The Art Of The Marathon Taper

Photo: John Segesta

Tapering Is Relative

While it’s true that an elite runner’s taper might entail twice the amount of running that a novice marathoner logs at the height of her training, it’s also the case that runners who haven’t built up to especially high mileage totals need not be as concerned with obeying percentile dicta such as that proffered by Pfitzinger. If you top out at an average of 40 or 50 miles a week, for example, your mileage the last three weeks before your marathon might be 40, 30 and 25, whereas if you’re a 100-mile-a-week type, you might be looking at 80, 60 and 40 – a much sharper percentile reduction even if the absolute totals are far higher.

Tapering is a Mind Game

I’d prefer a different word than “game” here, but this is a family Internet, so I’ll just trust that you get the idea.

While easing off the throttle in the final days and weeks before your marathon might seem like an appealing prospect on the surface – with the hay in the barn, you’ve earned the privilege of being a relative layabout – many people find cutting back mileage and intensity to be as much of a challenge as the long runs and sustained tempos that form the heart of most runners’ peak training. Perhaps the chief reason for this is the Catch-22 of growing increasingly nervous about the race itself at a time when your primary means of blowing off stress – exercise – is, by obligation, sharply limited. Some runners feel that they are gaining unneeded weight, and although this is usually mental, you actually should go into the marathon a few pounds heavier than you’re accustomed to being, especially if you’re a higher-mileage type who spends much of a training cycle in a state of partial or pronounced glycogen depletion. Glycogen storage requires significant water retention, so if you’re a few pounds up, you very likely have achieved a state of proper hydration, not packed on unwanted body mass.

It’s helpful to have something to occupy your mind while tapering especially in the last four or five days. I wouldn’t recommend diving headfirst into an all-consuming work project, but reading a book, renting some DVDs you’ve been meaning to watch for a while, or taking the kids to the museum or aquarium are just a few of the things that can help take your focus off the race – there will be plenty of opportunity for that at the right time. Personally I find it useful to avoid surfing running sites in the last few days unless there’s something specific I really need to know.

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