The final two-week taper before a marathon is a very important part of your overall training plan. In these two weeks you can fine tune your training, sharpen up for race day. As well as this, you can finalise your nutrition and hydration plans. It can also be a stressful time as you contemplate the logistics of the big day itself. Here are a few tips to get you to the start line in the best possible physical and mental condition!
Reduce Volume, Maintain Intensity
This is a common mistake you see, particularly with beginner/novice marathon runners. As you come to the taper it is important to freshen the body and mind after weeks of hard training. But if you reduce your volume and intensity too much then you run the risk of reaching the start line feeling flat. So while it is important to reduce your overall training volume in the last two weeks you should still maintain a certain level of intensity in your training. So in practical terms, what does this mean?
If you have been doing 5 days running a week with one long run, one speed or intensity day and three easy days, you should maintain this schedule but cut down on the overall volume of each session. So if your long run has been 18-22 miles, then cut it down to 16 two weeks out and 10-12 the week before the marathon. If you have been doing 5×1 mile or 12x400m on your speed days then keep these sessions in but just shorten the reps or better still, do less. If your standard easy run was 6 miles, cut this down to 4. These are just examples and it also depends on your overall training plan, but by reducing the volume while maintaining intensity you should get to race day feeling fresh with plenty of zip in your legs.
Get your nutrition and hydration right!
It is important in these two weeks to make sure that you eat well and pay close attention to your hydration. Don’t make any radical changes to your diet but make sure to eat plenty of good food with a particular emphasis on fresh fruit and veg. Try and get a good blend of carbs, protein and fats in every meal. Hydration is also important so make sure to take on plenty of liquids throughout the day.
Another important point is; don’t eat more food that you need during these two weeks! You are reducing your overall training volume so you don’t require as many calories. While you want to make sure you are getting all the calories you require, you don’t want to get to start line carrying extra weight that you don’t need!
Get to bed on time!
Sleep is the best recovery tool we have at our disposal. Over the course of your marathon training you have put a big stress on the body in order to get into the best shape possible. Now is the time to freshen up. Try and aim for a minimum of 8 hours sleep a night in these two weeks. If it means going to bed an hour earlier, or putting the phone away at 8pm, so be it. It is vital to let the body repair and adapt from the training load that has been completed over the previous weeks.
If you don’t sleep that well the night before the marathon, don’t be too concerned. Nerves can affect our sleep. So long and you have been sleeping well over the previous two weeks and get a good nights sleep two nights before the big day you should be fine! Even if you can’t sleep the night before, make sure you are lying down and resting anyway!
Don’t try anything new!
This is not the time to add yoga into your life for the first time, or to decide to go to the gym and start lifting weights. While yoga and gym work are great for running, during the taper phase is NOT the time to introduce them. The injury risk is too high, so just maintain whatever ancillary work you have been doing throughout your training. Also, when it comes to race day, don’t try anything you haven’t done before. You should have your pre race breakfast and your race day nutrition worked out by this stage so don’t start experimenting! Try to have all your gels and nutrition purchsed well in advance. Don’t rely on getting your chosen brand at the expo, as they may not have them and you might have to resort to using a brand you have never used before.
Get a Sports Massage
Massage is a great way of helping the legs to come around after hard training and can add a pep to your step. A sports massage in the run up to a marathon can improve circulation, restore muscle tone, work out any little kinks that may hinder you, and leave the legs and mind feeling better before the race. Make sure not to get a deep tissue massage too close to race day as you may be left with some residual soreness. 4-7 days before the race is the ideal time, but book early as most therapists are very busy on marathon week.
So there you go, a few tips on getting to the start line and surviving the taper. You can’t do too much to get fitter during these two weeks but you can hurt your race day performance by getting the taper wrong. If you follow these tips you should be ready to go come race day. Remember as well to enjoy the experience, and to look forward to the big day!
Best of luck, may the wind be ever at your back.