Taper Tips: The Best Way to Approach The Final Few Weeks of Marathon Training

If you've been following a training plan for a Spring Marathon you're probably entering your 'taper' period right now. Although your legs are probably just longing for a rest, the taper is an important phase of your training and can be difficult to get right.  

Although there are a few general principles there is only one hard and fast rule; you can never really tell how your body will react and its worth experimenting. Changes in volume or intensity in the final weeks can upset your equilibrium. Too drastic drop in volume can leave you feeling sluggish and tired. As a result you tread a fine line between being fresh, bouncy and full of energy or feeling a bit flat. But don't worry, there are a few general principles you can follow to give yourself the best possible chance of nailing it.

Here's my tips for getting the taper right.

  • Drop volume, maintain frequency and ensure you maintain some intensity.

The goal of the taper is to let the legs recover and rediscover some 'pep', so in basic terms your running volume needs to drop. If it's your first Marathon and your training has gone reasonably well then I would recommend a taper period of 2-3 weeks with a gradual decrease in overall volume/ mileage leading up to the race (dropping overall volume of running by roughly 10% in the first week. 15-20% in the second, and by c.50% in the final week).

Your body has grown accustomed to a rigid routine of activity over the last 4 months and we don't want to knock our equilibrium too much so drop the volume/ length of each run but maintain the frequency (number of runs per week). 

It's also important that you don't let your legs forget what it's like to run fast! Keep up the interval training or Marathon pace work into the last 3 weeks. Don't hammer yourself -practise smooth, fast, relaxed running.  

I am a big advocate for running a fast Parkrun the week before the big day. I would use it as an opportunity to practise relaxed running- you might not run a PB but finishing strong should give you a good psychological boost! Eamonn Martin, the last Englishman to win the London Marathon, raced a National road event over 5miles the week before the big race. 

  • Eat well.

Forget all the varied and polarised opinions about carbs. Carbo loading is outdated and low carb diets can be detrimental to performance. Just be sensible. Eat well. Plenty of protein, fresh vegetables and some carbs. You will be burning less calories so don't go nuts; a normal regular diet will be enough to leave you fuelled, recovered and ready to go.

  • Focus on sleep.

The taper is all about recovery, and the best way to let your body rest is sleeping. Take a nap, switch off from emails at a reasonable time and get an early night. I love my bed, and I intend to spend as much time in mine as possible over the next fortnight.

  • Adopt a positive mindset

Yes! You've made it. You've done the horrible stuff- now it's the fun bit. Many others have fallen by the wayside, but you're here in one piece. You're well prepared and are ready to have the race of your life!

The single most important thing you can do during your taper is to adopt a positive mindset. The evidence for the impact of positive thinking is overwhelming. My favourite story about the power of the mind comes from Charlie Spedding, the British Marathoner. Charlie was selected to run for Britain at the 1984 Olympics. Charlie constantly told himself that the Olympic Final would be the best race of his life. Every day, over and over. Going into the race Charlie was incredible relaxed and confident and knew he just had to run and things would fall into place. Amazingly this simple approach paid dividends as Charlie bravely won an unexpected bronze.

  • Visualise the race - imagine how brilliant it's going to feel! 

If you are feeling negative write a list of all the possible factors that could go wrong, and try and some up with a way of dealing with each. You can't stop the weather, but you can pack a cap to keep the rain out of your eyes, or bring a pair of arm warmers if its unseasonable cold. 

Most importantly, enjoy the last few weeks. It's all part of the Marathon experience!

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