We made it. Just three weeks until the Boston Marathon!!! In past marathon training cycles, my taper has ranged from three weeks to just a few days, with varying results. This time around I’ll be trying out a two-week reduction in volume. It’s a tricky thing to get right. Taper for too long, and you risk losing fitness and dealing with flat legs. Taper for not long enough, and you won’t be rested appropriately to crush it on race day.
Here are my best taper tips gained from experience (written mostly to distract myself from my own taper insanity). Please share with me your favorite ways for making it through the hardest ‘easy’ part of training!
Taper Tip 1: Reduce volume, not intensity.
The optimal marathon taper begins two to three weeks before race day. General guidelines are to cut peak mileage by 25% three weeks out, 40% two weeks out, and 60% the week of the race (not including the marathon). Do NOT cut out speed and tempo work, but lower overall time spent running at high intensity.
PRO TIP: Even when cutting mileage, it’s best to try to keep running the same number of days per week. The body and mind get used to a particular routine, and for your own sanity, it’s easiest to stick to that.
Taper Tip 2: Find something to distract yourself.
The biggest challenge of the taper is psychological. Marathoners worry that months of hard work will evaporate after just a few easy days. But fear not. A well-executed taper can actually improve race performance by 3-5%. That’s huge! You MUST fight the urge to fill your spare time with spin classes or some new weight training routine. Instead, distract yourself with a new book, binge-watch The Walking Dead (visualize yourself running from zombies), or try out some new carb-heavy recipes.
Taper Tip 3: The Taper Tantrums.
Expect to feel anxious, giddy, stir-crazy, crabby, or overly emotional for no reason. These mood swings and outbursts are normal and are referred to as Taper Tantrums. If you can accept that you will have daily mini-freakouts for two weeks, you’ll be in a much better place. And you may want to apologize in advance to friends and family. “I’m sorry for what I said when I was tapering.”
Taper Tip 4: Forecasting
When you are 10 days out from the marathon, begin obsessively checking the weather forecast. You will now have something else to feel anxious about and can finally start planning your race day outfit.
PRO TIP: Wear nothing new. Discovering that cute new top chafes at mile 18 is not fun. Trust me.
Taper Tip 5: SLEEP MORE.
We all know the night before the race will be spent tossing and turning, terrified of sleeping through the 4am alarm. But it’s been proven that one bad night of sleep won’t affect performance, as long as you are well rested going into it. So turn off the tv and power down the computer a half hour (or more!) earlier every night the week before the race. This is when your body heals and repairs the damage of four months of hard training. You’ve earned this rest.
PRO TIP: if you are traveling for your race, bring ear plugs and an eye mask. Who would have guessed the ventilation system in that cheap hotel sounds like a jet plane taking off?
Taper Tip 6: The best part of the taper.
ALL THE CARBS!!! Three days out from race day, begin increasing your carb intake while decreasing your fat and protein intake. Marathoners should be eating about 4 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. For me, that’s just over 500g of carbs. That’s A LOT. And just like everything related to the race: nothing new, especially if you have a sensitive stomach. My staples? Sweet potatoes, white rice, and rice cakes.
PRO TIP: Expect to gain a few pounds in these last few days. It’s not caused by lack of running or excess calorie intake, but instead by water retention. For every gram of carbohydrate the body stores in the muscles as glycogen, it also stores 3 grams of water.
Taper Tip 7: Have a plan.
In addition to studying the course map, aid station locations, and elevation profile, you should make three goals for your race. Goal 1 is “everything goes perfectly.” Goal 2 is “it goes pretty well.” And goal 3 is “not my best day but I pulled it out.” It’s impossible to control everything when racing 26.2 miles. Factors like the weather can have a huge impact on your race, so by having a range of goals this ensures you hit at least one of them at the finish.
My goals for Boston:
#1. Run sub-3:00
#2. Run a PR (sub-3:07) and execute a good fueling strategy
#3. Soak in the atmosphere and feed off the crowds, enjoy the experience 100%
My last and most important Taper Tip: Trust in your training.
It’s easy to start questioning your preparation as the race gets closer. Did you run enough hills? Were the easy runs too slow? Tempos fast enough? Stop the overanalyzing and read through your training log. (If you aren’t keeping one, start now.) Look back at your hard workouts and long runs and tune-up races. Remember how good you felt hitting your paces and how those 18 milers began to feel almost easy.
The hard work is in the bank. Now’s your time to shine. And remember, you do this because you LOVE running. No matter the outcome, enjoy it.