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The Marathon Taper

The taper refers to the practice of reducing exercise in the days just before an important race. Getting the taper correct is key to making the most of your training and the race itself.

What you can’t do is train hard all the way up the date of the race. For the marathon, the taper should last around 3-weeks.

A review on tapering published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise concluded “the primary aim of the taper should be to minimize accumulated fatigue, rather than to attain additional physiological adaptations of fitness gains”. The taper is a time to recover, so don’t blow all those weeks of great training.

Our marathon training plans will all include elements of this checklist.

The taper starts the day after the long run 3-weeks before the marathon. This long run will generally contain some marathon pace practice work and will probably be your highest weekly mileage week of training.

As a general rule, your last three long runs will be around 3 hours 3-weeks out, 2-hours 2-weeks out and 1 hour one-week out from race day. However, the faster you are the less time this will be. If you plan on finishing the marathon in three hours, running for three hours a few weeks out from the marathon is way too much.

3 weeks to go

This is a key phase in your preparation for the marathon, it’s when the taper begins and your training starts to wind down.

Sunday’s last long run really depends on how you’re feeling, if you’re fatigued and also where you’re at with your training. It may be for 3 hours or it may last for 2 and generally the first half should be run at an easy effort with the second half being run at the marathon pace that you plan on running on race day (this needs to be realistic!). Ideally you should run this on a flat road to get used to running on that surface for that amount of time.

It can be difficult to eat on the morning of the marathon so you need foods that aren’t going to make you feel nauseous but remember you do need to eat. Start to practice this on your long runs now, if not earlier. Eat simple foods and even mimic the race morning, with you starting your run the same time as the race will be.

It goes without saying that you should have tried out all your kit and ideally have tested the kit that you’ll wear in warmer weather and also importantly the kit that you’ll wear if the weather is colder because if your marathon is in the UK, it’s almost impossible to predict the weather!

The other thing you need to look at is maintaining the routine of your training, but reducing the volume to about 75%. Your body likes a rhythm and routine and if you can stick to that then you will tick along nicely.

Another area you want to think about is injury prevention, keep an eye out for any niggles and look to get a good sports massage to help with recovery

Keep on top of your nutrition and hydration at this time, and don’t think about dieting now.

Stay mentally positive, maintain your routine and everything will be fine.

You should have your pre-race day routine sorted out now, but if you don’t then get that sorted over your next few long runs. Practice starting your long run at the same time as your race start. Have the breakfast you plan on having at the time you will be able to have it on race day. Take gels with you on the run to make sure you are staying loaded with energy, and take them at the same internals you’ll be having them during the marathon. As a general rule, we’d suggest you take your first gel after the first 40-45 mins of your run and every 30-40 mins or so thereafter – if you’ve not already been practicing taking gels and the timings during your long runs, then you need to start doing this now.

2 weeks to go

We’re in a position of 2 weeks to go before race day and we’re in a similar position as we were with 3 weeks to go. We reduce the volume of training further. The long run will be down to 2 hours at maximum with around half being run at marathon pace once again to get your body used to the pace it will be running on the big day.

This is not the time to play catch up… any physiological change that occurs during this time will be minimal and now it’s really important to aim to maintain and protect what you’ve got.

Kit should all be settled and continue to practice taking on your gels during the long run and importantly at the times you plan on having them during the race itself.

You should start to feel more energized during this time as you cut back on your training, take time to rest up and relax and continue to maintain your levels of nutrition. This can be the time to just add in a few extra carbohydrate snacks to help build your energy levels.

Stay mentally positive, don’t focus too much about the race and it should all tick along nicely.

1 week to go

One week to go before your marathon and it becomes a nervy time.

You’ll start to become more anxious and this is a period of time that’s more of a mental than a physical game.

Your last long run needs to be around 60 to 70 minutes in duration and within that you may want to practice some marathon pace work. The run should be comfortable and relaxed and feel like no effort at all.

You want to be looking at the long range weather forecast as this helps to get you thinking about race day conditions, whether you need to refine your race strategy and the kit you’re going to use. If it’s going to be 26 degrees, then you might have to run a bit slower on race day.

This week is about relaxing and taking extra rest days. You still want to be doing some faster running, maybe a small threshold session on the Tuesday, and some easier running the rest of the week.

Don’t go out and run hard at any point just to prove to yourself you can still run.

Mentally you’ll start to question if you can do this, it’s quite normal but be positive, look back at your training diary and the key sessions you’ve run and remind yourself you can do it. Try and stay relaxed and switch off from the race.

Start to graze on carbohydrates a bit more but don’t over do it and have mountains of pasta, just add a little bit more than you would usually have. Also, it’s important to stay hydrated but again don’t overdo it by drinking gallons of water and energy drinks. Don’t end up comfort eating or drinking because you have more time on your hands.

Don’t start doing odd jobs around the house that you might have been putting off for a while. There’ll be time to do these jobs after the race.

The aim of this week is to stay positive and become mentally and physically energised.

A few rules to a good taper:

1. Don't play catch up

Don’t try and fit in an extra session that you may have missed, this will just be of detriment to your overall training. You are where you are due to your training.

2. Eat well and stay hydrated

Don’t diet during the taper, eat well and aim to keep nicely hydrated at all times.

3. Chill out and catch some Zzz's

Rest up as much as possible, get in some early nights and even have a nap if you can during the day. It’s really important to relax and recover during the taper.

4. Be prepared

Make sure you’ve got all your kit ready, travel plans are sorted and your pre-race evening meal and breakfast are organised. Be prepared so that on race day you’re on autopilot and don’t have anything to worry about.

The last 24 Hours

The last 24 hours before the marathon can be incredibly nerve racking, especially if this is your first marathon.

It is important to stay relaxed, graze on carbohydrates and have a number of smaller meals. Even if you are travelling, or going to expo to collect your race number, have snacks in your bag, a water bottle, and perhaps energy drink to be sipping on. You need to be responsible for yourself, and also prepared.

Try to stay off your feet as much as possible if you can.

We recommend 15 to 20 minute easy jog, a few strides, and perhaps a stretch.

In terms of eating, it is not about huge volumes of pasta, this will make you feel bloated and be no good. It is about grazing on carbohydrates during the day, smaller meals that aren’t going to affect you stomach adversely.

Check your kit, make sure number is pinned on, check your travel plans.

Do not get obsessed with the weather forecast, you can’t control this part of the race, have a look at it and prepare your kit accordingly and then forget about it.

You may not sleep very well the night before your race –this is natural. If you managed to have a nap in the afternoon, and a few early nights in the few days leading up to the race, you will be absolutely fine. You will fall asleep, so just relax, trust in your preparations and training and look forward to the big day……

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