I can hear the gremlins talking to you now and asking, have you done enough training? Should you squeeze in one more three hour run to be sure you will be OK on race day? Do I need to make up for that week I missed when I had a cold?
These are common worries in the final weeks but eventually, with all training, less must become more. It’s time to let the body start to recover and build its strength ready for race day.
Remember, the training you do today will take 3-4 weeks to have a real long-term effect on fitness so cramming in extra training in the final weeks will only lead to diminishing returns and fatigue come race day.
A clever marathon taper sees you protecting your fitness and even feeling great as your body starts to thank you for gradually having to cope with less training. So let’s organise that taper now by considering the following:
Run your longest marathon training runs 3 or 4 weeks out from race day. A top session could be 3 hours with the last 60 mins at your target marathon pace.
Two weekends before race day reduce this long run to about 2 hours with maybe the last 45 mins at target marathon pace.
One week before it’s time to run just 60 mins easy and enjoy the rest of your Sunday!
The more experienced runner can use the final weeks to sharpen up slightly with a couple of shorter faster sessions and even a 5k Parkrun, so factor these in appropriately in advance.
Your last key harder session should be about 10 days before race day.
Take a couple of easier days or rest days after your last longest run.
Aside from the above, ensure you keep the structure of your final weeks the same. Remember your body has got used to a training routine and responds well to this.
Q: What should my final week of training look like?
The simple answer is easy! Don’t taper too much…yes you can have too many rest days and feel super sluggish by race day. Avoid this happening by keeping the consistency of running the same but reducing the volume dramatically; Some light 30 minute runs in place of your usual bigger runs or sessions is ideal, but avoid doing nothing as this will lead to stale legs and a mind questioning whether you can still run!
Q: Should I stretch, cross train and even get a massage?
Please, please, please stick to what your body has become used to. If you normally have a sports massage race week then get one but don’t suddenly book this in because you friends said you should or you read that Paula has them. They can get you feeling loose, free and ready to rock by race day but also leave you sore for a few days after. My tip here is get one earlier in the week, ask for it to be light and only have one if it’s part of your normal routine.
You should all be stretching every day anyway, even on your rest days. Stick to this routine and keep your body feeling light, flexible and moving well.
Q: How much should I eat during my taper
This is a great question and I see so many runners getting this wrong during the taper ruining months of hard work. It’s all actually really simple – just eat normally! If you gradually reduce the volume and intensity of your training but keep the intake of food the same, a natural carbo loading process will happen.
Your body needs the quality calories to keep your glycogen (carbohydrate stores) topped up and you feeling great in training and on race day.
Our simple catch phrase is ‘never hungry, never over full’ and grazing throughout the day with snacks and sensible main meals will work well for you. It’s definitely not the time to eat less and worry about putting on weight. The reality is you will feel empty on race day if you cut back.
And this is all relevant for half marathons too, just half the times for the longer training runs we mention above.
So taper well and remember…less can be more!