perk yourself up - running as little as 2 x 200m at your half marathon pace could be enough.
  • Customising your taper
    Some runners need to train more than others during their taper. If you need to do more training to stop yourself feeling sluggish that’s fine, just be careful not to overdo things and risk sore legs or depleted energy stores before the race.
  • Massage
    Many runners get a sports massage in the week before the Virgin Money London Marathon. If you don’t regularly get massages and you’re not used to them, just get a very light massage or avoid it all together.
  • Stretching
    Don’t forget the importance of stretching as you taper – check out our guides to warming up and stretching for more information.