Now that you are just a few weeks away from your goal race, it’s time to taper and allow your body the rest it needs to repair and rebuild muscle and tissue, replenish muscle glycogen stores, restore optimal hydration levels and reduce stress hormone levels.
There are many approaches to tapering and everyone responds differently. It may take some experimentation to find the best approach for you, especially if you’re new to marathon tapering. There are several aspects to a successful taper covering all areas of your life:
Sleep: Small changes make race day easier.
- Shift your sleep schedule to race-day wake-up time requirements over the final week before the race. That way when you wake up on race morning, your wake-up time will feel natural.
- Don’t worry about insomnia the night before the race. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep two nights before the race and you’ll be fine.
Other exercise: Don’t begin a new exercise program within 4-6 weeks prior to the race. Specifically, avoid starting any of the following:
- New sport
- New cross-training mode
- Major, physical house project
- Weight training (Note: if you already weight train, maintain current weights, repetitions and sets for the 4-6 weeks prior to the race. Don’t increase weights, etc. Stop 5-7 days before your race.)
Stress: Try to limit significant life stresses during the month prior to the race. If possible, avoid job changes, household moves, significant travel and other disruptions to your normal lifestyle.
Running mileage: Follow a two- or three-week taper, depending on your experience level. For both methods, maintain the intensity (speed) of your runs, but reduce running volume (distance covered).
Two-week taper (beginner marathoners and all half marathoners):
- 30% mileage reduction, week 1
- 60% mileage reduction, week 2
Three-week taper (intermediate/advanced marathoners)
- 30% mileage reduction, week 1
- 50% mileage reduction, week 2
- 65% mileage reduction, week 3
You should run little or no mileage 2-3 days prior to the race. If you feel you must run to loosen up the day before the race, don’t run more than a mile.
Fueling and hydration: Prior to the race, either follow a normal diet (during which your mileage reduction will allow you to store glycogen) or a ‘carbohydrate-loading’ approach. Regardless of which approach you take, follow these guidelines 2-3 days before your race:
- Stay well hydrated throughout the week
- Drink water freely and often during the 24-48 hours before the event
- 2-3 days before – eat low-fiber, low-glycemic index foods
- 1-2 days before – consider avoiding fried foods, red meat, dairy, nuts, roughage to avoid gastric distress
How you will feel: The reduction in physical workload will take an unexpected toll on you. Your body is used to exercise and your body will react to its absence. You will likely experience symptoms such as:
- Feeling ‘antsy’/hyperactive/anxious
- Feeling bloated, fat and sluggish
If you feel any and all of this – good job! Your taper is going according to plan and you’re on track to be able to do your very best on race day. More important than anything, stay relaxed. If you have followed a well-designed training plan and have prepared well, you are ready to have a successful goal race!
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