A week by week guide to tackling the taper
Congratulations extraordinary runner, you made it to the end of your training mileage which is a huge accomplishment. You have arrived at the glory commonly known as the taper: you are reducing your mileage so that you can arrive at the start line fresh and ready to race.
It isn’t as straightforward as just resting your body in the weeks before the big day. A study of Taylor University cross country runners showed that not only do your leg muscles actually get bigger and stronger during the taper but you also see an increase in red blood cells (boosting oxygen levels) and a decrease in stress hormones. What does that amount to? The study indicated a 2-4% improvement in race times – not bad for just getting more rest! (https://www.runnersworld.com/tapering/tactical-tapering)
Ensuring that you strike the right balance for your taper is equally as important to capitalize on these benefits. Your taper should last one to three weeks depending on the length of event you have been training for. Make sure you aren’t starting your taper too early as it could leave you feeling slow-moving on race day. Here’s how to keep your head in the game without letting your nerves get the better of you. (http://running.competitor.com/2013/10/training/the-three-most-common-tapering-mistakes_58795/2)
Three weeks out: Your training should still be 80-90% of your peak mileage, so keep moving. You are feeling good, and proud of your accomplishments. The best way to keep that happy feeling going is to focus on all of the factors outside of your miles that keep your body in peak performance: quality nutrition, adequate rest and reduced caffeine and alcohol. We are fine tuning details at this point so keep it sharp. (https://runnersconnect.net/how-to-taper-for-a-marathon/)
Two weeks out: Your mileage is even more significantly decreased, about 70-75% of peak mileage during the week with your long run down to about half of peak. Resist the urge to do speed training on these shorter mileage runs. The feeling that you are not doing enough is going to start to kick in during this time, but hang in there. Take the opportunity to continue training your race pace so that your muscles are ready and you can really listen to your body and get in tune for race day. Keep your nutrition consistent, and don’t try anything new: now is about consistency and confidence in your preparation. It is also a great time to look at doing some visualization techniques and reviewing the race course for familiarity. A great article on some basics for visualization can be found here: https://www.runsociety.com/highlight/unleash-your-hidden-power-visualization-for-runners/
One week out: Your last week will be even less mileage, about 50% of your normal weekday runs, with your very last run a couple of days out from race day being just 2-3 miles. You are likely fully antsy by this week and you should spend it getting ready for race day. Put the focus on the other controllable factors outside of your runs to stay in top form. You should spend the week ensuring your body is properly hydrated (carry water with you everywhere) and that you are getting enough rest all week. Skip the alcohol to maximize your hydration. Remember that you are running less and burning fewer calories, so make all of your calorie intake count, really focusing on good nutrition specifically smart carb intake and balanced amounts of protein. https://runnersconnect.net/nutrition-during-the-marathon-taper/
Get there strong and enjoy the day – you earned it!