Eight Tips for Marathon Tapering

After months spent training for a marathon, tapering can be one of the hardest things to get right. Here, we speak to the experts about the dos and don’ts to ensure you arrive at the start line race-ready perfect

Looking relaxed on the start line of my first marathon, Lake Garda, 2012

Do… stay fresh

After so many months getting used to have targets, 10, 13, 15, 19 miles and so on suddenly not having a clear goal can make it tricky and easier for anxieties to flood the brain. If you’re one of these people (who isn’t?), try focusing on staying fresh.

‘If you need a goal during these final two to three weeks, concentrate on only doing runs that will leave you feeling as fresh and unfatigued as possible,’ says Caroline Wood, the British X-Country Masters Champion, V50 who runs for Brighton based Arena Athletics Club. ‘Don’t do any workouts that are likely to undermine this goal. This way you will ensure that you don’t feel sluggish and arrive at the start line feeling great.’

Don’t…cram the miles

Whether you’ve been injured or you simply slacked off and didn’t complete all the long runs that you should have done, DON’T try to cram them in at the last minute like a student cramming for their exams on a bucket of high energy drinks.
‘Any training you do in the last week will make no difference, and is more likely to be harmful,’ explains Caroline. ‘You can’t put in the miles which should have been done weeks ago and it is more likely to cause injury.’
Instead, focus on the positive runs you HAVE done. Far better to arrive at the start line able to run than ending up injured or tired as you try to cram in junk miles in the taper weeks.

DO… have a massage

So many runners neglect massage, considering it a luxury like a spa treatment. But sports massages should be considered an essential, not only to prevent injuries but as an aid to performance.
‘Regular massage helps to stimulate blood and lymph to keep the muscles, joints and tendons in optimum shape,’ explains Rosie Beale, Fitbitch sports massage therapist. ‘And during the taper period, it can help keep you feeling supple as well as aiding with last minute anxieties.’
We would recommend you leave between 24 and 48 hours between a massage and race. (To book a massage with Rosie, email info@fitbitchbootcamp.com).
Don’t… sofa surf
Don’t interpret the taper as an opportunity to not run and just eat cake.  Tapering is about giving your body time to repair, replenish and reboot ready for a fantastic race. Not running at all won’t achieve this.
So, how do you strike the right balance?
It is widely believed that you should decrease overall weekly mileage by approximately 50% before a marathon. BUT you should keep up your tempo work.
‘If you have been doing fast leg turners, you want to keep this up as it will help you to stay fresh,’ explains Rachael Woolston, founder of Fitbitch and women’s winner of the Mumbai Marathon 2013 Veteran category . ‘If you don’t you’re likely to lose your race fitness and end up feeling sluggish, which can knock your confidence.’
A review of different tapering strategies support this with the general consensus appearing to support not dropping intensity by more than 20%.

DO… eat right

Getting the right nutrition is NOT just about what you eat before a race or during a run. It is just as important to eat well during the week, particularly during the taper.
In the first week of your taper, you may want to increase your protein intake to ‘feed’ your muscles so that they can gain peak repair. Thereafter, ensure you are eating a balance of healthy fats, proteins and slow release carbohydrates. Although as Caroline points out, ‘Don’t eat anything you haven’t tried in the week before a race – keep it neutral.’

Don’t… allow maranoia to take hold

No matter how experienced a runner you are, maranoia – the fear or anxiety that you’re injured/haven’t done enough/are going to get a cold/aren’t going to finish, takes hold in the taper week. It is essential to keep this in perspective and not allow it to overwhelm you. But how?
‘Negative thinking is natural, and the only difference between those with winning behaviour, is how you nullify it so it doesn’t preoccupy you,’ explains Yehuda Shinar, Think Like a Winner, £12.99 (Vermillion). ‘Write a goal plan, detailing what you are going to do at each stage of the race, and consider having three goals, one a time that you should be able to get, one that you could get, like a past PB, and an ideal, dream goal. That way you mitigate any pressure surrounding your goal time.’

DO… focus on the positives

Whether you have done everything your plan has asked or work, family life, relationships have got in the way and you’ve missed some miles or tempo sessions, don’t panic.
We are not professional athletes and we run because we enjoy it. Always remember this. If you’re still struggling, take the advice of Gareth Nicholls, sports performance hypnotist at The Therapy Lounge (www.thetherapylounge.com)

‘As soon as your mind begins to race, visualise a stop sign and interrupt your thought pattern and let it go,’ explains Nicholls. ‘Try breathing exercises, inhaling for a count of 7, exhaling for 11, each time focusing on what you want to happen, rather than things that you want to prevent.’

And remember, while many people take up running as a way of relieving stress, when it comes to marathon training when all we do is run, eat, sleep, and think about running, it often becomes a cause of stress in itself. The solution?

Go out and do something completely unrelated to running.

Don’t …forget to drink

No, we don’t mean wine. Ensure that you drink plenty of water. A good rule of thumb? You should be urinating every three to four hours. More than this and you may be overdoing it which can be bad for your electrolyte balance.

Most of all, try to keep thinking of the marathon as an actual celebration of all that you have achieved. The hard work is over. Enjoy the ride!