Marathon tapering is the practice of easing up on the intensity of your training schedule to ensure your body is in peak condition for race day. There are various things both nutritional and training wise that this entails.
If you are doing London, you have 20 days to go, and you will have done the last of your really big runs over the weekend. You can now start to ease up a little bit but there is still some serious training to come. The higher your mileage, the more important it is to ease up. Your body has got into the habit of handling a lot of food and converting it into the sugars you need for running. When your training volume declines, the excess sugars will be stored up as glycogen in liver and muscles. Tapering for a marathon takes three forms:
1. Reduce the length of the longest runs
2. Reduce the total weekly mileage
3. Reduce the number of hard sessions
At this stage of training I suggest that the longest run with 2 weeks to go should be 15-18 miles, done either as a “progressive” run, starting steadily and finishing at faster than race pace or as a race with extra warm-up and warm-down. With one week to go it should be a steady 10-13 miles, long enough to give reassurance but not so long as to take much out of you.
For those doing over 60 miles a week, the mileage with 3 weeks to go should be no more than 75% of your big-mileage weeks, and with 2 weeks to go it should not exceed 50%. If you are on 60 a week you might taper to 50, but for those on 50 a week or less the tapering only starts in the last two weeks.
Regarding the number of hard sessions, what we are trying to do is prepare the body for a massive effort on race day. We do this by gradually increasing the length of the recovery time between hard sessions and by allowing more easy days.
With 3 weeks to go, if you are putting in three hard efforts a week, you should reduce to 2. With 2 weeks to go, I recommend for everyone a brisk threshold run midweek and at the weekend doing 10K at marathon pace, using the same start time and morning routine as you would in the race, to get the feel of it. For the get-you-round runner, this would be enough, but for others I would suggest that you need both the pace run and the steady run, to maintain your endurance.
The last week
Everyone has their own favourite routine, but I don’t recommend doing nothing at all, because the body has got used to taking exercise on most days.
On the eve of the race you should definitely get out, do a warm-up and run for 5 minutes or so, in your race kit and your race shoes. If you have done a lot of travelling and changed time zones, I would recommend doing a bit more than that. For the previous week, some people like doing 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 miles on the Monday to Friday. My own favourite plan is to have a complete day off on the Monday, do a session of 2 x 1 mile on Tuesday, at race pace, easy jog Wednesday, maybe 4 x400m, relaxed, on Thursday and rest on the Friday.
Equally important in the last week is the food you eat, both before the day and on the day, but I’ll leave this topic until next week.
Keep on running!