So, we all know that when going into a race, we taper right? RIGHT.
So that means that we just stop running as much right? NOT RIGHT.
There is so so much more science to a taper than people realize, and as with anything, you have to figure out what works best for you. There are coaches that have many different approaches to tapering, and sometimes it will take many races to figure out your perfect blend. Most of the time, people just over 2-3 weeks, back off on long runs as well as speed workouts, however that doesn't mean that's exactly what would work best for you. Most people have a window of 1-4 weeks that can give them as little as 0.5% increase in performance all the way up to 6% with most landing at about 2-3%. If we could figure out our perfect cocktail, then we could probably get it more in the 3-6% range. How awesome right? You are combining your increased fitness and endurance with letting your energy systems rest and recover, and BOOM! You do better than you ever believed you could.
I always laugh because "marathon pace" workouts typically feel like junk and are really hard, but then marathon day, I can run that for 26.2 miles? Like how is that possible? It has a lot to do with the taper. Typically people are not going to be able to do a 4 week taper without sacrificing endurance and fitness, but I'm hopeful that one day there will be tests in our genome for things like this so that we can see what would be perfect for each one of us.
The amount that you taper is going to be dependent on whether you are doing a 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon. I think that so many people just kind of go out here and run la la la and that's wonderful, but then they will ask me how to get better race times and the truth is that you have to train appropriately, taper appropriately so that you are at your best. Typically, the recipe for a taper is to gradually run less leading into the marathon but keeping race pace type workouts and even some intensity speed workouts in there. It's very easy to get "lazy" during a taper, and you start to feel sluggish. If you continue to eat the same, you may even feel like you are gaining weight so this might make you feel even more sluggish and uncomfortable. Everyone is all like CARBS AND TAPER and I totally agree and do that myself, but you have to be careful with the combo to not be feeling like "BLAH!"
So, how can you put this into practice for yourself? I recommend honestly that you have some races or either maybe like practice races that aren't actually races that you can test a mini taper. If you are someone who is really trying for a big PR on the marathon one year, then typically you are only going to do 1-2 marathons in that year. Sometimes, if you are like me, you like to race a lot and that's okay but maybe using some of those races as practicing your taper and nutrition vs actually going full all out race pace. Desi Linden (one of the girls on the marathon olympic team this year) is a great example of someone who has found the taper cocktail that works for her that is very different than what you would typically see. She keeps mileage very high but just does a lot of easy miles. Two weeks out, she does 120 miles and then the week of the race she does 93 miles. That's harder than any week I've ever done. ha!
I have found that I like to have a 2 week taper. I like to keep mileage high until the Saturday before the race. I typically keep mileage the same at the beginning of the week (Monday through Wednesday) but with a little less intensity, no leg days, and the Thursday through, I do very little mileage like at all. This is referring to a Monday marathon so therefore that might shift if the marathon was Saturday like most. You do not want to just stop running or doing any speed work. Even today, it's Thursday, I'm doing some bursts of speed because you don't want to get to race morning and have forgotten what it's like to run fast ;)
If you are JUST starting out, then you don't have to find your perfect little cocktail. You can honestly simply follow a plan online and you'll be just fine. Any sort of gradual shift is going to work just fine and still get you added benefit for resting plus increased fitness to create the BOOM so no one panic if a first time racer.
Last, but not least, it also depends on how good of shape that you are in. Before my last marathon, I was in great shape. I had just come off of the half ironman and I was crushing speed and endurance workouts. This training cycle, I wasn't myself until the end because of some tweeks and injuries so therefore I'm not in as good of shape therefore my taper has to look different. Typically the more in shape that you are, the longer that your taper can be, but if you are like not in shape at all, then you need to be working on your endurance and fitness up until closer to time and so that's what I had to do this time. But, I have definitely realized that you aren't going to be in the same shape for every marathon and you have to make adjustments accordingly!
Boston is so so close. Oh, I can taste it. Everyone is mostly leaving today and tomorrow, but our flight doesn't leave until Sunday morning but that's okay. I don't do well when I'm somewhere and just have to think about the race all the time. I'd rather go later because if you follow me much you know that my method to dealing with nerves or anything is just to not think about it! :)