Tapering. The word injects equal parts relief and fear into the hearts and legs of marathoners everywhere in the final few weeks leading up to race day.
“Did I train hard enough?” “Should I try and squeeze in one more long run?” and “Do I need to eat less?” are a few of the myriad questions that run through the minds of marathoners as race day approaches.
We caught up with Ben Rosario, coach of the Flagstaff, Ariz.-based Hoka Northern Arizona Elite and a 2:18 marathoner in his own right, to talk about key “dos” and “don’ts” to keep in mind when it comes to tapering for your next marathon.
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…evaluate your training.
In the weeks leading up to an exam, it’s important to review your work. Tapering for a marathon is no different. Review your entire training cycle and make an honest assessment of how it went and how you’re feeling with a couple weeks to go. If necessary, don’t be afraid to make adjustments to ensure you’re healthy, rested and confident when you step on the start line.
“No two tapers are created equal,” explains Rosario. “If you’ve gone over the line, then you need to cut way back. If not, then you can stick to your original taper plan. This is no time to be stubborn.”
…stay in “the zone.”
“Taper time doesn’t mean party time,” says Rosario. “Store up your extra energy. You’ll need it.”
In the last couple weeks before your race, as your training load lessens and pent-up energy looks for ways to release itself, it can be easy to lose focus and wear yourself out with inessential non-running related activities. Take advantage of any newfound free time to relax and remain focused on the task at hand. Now isn’t when you want to start taking yoga classes or embark upon a massive home improvement project. Save those things for after the race!
One of my favorite quotes, adapted from the Bhagavad Gita, says, “We are only entitled to the work, not to the fruits of that work.” Applied to marathon training, this can be interpreted as, “We are only entitled to the training, not to the results of that training.”
Good results on race day aren’t guaranteed to anyone. All we can do it train as hard—and intelligently—as possible in order to give ourselves the best possible chance of achieving our goals. Marathon training is a grind and getting through an entire training cycle full of heavy mileage, challenging long runs and killer speed workouts is no small feat. Acknowledge that achievement when you begin tapering and gain confidence from it as race day approaches.
“Pat yourself on the back,” instructs Rosario. “Take pride in all your hard work and gain confidence from it.”
The work is done. There’s no significant fitness to be gained in the final two weeks leading up to your marathon—so stop stressing about it!
“No amount of picturing the race and imagining every step is going to make you any fitter,” says Rosario.
When doubt starts to creep in during the taper period, relax and remind yourself of all the hard work you’ve put in during the previous 2-4 months. You’ve got this!
…cut back on your food intake.
As obvious as it sounds, an empty gas tank will significantly slow your journey to the finish line. While it’s tempting to want to eat less during your final two weeks of marathon training, the rapid metabolism you developed over the past few months won’t slow all that much over the course of a couple weeks.
“Just because you’re running less doesn’t mean you need to eat less,” Rosario says. “Your body will need all the energy it can get on race day.”
Stay on target with your nutrition and hydration while tapering and ensure you step to the start line with a full tank.
…run too much.
Less is more when it comes to training in the final two weeks before race day. When tapering, it’s important to stick to the regular rhythm of your weekly training routine, but make a conscious effort to reduce your overall workload and don’t go overboard on the intensity.
“No one ever says, ‘I should’ve run more in those last two weeks,’” Rosario says. “Don’t be afraid to reduce your volume by as much as 40 percent that first week and 60 percent the second week.”
For example, if you’ve been running 50 miles a week during your heaviest training periods, reduce your weekly volume to 30-35 miles two weeks out from your race, and 20-30 in the seven days leading up to the event. Do speed workouts on the same days you’ve been doing them, but cut back on the number of reps and keep the effort in check. It’s better to be slightly undercooked than completely toasted when you step on the starting line.
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