I have to confess that tapering is one of the hardest parts of my marathon training.
I have been training hard for 15 weeks and now the race is only 3 weeks away. My mind wants to push just a little harder and go just a little farther to insure I am in peak condition, but my body desperately wants a break!
Here is an excerpt from one of my blog posts as I began a taper:
You see, there are two conflicting processes happening in me right now. Last Friday, I went out for my last 20 mile run. It did not go as well as I had hoped and I wound up running it slower than I had planned and I was exhausted at the end. Not a good sign.
Because my last long run wasn’t as strong as I wanted, there is a part of my brain that tells me I need to get out there and try it again and push a little harder. That is my ego talking!
However, because it did not go as well as I had hoped, I know my body is telling me that it is time to start backing off and giving it time to recover so I can be fully rested come race day.
It’s time to listen to my body!
Tapering is a critical part of marathon training!
I wrote in a previous chapter about how important Long Run Recovery is.
Basically, we need to think of all of the weeks of training that have led up to this week as one very long Long Run. Now it is time to give our bodies some well needed recovery time!
Pre-race jitters will start to set in at this point and you will start to question if you have done all you could, over the last 15 weeks, to prepare yourself for the marathon. You will start to wonder if you are really ready. Let me assure you this feeling is natural and even the most seasoned marathoners go through the same emotional questioning before each race.
If you are getting really tired, your performance is starting to decline, and you have a few nagging aches that just will not go away, it is time to listen to your body.
That is why we need to taper! We are worn out at this point in our training and we need to recover!
The goal of the taper is to spend the next 3 weeks allowing your body to rest, repair the little micro-tears that have developed in our muscles and rebuild the nutrients we are going to need come race day. Without a 3-week taper, those things will not happen and your performance will suffer.
The problem with the taper is all mental! Every time I get to this point, I start to doubt my training and I wonder if I will lose my conditioning if I back off. However, I know from experience just the opposite is true. You will not lose any conditioning. In fact, it will help!
Here is a little secret most runners do not know: You can go a full 2 weeks without running at all and not lose your conditioning!
You need to repeat to yourself these mantras: “we build strength while resting, not while running!” and “it is better to go into a marathon a little under-conditioned than to push too hard and get injured!”
Do not misunderstand the taper! Tapering is not bringing your training to a complete stop! It is about backing it down gradually so you can get in the rest and recovery you need.
So what does my taper plan look like? With three weeks before my race, it looks like this:
Last weekend, I did the last (of 4) 20-mile Long Runs. This weekend, I will go 13 and then only 8 the weekend after that. Meanwhile, this week and next, I will continue to do my mid-week speed (Yasso 800s) and Tempo Runs, but they will also be shorter and a bit slower.
During the final week leading up the race, I will only go out for an easy 4-mile run at Race Pace.
Also, during these taper weeks, I will be trying to go to bed a little earlier than usual, hoping to bank some rest. I know that a few days before the race, I will be getting nervous and not sleeping as well, so I will try to catch up on sleep now!
I will also be eating well. During these next 3 weeks, you should be thinking about healthy food choices. Your body will need the fuel storage come race day. Refer to the chapter, “Nutrition: Choose the Right Fuels!“, for a more detailed discussion on food choices.
My goal for the next 3 weeks is to try to relax, trust my training, and rest enough to allow my body time to get rid of the nagging aches that have been around for a few weeks. I want to go into the race without any sore muscles!
I hope your training has gone well and that you will trust it enough to back off and get some much needed recovery time. The race is only 3 weeks away! Relax and have fun!