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Running Basics: Master the Art of the Perfect Marathon Taper

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A marathon is a test of physical as well as the mental strength of a runner. As a marathon runner, the few days before the big day are very crucial for you. All the effort that has gone into mental and physical fitness, regular training and controlled diet will culminate in your performance in the marathon. This is where the importance of marathon taper comes into the picture.

Marathon taper is the practice followed by seasoned marathoners where they begin cutting significant distances from their running training. This typically begins about three weeks before their marathon. It has been established that tapering before a marathon allows the runner to have ample of rest and gain psychological balance for the race. Although it may appear to be a not-so-great idea to a beginner, it is, in fact, a technique that most regular marathoners follow.

Read on to know:

Why is Marathon Taper Important

Trust your training

Tapering for a marathon gives your muscles a much-needed repair because you don’t run for as long as you did during your training phase. Everyday training leads to minute wear and tear in your leg muscles that might not be noticeable during practice runs. However, when you reduce your running distance about three weeks before your D-day, these muscles get the time to repair themselves.

It has been established that taper for marathon allows the body to restock glycogen stores and efficiently use them for the race. Marathon taper also gives you a psychological boost and leads to a better performance. Let us sum up the various benefits of tapering.

  • Rest during taper will make your body more immune to diseases
  • Tapering before a marathon gives your body time to recover from minute muscle injuries.
  • The psychological benefits of tapering make your running stress-free.
  • Tapering ensures a better performance.
  • Marathon taper decreases the likelihood of you getting injured on the big day.

Typical Marathon Taper Schedule

Now that you know the various benefits of tapering, let us have a look at the most typical taper plan for 3 weeks before your very important marathon race. A span of three weeks is considered ideal for a gradual relaxation of the body. These three weeks also witness specific nutritional status and training schedule of the runner. Since a marathon taper is considered to be a part of marathon training, it is important to stick to these details as much as possible.

Three Weeks Before Marathon

The taper in this week will be very gradual. This is because there should not be a dramatic drop in running. The taper schedule this week will involve a small decrease in the number of miles you run, higher dietary protein and getting comfortable in your race day footwear.

Outline of Taper Training in This Week

  1. The running schedule should be planed such that your total running is decreased to 80% of your last week’s performance. Remember to run a bit slower than your usual pace, except for occasional bouts of regular pace to boost up the muscles.
  2. Avoid any high-intensity workouts like inclined treadmilling, running uphill etc. There is an increased likelihood of tissue injury in these exercises. This will be counter-productive to your marathon taper.
  3. The mental workout in this week will be vital. Start by outlining the problems that might come when you run the marathon. Think about bad weather on the big day and how will you run in those weather conditions. Think about how will you run if your knee starts paining. Putting your brain in these situations will improve your troubleshooting skills.
  4. In this week, your body will need more protein than usual. This is because dietary protein is required for tissue and muscle repair. About 100 grams of proteins per day is a good intake.
  5. Natural sources of vitamin C, like orange, kiwi, guava, broccoli, berries etc. should be on your plate. These help you fight infections and prevent cold and cough. Also, they are great for boosting up your immunity against diseases. Lysine, found in wheat germ and fish, is another dietary component that you should stock up on.

Two Weeks Before Marathon

This week is considered to be your transition period in marathon taper. With the marathon just 14 days away, you should really cut down on the running and focus on resting this week. Start making your racing strategy during this week.

Outline of Taper Training in This Week

  1. The running mileage this week should not be more than two-thirds of your maximum mileage. Make sure that you run slower than your normal speed. Don’t forget to include occasional bouts of normal paced runs just to prep up the muscles.
  2. Set multiple mental goals so that you achieve a considerable number among those. Categorise these goals in different scales like- awesome, great and good. Convince yourself not to walk in the middle of the run.
  3. Start reading about the marathon track and understand the details of the race, like the timing, track details etc. Also, read about the previous performances on that track.
  4. The nutrition requirements 2 weeks before marathon will be different than the previous week. Make sure that your dietary fat contributes to about 30% of the total daily calories. You will need the energy to run! stronger on the D-day and cutting back on calories will not do you any good. However, it is important to look at the type of fat you eat. Avoid saturated fats like pizza and ice cream, but treat yourself to unsaturated fats like nuts, fish etc.
  5. Stop doing any weight training this week. You don’t want to risk getting injured at this crucial time.
two weeks before marathon
Nutritional requirements vary every week(Source)

One Week Before Marathon

The week before the marathon is considered to be the most testing week for marathoners because this week has major cut down on their running. It is common to get flustered in this situation. But remember, marathon taper is being followed by all professional and serious marathoners. So, there must be something really good about this technique.

