Marathon Folks! Are you getting excited?
All of your hard work from the last three months, give or take, have been working toward the big race day. For Eugene Marathon racers, the big day is about 4 weeks out. For Boston prepping folks, we are just TWO WEEKS OUT!
This means, you should be starting to taper (now for Boston runners and soon for Eugene).
What is a Taper?
When you are in your marathon build up and training for your target race, you are gradually increasing your mileage, which is the “volume” component of your training, while also doing workouts that provide the “intensity” stimulus to your program. This type of training is important, as it helps your body adapt and prepare for the race, with the goal of obtaining long term improvement. However, training also causes short term fatigue, from the layers of work you are asking your body to do.
When it is time to taper, the weekly mileage graph starts to change. The goal of tapering is to reduce the amount of fatigue you are feeling while maintaining “freshness”. The goal for everyone is to get to that starting line feeling fresh and rested, but not flat.
“Taper '' refers to the training period in the weeks preceding race day that are characterized by decreased training load. The goal is to allow your body to recover from the heavy volume and intensity of training to maximize race day performance.
How Long Should I Taper?
Now we know the gist of what a taper is, but, how long should you taper for? The length of a taper varies based on both the individuals’ preference and the distance of the race. Some of this may require a little trial and error. The more experience you gain running, the better you will likely be able to read your own body and discover how much of a taper is best for you.
A Longer Taper May Be Better
We now have some research, specific to recreational marathoners, to guide us in this process. A large 2021 study analyzed the training of 158,117 recreational marathon runners, comparing the lengths of their tapers and the impact this had on their race performance. Interestingly, this research found that folks who adapted a stricter 3-week taper of progressively decreased training volume prior to race day, performed better than those with a shorter or less strict taper strategy. However, women should interpret the results of this research with caution. Although this research aims to provide a framework for all recreational marathoners, only 20 percent of runners studied were female.
Tapering Your Lifting
We talk a lot about how strength training is an important part of any running training plan, and for good reason. As we have discussed previously, strength training has a myriad of benefits for runners. By this point in your training block, your body should be fairly accustomed to the various multi-planar movements you are performing when you lift. You likely aren’t experiencing the post lifting soreness that you may have experienced when you first started lifting. However, as your running training tapers, we don’t want to drop the strength work completely.
I would encourage you to continue your lifting up until race week. If you are concerned about muscle soreness or fatigue impacting your performance, you can taper your strength training just like you are tapering your running, lifting a little lighter and a little less in the last few weeks leading up to the race.
Trust the process.
Whether you are preparing for Eugene and just starting to look ahead and think about your taper, or you are in the thick of those taper weeks in prep for Boston, it is important to avoid the “Taper Tantrum.”
A Taper Tantrum can typically present in two different ways. You may be the athlete who feels fatigued, sore, and irritable when the volume and intensity of your training decline. Or, you may be left feeling restless, itching to get out the door and put in more and more work. Compared to previous weeks the amount of training you are doing feels inadequate, and you fear you are losing fitness.
If you are in the overtired camp: enjoy the extra time. Rest up, using your extra time to prioritize sleep, fueling, and hydration. (If you need more convincing as to why prioritizing sleep is a good idea, check out this previous post.)
If you are in the restless camp: embrace relaxing/stress relief pursuits with that extra time. It’s important to remember that cramming in hard workouts now will not serve you well on race day, and can actually negatively impact your performance.
Overall, remember to trust the process. Give yourself a pat on the back, you’ve put in the hours and hours of hard work. “The hay is in the barn” as we like to say. The hard work is done, now it’s time to recover and rest up so you are feeling your best on Marathon Morning!
If you are having any last minute niggles, it’s not too late to get them addressed. Sometimes a physical therapy tune up session or two can be all it takes to keep you on track in these last few weeks leading up to race day. Or, maybe you are feeling healthy but know you could benefit from a bit of recovery boost. Zenith also provides recovery sessions. You can sign up for an appointment or learn more here.
Smyth B, Lawlor A. Longer Disciplined Tapers Improve Marathon Performance for Recreational Runners. Front Sports Act Living. 2021 Sep 28;3:735220. doi: 10.3389/fspor.2021.735220. PMID: 34651125; PMCID: PMC8506252.