After my last 20 mile run on Sunday, I eagerly embraced taper and the reduced workouts on my schedule. Except I didn’t read the schedule very closely, and I now realize that the week has pretty much been the same as every other week:
Monday: recovery day with 30 minutes of strength training
Tuesday: bike 20 miles (hilly) in 1:02:30
Wednesday: run 6 miles (drills, warm-up mile, 3 x 1,600m at 7:41 with 400m rest intervals, cool-down mile)
Thursday: bike 20 miles (fast) in 52:30 plus 30 minutes of strength training
Friday: run 8 miles (I plan to run a warm-up mile then 6 miles at marathon goal pace of 8:25 and a cool-down mile plus drills. [edited to add: run done in 1:12:42.])
Saturday: rest day
Of all the workouts I find the Friday 8 miles to be the hardest. It’s just long enough not to be short, and too short to be long, if you know what I mean. And when I finish those 8 miles later today, my total running mileage for the week will be 34, which is high for me.
So, while I haven’t been taking it easy this week, I have been thinking a lot about race day and tapering for it, and I’ve come up with my list of tips for taper.
1. Don’t try to cram in any extra mileage. It can be tempting to get one more long run in to boost your confidence before the race, but while it may help you mentally, it will hurt you physically. Now is the time to let your legs recover from all the hard work you did in training so they are fresh and ready to go on race day.
2. Do throw in a bit of speed work. As you decrease the mileage during taper, you can increase the speed for some of those miles. Now is a good time to get some more practice running at race goal pace. I like to run on the treadmill for some of these runs to train my legs to run at an even marathon goal pace, then get outside to practice regulating my own pace for race day.
3. Don’t try to lose weight. We’ve all heard how shedding a pound or two of excess weight will shed a minute or two off your marathon time. However, taper is not the time to go on a crash diet to lose a few pounds before race day. If you try to lose too much weight too fast, you might just lose muscle rather than fat.
4. Do watch what you’re eating. Follow a balanced diet and be on your best behavior. I usually follow an “everything in moderation” plan without getting too crazy about restricting my diet, but during taper I find that it helps to pay a little more attention to eating well. That makes me feel good about my preparation for the race, and it keeps me from gaining weight during the time of reduced workouts for taper. Keep in mind, though, that it’s normal to see 2-3 extra pounds on the scale as you carbo-load on the few days before the race.
Runners who have properly carbo-loaded should gain about one to three pounds-but don’t panic! This weight gain is good; it reflects water weight and indicates you have done a good job of fueling your muscles. For every ounce of carb stored in your body, you store almost three ounces water.
5. Don’t obsess about every ache and pain. It seems inevitable. A muscle will tighten up, a strange twinge will appear out of nowhere, or an ankle will twist on the playground. I guess our brains and bodies go looking for something to fret about during the weeks before the race, and we worry that a last minute ache or pain will take down months of marathon training. While legitimate injuries happen, in my experience the vast majority of taper aches and pains evaporate by race day. Focus on stretching and foam rolling and take extra care during these last weeks before the race, but don’t panic if you notice an odd pain or two.
6. Do obsess about the race day details. Review the course and elevation maps online. Plan your fuel for race day — what will you eat and drink for breakfast before the race? How and when will you consume fuel during the race? (See Active.com’s Fueling for Peak Marathon Performance.) Don’t introduce anything new, but review what worked for you during your long training runs and create your plan based on that. Also plan what clothing and gear you plan to use, and make sure you’ve tried them out on several runs before race day.
7. Don’t go crazy with your race day ambition. Trust me, it’s not fun to go out too fast in the early miles of a marathon and bonk in the second half. I’ve done it and I never want to do it again. In fact I just read in Runner’s World that to warm up properly during a marathon, it’s a good idea to run the first mile at MGP (marathon goal pace) + 40 seconds, the second mile at MGP + 20 seconds, the third mile at MGP + 10 seconds and the fourth mile at MGP. I’m going to follow that plan at Santa Rosa as best I can, and I’ve printed a marathon pace band and made a few handwritten modifications to it to reflect a slower start and what I hope will be that elusive negative split (running the second half faster than the first).
8. Do nail down all the details for the race expo, travel and lodging, and parking and shuttles on race day. I have printed out my hotel, car rental and flight reservations, plus the times and locations for the race expo, race day parking and race start. Be extra careful if you need to take a race day shuttle from parking to the race start. I had a friend confuse the race start time with the shuttle time, and he showed up for the shuttle just as the race was starting! Thankfully he found a lift to the start, was allowed to cross the start timing mat 40 minutes late, and finished the race with an accurate chip time! I cannot imagine the stress of doing that though — and it certainly messed with the timing of his fueling for race day.
9. Don’t question your training. Hmm, that seems a little hypocritical to say when I just spent some time assessing my marathon readiness, but what I mean to say is, don’t beat yourself up over the workouts you did or didn’t do. Now is the time to trust that you’ve put in the hard work that will pay off on race day.
10. Do have faith in the magic of taper. It’s especially hard for first-time marathoners to believe that they can go from a longest run of 20 miles in training to completing 20 + 6.2 more miles on race day. The rest and recovery during taper will work its magic, and fresh legs will be able to go the extra miles! The night before the race, remind yourself of that fact and visualize yourself executing the race and crossing the finish line, holding your arms up in the air in victory!
Do you have any tips for taper? Do you go crazy during taper time or have you learned to embrace it?