The marathon season is well and truly upon us now and soon everyone will be tweeting about the taper.
Instead of worrying about race day every night for the next fortnight, take some advice from Fast Running and embrace the taper. A good taper can be the difference between hitting your potential and hitting the wall in those last few miles so how do we make sure to hit race day running?
There is some really good science on the subject, especially for marathons, so no need to just throw a wild guess at the topic. If you are one of the “tapering doesn’t work for me”crowd (and I have certainly put myself in there at times) then I really think it’s just down to not getting the taper right.
This meta analysis by Bosquet et al (2007) on Effects of Tapering on Performance: A Meta-Analysis is a brilliant summary of a lot of the work that had been done in endurance sports and provides an overview for running, cycling and swimming. The summary for running? It was “8-14 days with a 21-40% decrease in volume without decrease in frequency or intensity”. There is a beautiful table in the paper for those who like numbers.
Too little is better than too much.
The taper is when you ease off from all the hard work done and refresh the body before race day. By gradually reducing mileage and time on feet before the big day then you allow all the adaptations from marathon training to really sink in and excel on the big day.
This is not the time to squeeze in extra reps, catch up on your long runs or push your easy runs that much quicker. In the final two to three weeks you are more likely to do harm than good by over training and it’s best to arrive slightly undercooked, rather than overcooked. It’s the opposite for cooking chicken, especially in race week.
The same can be said for intensity. The idea of maintaining intensity we mention above doesn’t mean “get faster because you feel fresher”. It is all too tempting to up the speed closer to the race because you feel good but maintain intensity and don’t put too many new stresses on the body, just keep sharp the adaptations you have already made.
If you struggle to get a good night’s sleep the night before the race then don’t worry. You’re not the only one. If we all operate on the pretence that the night before is a bit of a write off, then banking sleep the week before the race will really come in handy. The penultimate night and the whole week before is a great chance to get your body extra rest and even just going to bed 30 minutes early each day of race week could mean an extra three & a half hours of recovery before you toe the line.
On race night make sure you set a good alarm, have your logistics and schedule nailed for the day after and have a clock or watch by your bed. I often find I’ll wake up and panic I’ve missed the start so having a watch nearby means I can quickly check, find it’s only 11:32pm and quickly get back to the land of nod.
Visualise that finish line
You may be running less and taking it a bit easy in race week so that your body isn’t over stressed but use this time to work your mind a little bit. The process of visualisation is proven to improve results when it comes to the showdown with the clock. See yourself finishing strongly over those final few miles, crossing the finish line with that giant clock showing the PB you so desire.
You can visualise during your easy runs, when your head hits the pillow at night or when your boss is shouting at you for being on Facebook at work, changing your profile picture to your race number. Train the mind and experience a pinch of the emotions you will feel on the day, just so it’s not an overwhelming experience and you burst into tears when you achieve beyond your wildest target.
Finally just remember to enjoy race week, race day and the smug feeling of excellence after you finish. This is the fun part and why you signed up. Beware the post race blues though, the best solution for that is to continue the journey with another race signup. This is just the beginning.
Bosquet, L., Montpetit, J., Arvisais, D. and Mujika, I., 2007. Effects of tapering on performance: a meta-analysis. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 39(8), pp.1358-1365.
Robbie is an athlete and coach sponsored by Odlo, Profeet Sports Laband Precision Hydration. If you want to follow his training you can also see it here on Strava or the highs and lows of Twitter and Instagram.