Muffy Robinson didn’t think marathon training would require any big changes in her routine. The 29-year-old first time marathoner from Houston, Texas, was a Division I water polo player at Michigan State. The last few years she has competed in sprint-distance triathlons.
“I really thought this was going to be a piece of cake, considering the volume of training I was already completing for my short-distance triathlons,” Robinson says. “But I learned very quickly it is a battle of commitment to my training plan and, more importantly, distance base-building.”
Robinson is part of the Saucony 26 Strong project, a collaboration between Competitor and Saucony that pairs a veteran runner with a first-timer to train for a fall marathon. She and her partner, veteran Steve Schnell, 28, also from Houston, are training for the San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon on Nov. 17.
She isn’t the first athlete to discover that building up the stamina to run a marathon requires a different level of commitment and stress on the body. But after a summer of pushing the body on ever longer runs, first-timers often look to the final element of their training program—the taper—as a welcome relief before the big day.
But while most coaches suggest tapering—that is, decreasing mileage the week or two before a marathon, it doesn’t mean that you’re taking time off completely.
“I have almost unanimously heard how unnatural tapering feels,” says Jason Dement, 32, a Saucony 26 Strong vet from Chicago. “I have found that to counteract the low mileage of tapering, increasing the tempo of the shorter runs not only helps one feel the same exhilaration of a long run, but it also keeps the speed from decreasing.”
Most coaches are in agreement with Dement, that the weeks spend tapering should include a decrease in mileage along with an increase in intensity over shorter distances.
“I generally taper for one and a half to two weeks before my goal race,” says Jake Jendusa, 23, a Saucony 26 Strong vet from San Diego. “I dial the duration of my training back quite a bit in order to ensure proper rest and recovery. Two weeks before should be no more than 70 percent of total peak miles; race week should be no more than 45 percent of total peak miles.
“During race week I make sure to do a few efforts at marathon race pace and generally like to do a Tuesday run with 5 miles at marathon race pace as a mini dress rehearsal,” he says. “The rest of running that week is completed at a fairly easy pace.”
Michelle Gonzales, 31, a veteran from Staten Island, N.Y., views the taper as the time to “hold on to what you’ve got.”
“The two weeks before the marathon should not be the time to start changing things up,” she says. “Continue to do what has worked the last 14 to 18 weeks for you: Run early if you run early; eat the same foods; wear the same shoes.”
Saucony 26 Strong veteran runners offer these additional tips for tapering:
• Run at goal pace. Run some miles at goal pace the week before the race. This will get your body accustomed to what to expect on race day.
• Stay off your feet and relax. This is true especially the few days before the marathon. “I often do things that I have put off because of lack of time due to marathon training,” Gonzales says. “Like organizing pictures, doing some online shopping, writing letters/cards, etc.”
• Watch your weight. It’s easy to pick up a pound or two if you continue to eat for big mileage without running it. “Don’t use the ‘carbo-load’ excuse to overeat,” says veteran Laurent Vrignaud, 47, of Newport Coast, Calif. “Keep your diet correct.”
To find out more about Muffy Robinson and the rest of Saucony 26 Strong team, visit 26strong.com.