Tapering is a crucial period in marathon training where the athlete reduces their training volume to allow their body to recover and be optimally prepared for race day. Here are five keys to a successful taper during the final weeks of marathon training:
1. Reduce your volume, maintain your intensity. To be perfectly clear: the primary goal of tapering is to reduce overall mileage to minimize fatigue without losing the fitness you've gained. While your overall mileage should decrease, the intensity of those key workouts should generally remain the same. For instance, if you've been doing tempo runs or interval sessions, you should continue to do so during the taper period, but perhaps with fewer repetitions or shorter duration.
2. Dial in your nutrition and hydration like your race depends on it. The key word is "dial" here... This is not to be confused with changing your entire diet or over-hydrating. More recent studies are showing "carbo-loading" being most effective 2-4 days out from race day, and the night before being more protein-focused for endurance. Taking a break from drinking is also highly recommended as alcohol can impact the quality of sleep and recovery you have...
3. Sleep, sleep, and more sleep. You need to aim for at least 7-9 hours of sleep per night during the taper period. The more the merrier. The power of sleep can not be underestimated. Consider incorporating more gentle activities such as walking, light stretching, or yoga to keep the muscles loose and the mind relaxed before you head to bed.
4. You're not going crazy, you're getting ready: The taper period can be mentally challenging. Doubts, anxiety, and the infamous "taper madness" can set in. When it does, just remind yourself of how normal and cliché that is. Stay confident in your training and be strong enough not to fall into the trap of ruining your taper by pushing yourself. Visualize your race, set clear goals, and focus on positive self-talk.
5. Banged up? Go into full recovery mode. If you've been pushing through little aches or pains this cycle, the taper period will be your best opportunity to minimize them for race day. Prioritize resting, icing, cross-training (i.e. bike instead of run), compression, etc. Listen to your PT. Oh, and don't get sick. Boost your immune system with vitamin rich foods and hydration.
Bonus 6. Go full Clare Danes in Homeland on your race logistics. Use this extra time to more deeply understand the course, your paces, your plan, your transportation logistics, etc. Having this done earlier than the day or two before will give you serious peace of mind that will allow you to sleep and taper better. The devil is in the details.
LAST BIT... Remember, the purpose of tapering is to arrive at the starting line feeling fresh, both mentally and physically. Trust the process, trust your training, and focus on your race. We challenge you to take your taper as seriously as your training. You're right there.... Finish like a pro.