After weeks of arduous training, there is nothing quite as satisfying as finishing that final long run of your highest week of mileage. Everything from here on out is just resting up for the race, right?
Not quite. Why scientific studies demonstrate that a simple reduction in mileage will prepare you to run a fast goal race, many coaches and physiologists, based on their observations of athletes, argue that the tapering period should also be thought of as a peaking period.
Marathon Peaking and Tapering
Greg McMillan, the renowned coach who developed the McMillan race predictor and pace calculator, suggests in this article for Running Times that the taper phase should also be the peaking phase. After your highest week of mileage, you are not only tapering for the race, but you are preparing yourself for your peak performance at your goal distance.
Marathon peaking and tapering are simultaneously a physical and mental preparation for race day. Every runner has heard of the taper crazies, especially during the last few weeks of marathon training; perhaps, though, you do not need to endure a case of the taper crazies. You want to strike the right balance of recovering from the hardest weeks of training while avoiding the sensation of feeling stale or losing some fitness.
Think of it this way: it is inadvisable to suddenly crank up your mileage and add in several challenging workouts. Likewise, it’s not the most prudent action to suddenly halve your mileage and cease all fast running.
According to McMillan, Luke Humphrey (the author of Hansons Marathon Method), and Jeff Gaudette (head coach at Runners Connect), too much tapering is more of a concern than not enough tapering. You certainly do not want to run your peak week of mileage in the week before a race or add in one 20 miler only a few days before your marathon, but cutting out any intense workouts and significantly reducing your mileage will not optimally prime you to race.
The maintenance of your routine is one of the reasons you should avoid a sharp taper, especially in the two to three weeks leading up to the race. Taking extra rest days to reduce your mileage can lead to physical and mental staleness and increase race day nerves. Including intense workouts during your taper will maintain routine, boost your confidence, and sharpen your fitness just enough for peaking. The Hansons plans, for example, keep you running the same strength and tempo workouts you have been doing the entire training cycle up until ten days out from the race. Other coaches include workouts at race pace the week of the race, in order to keep your legs from feeling stale and to reinforce what goal pace feels like.
Unless you are experiencing soreness or at the brink of injury, you should avoid taking unnecessary rest days during the taper period. Instead of resting more, ensure that you are emphasizing recovery by eating well, hydrating, sleeping enough, managing stress, and foam rolling.
How much should you reduce your mileage? In part, it depends upon your goals, your training plan, and your personal preference. After your peak week of mileage, the Hansons Advanced Marathon schedule tapers mileage by 89% for three week outs, 87% for two weeks out, and then 41% the week of (not including the marathon – 82% if you do count the race). In this article from Runners Connect, Gaudette recommends running 85-90% of your peak mileage three weeks before the race, 70-75% two weeks out, and 50% the week of the race (not counting the race). McMillan advises that you taper by reducing the time spent running: in addition to shortening your long run, cut 10-20 minutes off of each run 2 weeks before, and reduce each run the week preceding the race by 20-30 minutes.
Portland Marathon Training Week 15
This week was my peak week of marathon training! I was supposed to run 63 miles, but I ended up running 60 miles. I ran an overall strong week and my highest mileage of this training cycle, so I’m happy with the mileage. I did not do a lot of strength training this week, because, to be honest, 60 miles is a lot.
Monday: 7 miles easy on the treadmill, 0.5-2% incline, 9:12/mile.
Tuesday: 10 miles: 2 mile warm-up, 3 x 2 miles at half marathon effort [(7:33, 7:35), (7:31, 7:31), (7:30, 7:27)] with 1/2 mile recovery jog between each, 1 mile cool down.
Wednesday: AM: 7 miles easy on the treadmill, 1-3% incline, 9:18/mile. PM: 15 minutes of bodyweight strength training.
Thursday: AM: 13 miles: 2 mile warm up, 10 miles at goal marathon pace (7:55/mile average), 1 mile cool down. PM: 15 minutes of Pilates plus some foam rolling.
Friday: 7 miles recovery (2 with Charlie), 9:45/mile, followed by foam rolling and 15 minutes bodyweight strength training.
Saturday: 16 miles long run, 8:27/mile. I started at an easy effort (8:40s) for the first few miles, then settled in at a comfortable pace (8:20s), and finished slightly faster (8:00-8:15). This run went really well, despite the cumulative fatigue, and my fueling strategy went really well.
Now to begin a gradual taper!
Questions of the Day:
How do you taper before a race?
Do you get the taper crazies?
How was your week in training? Did anyone race?