Outline of Taper Training in This Week

  1. Do not run more than 4 miles any day. These 4 miles are enough to remind your muscles to run, but they will not have any effect on your performance next week. Don’t forget to run at a slower pace than you normally do. The run could be interspersed with a few faster 100 meter runs to kick away sluggishness.
  2. As you come closer to the race day, reduce the running to 2 or 3 miles a day. It is advisable not to run when the race is 2 days away. However, the evening before your marathon, you should take a light jog to pep up the muscles.
  3. The mental preparation this week will be to be more confident about your ability. Minimise family or work-related stress. Focus on your breathing and calm down.
  4. This week, you should include more carbohydrates in your diet, so that they contribute to about 60% of your total calories. Pasta, cereals, potatoes etc. are good sources of carbs that will eventually be stored as glycogen in your muscles. Needless to say, you should totally avoid alcoholic beverages because they tend to dehydrate you.
  5. Remember not to cut down salt in your diet. Low dietary sodium combined with excessive intake of water leads to hyponatremia- a deficiency of sodium in the body. This is detrimental to your muscles.
  6. You might have gained a bit of weight during the last two weeks because of cutting down your regular work out, but this extra weight will give you the much-needed energy and increase your capacity to run on the final day.
  7. Remember not to exert yourself unnecessarily. This week is not the time to mow the lawn or paint the house. At the same time, don’t go in for massage sessions because you might feel sore afterward.
  8. Catch up on sleep. It is difficult to sleep soundly because of race-related anxiety but you should try to rest as much as possible. The last week of marathon training should be dedicated to rest and sleep.
last week of marathon training
Resting and sleeping is important in the last week of training(Source)

Read: What to Eat the Night Before a Race!

The above-mentioned taper plan for 3 weeks is the typical plan followed by most professional marathoners. However, there might be slight variations depending on the body type and running style of the person. Hence, these details are only meant for reference purpose.

Typical Taper Schedule for Short Races

Even though shorter races like 5K or 10K are not as intensive for the professional runner, tapering for short races has the same benefits as it does for marathons. The typical taper schedule is almost the same before short races, but the taper plan for 3 weeks isn’t necessary. A few things to keep in mind are as follows:

  • Tapering for short races like half marathons should start about a week before the race, and for 5K or 10K should start about 5 days before the big race.
  • There should not be any high-intensity workout during this taper period.
  • There is no need to have more carbohydrate intake because the extra weight gain will slow you down in a short race.
  • Mental strength should be the focus in this period, as it is during taper marathon.
marathon tapering
Marathon Tapering(Source)

Marathon Taper: Final Tips to Improve Your Performance

With a properly planned marathon taper schedule and taper schedule for shorter races, runners can ensure their best performances. As the final part of this article, we mention few more tips that will positively affect your running.

  • Monitor Your Heart Rate While Resting

Since marathon taper focuses a lot on resting before the final run, you must use this opportunity to track and monitor your resting heart rate. Factors like enough sleep, enough rest and enough recuperation will definitely improve the resting heart rate.

  • Visit the Marathon Course and Study it

It might seem a very simple thing to do, but it really affects your performance on the big day. If you have studied the course of the marathon, you will be able to formulate your running plan and strategy. You will know which regions of the course are suitable for catching pace, and which ones can be used for building stamina by lowering the pace.

  • Plan Your Pre-Race Meal

What you eat just before the marathon will have a huge impact on your performance. Planning your pre-race meal is just as important as following the marathon taper schedule. Remember to avoid spicy and oily food. If you are not in your native place, then doing a bit of online search about reliable local restaurants is a great way to ensure good quality food.

Read about Top Rich Iron Foods for Runners Good Health

  • Tell Yourself That You Can do it

Running a marathon is as much a mental feat as a physical one. Keep reminding yourself that you will perform better than you are training for. Stay positive throughout the marathon taper period and during the race.

All the hard work and training that goes on for months before a marathon can prove to be futile if you keep testing your limits right before the big day. Marathon taper is a proven technique to improve your running performance. We would be happy to know your taper schedule before your races.

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Running - Enthusiast
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