Natasha Cockram provides some helpful advice to get you through the taper before a marathon.

A few months out, it sounds great; no 5am alarms, a week of reduced mileage, increased free time and a hard-earned chance to rest and rebuild before the big day. But then the taper hits, it’s abrupt and it’s awkward. It throws you off balance and tempts you in all kinds of ways.

A voice in the back of your head plays mind games. “What if I’m an outlier and I lose fitness in this short window? Remember the races and awesome workouts you didn’t taper for? Shouldn’t my legs feel springy by now? Why am I feeling tired? Should I have done more mileage, weights, speedwork? Should I be a different weight?”

The key is to expect these questions and reject them. Uncomfortable as it may be, the taper is the final step to a good marathon. You have to trust your training and trust that you are ready. Since joining my coach, Tony Houchin, and having consistent structure and trust in the training he sets me, I have found I am able to enjoy the tapering phase and have found ways to manage the phase we don’t get to practice or experience very often.

As a marathoner, unlike other runners we don’t experience race week as often which perhaps can make things a little more daunting; if you screw up it’ll be months before your body is ready to run another marathon whereas a 5km or 10km you can come back a couple of weeks later to try again.

Don’t try anything new

You’ve got to keep doing what you’ve been doing; if you don’t normally follow a gluten or dairy free diet, or you aren’t normally a vegetarian or a dedicated foam roller, race week is not the week to try it out. Sticking to your routine as much as you can is the safest way to approach an event with enough variables of its own.

I keep everything the same, I just change the ratios around. For example, I normally run every day so I will continue to run every day just at a lower intensity and volume. There’s no point in shocking my body with a day off when I’m about to try and ask it to perform better than it’s ever done before.

Many are surprised but even on race day, I will be up in the early hours to do an easy shake out run. This can be hard sometimes as often marathons start early however my body has been waking up at 4:30/5am the past 6 months so it’s not a shock on race day for it to do the same.

Get your sleep

I try to increase the amount of sleep I get, which is not hard as on a normal week as a full-time athlete, along with a full-time job, sleep is something that I struggle with. In the weeks leading up, if I can just get an extra hour each night, I know this will benefit me without making me feel sluggish.

Come race week and the few days in the race hotel I will make sure I rest up but will also go on short walks as I know sitting down all day will not do my legs any favours.

I will keep my diet the same but like my mileage and paces, I will just change the ratios. The day before I will make sure I load up on carbs, however it’s important you don’t gauge yourself as this can make you feel sluggish and it can be hard to sleep on a bloated stomach.

It’s all about balance

I make myself more conscious of hydrating, but like carbo loading, it’s important that you don’t overdo it. Like everything else it is all about balance. Listen to your body and how it feels, what feels right and works for one person won’t necessarily work for others.

As an example, I have been sat amongst the elite athletes for the pre-race breakfast, while I am munching on my normal pre-race toast with peanut butter, banana and honey, I have seen Kenyan athletes consume five boiled eggs. I personally know this would not work for me, but it works for them.

When arriving at the race hotel it is easy to get sucked in, let the nerves get the better of you and overthink. Everything is always so big and prestigious; however, I have come to learn how to take it all in and enjoy the experience. If I let the nerves get the better of me it would be impossible to enjoy.

It’s important to have distractions, I like to read, catch up on the news I have missed, talk to my friends, family and coach. Getting updates and videos on my dog and horse from family and friends while I am away is also a great distraction.

Do what is right for you, no athletes build up is ever the same, just as no athletes’ taper is the same. Trust the process and listen to your body!

Natasha Cockram features in the ‘Fast 10: class of 2019’ and over the course of the year will share her running journey. You can follow Natasha on Twitter and Instagram, while further information about the ‘class of 2019’ can be found here.

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