You’ve heard the talk and noticed a mileage decrease in your schedule – we’re tapering! But, what exactly does thatmean? I had no idea when I first started training. Taper means you need to run less and rest more. The taper period generally varies depending on what distance you are training for and ranges from two weeks for half marathoners and three weeks for marathoners. In fact, the final weeks before your goal race are the most important in any training program.
But wait! You’ve been running hard for monthsand now you are supposed to back off right before the big day? How could that possible help you finish the race? While the idea of easing up on your miles and intensity so close to race day seems counter-intuitive to many runners, tapering is a part of any solid marathon training plan.
Still, there are undoubtedly many runners who continue to train hard up to the day of their race. This is mostly due to a fear of losing their recently obtained fitness level. What most people don’t realize is that in those last few weeks it’s the rest more than the work that makes you strong. During your weeks of taper, you will not lose any of your fitness. Studies have actually concluded that your aerobic capacity, the best gauge of fitness, doesn’t change at all during this time period. The study also concluded that levels of muscle glycogen, enzymes, antioxidants, and hormones–all depleted by high mileage–return to optimal ranges during a taper. The muscle damage that occurs during sustained training is also repaired. Immune function and muscle strength improve, as well, which reduces the odds you’ll catch a cold or get injured just before the race. The average performance improvement by the subjects who tapered in these studies was 3 percent. That works out to 5 to 10 minutes in a marathon.
The Lucky 13’s will be running what is for many their first half marathon on October 16th in Columbus. I, for one, am really excited to participate in the race and cheer them on – the race is sold out! So, how should we taper for the half marathon? I’ve outlined a plan below. For more information, including specifics on tapering for the full marathon, please visit Runnersworld.com.
The Half Marathon: How to Taper
- Limit your long run on the previous weekend to 8 or 10 miles, and cut your usual run distances in half the rest of the week.
- If you do any speed work in the last 3 to 6 days before a sub-marathon-distance race, make it only a third of a normal speed session.
- Carbo-load in the last 3 days before a half-marathon if you wish, though it’s less crucial than it is for a marathon.
- If you’re nervous in the days before a sub-marathon race, remind yourself that you can run another one in a few weeks if it doesn’t go well, the recovery time is significantly shorter than after running a full marathon.
Two Weeks Out:
- Your mileage this week should be about half to two-thirds the amount you ran during your highest mileage week.
- Almost all running should be slow (1 1/2 to 2 minutes slower than marathon goal pace) except for a 2 miles run in the middle of the week. Even this small amount of goal-pace running is important because it physically and mentally reinforces the pace you want to run on race day.
- Weekday short runs should not exceed 5 miles.
- Your weekend long run (1 week before the race) should be 8 to 10 miles. Any longer and your muscles may not be able to fully rebound before the race.
- Set goals such as FINISHING, not walking, finishing strong, or simply enjoying yourself.
- If you’ve been lifting weights as part of your training program, stop. Weight training at this stage of the game can’t help your race, but it can diminish your strength or cause an injury.
- Check the race Web site for race-morning particulars such as start time, and work out the details of how you’ll get to the start on marathon day. Logistics you’ll want to consider: where you’ll park; how early you want to arrive (an hour before start time is ideal); where you’ll stow your gear during the race.
- Your mileage may be dwindling, but keep those calories coming in as usual. Your body still needs to repair tissue damaged during your mileage build-up. No dieting!
- Even though you’re running less, resist the temptation to cut way back on fat. A reasonable proportion of dietary fat (30 percent of your daily calories) is beneficial because it can be accessed as a backup energy source when stored carbs are used up. Eat foods that are high in unsaturated fat, such as nuts or fish cooked in canola oil. Limit foods that are high in saturated fat and Trans fats, such as pizza and ice cream.
One Week Out:
- Do no runs longer than 4 miles. And when you do head out, remember that these jaunts are more for your head than your body, because training has little effect this week.
- Almost all running should be at 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per mile slower than marathon goal pace.
- Three days before the race, run just 2 to 3 miles easy.
- Two daysbefore the race, don’t run at all.
- On the day before the race, jog 2 miles to take the edge off if you’re feeling pent-up energy so you’ll sleep better that night.
- Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate! Your urine should look lemonade – look at it! Light yellow to clear is what you need to see.
- Eat sensibly. Don’t change your normal eating habits or eat something new prior to the race. By now, you know what works and what doesn’t – save experimenting for your next training session.
- If you are nervous, which is normal, remember to trust in your training. You’ve worked hard for this! You are a runner and, barring race-day injury, you will cross the Finish Line.
- RELAX! Do your best to eliminate everyday stressors at work and home. Breathe in and out as slowly and deeply as possible, letting your belly expand as you inhale. Focus your attention on the breathing and any positive, calming image. If you’re too super-charged with energy to sleep, try this relaxation exercise. First tense, and then relax your muscles, one at a time, starting with the muscles in your face and working down to your toes. Sex can also help relax your mind and body.
Enjoy the taper time – you’ve earned it! See you on race day.