What elite marathoners can teach you about the marathon taper
The marathon taper is perhaps one of the most nerve-wracking parts of marathon training and often the time you find yourself questioning your fitness and training the most. Therefore, I thought it would be helpful to show you my two week taper in preparation for the Olympic Trials.
Hopefully, you can garner some insights for your next marathon taper or, at the very least, calm your nerves by realizing that even elites get nervous about the 26.2 mile distance.
This is my two week taper to the Olympic Trials Marathon in November 2007. Personally, I prefer a two week taper, but other elite athletes have their own tapering methods. For example, Bill Rodgers like 3 days to a week while Ryan Hall does three weeks for his taper.
I think two weeks is a good starting point for most people; it will never do you wrong. However, you find with time and experimentation that you do a bit better with a bit longer or shorter taper, so don’t be afraid to adjust to your individual response.
As always, remember that the idea behind these “elite training articles” isn’t that you should be looking to copy this training directly, but that you can get ideas from what elites are doing and apply the concepts to your own training.
Training October 22 to 28 2007
22 miles on roads starting and finishing at top of Mnt. Watchusett. Medium pace (just under 6 mins per mile avg.) for first 19 miles then hard on the climb (3 miles long 1070 feet of climbing) for just over a 7min a mile avg. (21:38), 2:16:52 total time, heart rate a bit over 150bpm at finish. Tot. 22
AM woods 5 easy w/ gary, 37:11 tot. 5
PM woods 5 easy w/ uml guys, 36:23 tot. 5. Between runs got ART/chiro adjustment from Dr. Pete
AM woods 7 solo and easy, 46:34 tot. 7
PM 7+ solo easy at Maudsley state park, 49:48 tot. 7. Got ART/Chiro adjustment from Dr. Cracken between runs
11:30AM at mines falls 19:56 w/up, couple strides, 7 1/8 mile progression run in 34:57, (3 loops of factory loop) 12:03.8 (5:04.8 pace), 11:39.3 (4:54.5pace) 23:43.1 at 4.5 miles, 11:14.1 (4:43.8pace) 34:57.2 (4:54.4 pace) 12 minute flat cool down tot. 11-
3:15PM 18 min w/up w/ tim and ruben, solo 7k on track at about mp, 21:50, felt easy as hell, splits (3:06.3, 6:15.0(3:08.7), 9:21.9(3:07.0), 12:30.3(3:08.4), 15:36.7(3:06.4), 18:42.6(3:06.0), 21:50.3(3:07.7)) 17:56 cool down w/ ruben and tim. Tot. 10+
AM woods 6 solo, easy, 44:09 tot. 6
7AM woods 13++, 1:26:14, honestly felt a little flat after staying up too late the night before tot. 13
Noon woods 5 solo, easy, 35:07 tot. 5
5PM woods 5 solo, easy 34:51 tot. 5
96 miles for the week, 1 workout, 1 real long run, 1 pretend long run.
Training October 29 to November 4
AM woods 7 solo, easy, 46:57 tot. 7. ART and Chiropractic adjustment
5PM 5+ easy, solo at Maudsley 37:27, tot. 5
PM 2 w/up with Tim Guerin (uml guy), 16:28, couple of strides, 5k on the track with tim at my mp goal pace, I led until 600m to go when he kicked in nicely. I ran 15:42.4, Tim went 15:34.1. splits (3:09.2, 6:17.9 (3:08.7), 9:26.0 (3:08.1), 12:34.2 (3:08.3) 15:42.4 (3:08.2), this was super easy, 2 c/down with 15:52 tot. 7++
AM woods 6 solo, easy 41:53 tot. 6
PM woods 6 w/ uml guys, easy, 43:52 tot. 6
AM travel to New York City
PM 31:53 out and back from hotel along bike pace on the east river tot. 5-
AM 29:34 out and back from the hotel mostly in central park, also stopped for 4
easy strides with jog back rest in the park, not included in time, tot. 5-
AM 12 min w/up, few strides, Race Olympic trials marathon, 7th place 2:14:56,
the biggest 32 second pr of my life. Much tougher course then where I ran my debut/old PR.
9AM 24:34 out and back along the east river, I’m calling it 3 because it hurt so
damn much but in all honesty I’d be willing to be it was less then 2.5 tot. 2
65 miles for the week, well ok so that was the best race of my life so far. I’ll leave it at that.
Race 5k splits
Last 2.195k in 7:12
What you can learn
Reduce workout intensity and don’t challenge energy systems you haven’t used
It is assumed in a taper that you are going to reduce your volume, which is good. However, a mistake many runners make is trying to do workouts that are of equal intensity, but think they are lowering the difficulty by reducing the volume.
For example, I often see people who have been doing long, hard workouts try to do short, speed-oriented workouts. The problem with this approach is that by doing a type of workout you haven’t been doing throughout your training cycle, you actually fatigue your muscles more because you haven’t used that specific energy system in a long time.
Looking at the workouts I did
The final long run on the first Monday is a great example of reducing intensity, but not volume. The volume is as long as my normal sessions but I reduced the intensity by a lot. Basically running at normal training pace for the first 19 miles and running the last 3 miles at a hard effort. In a normal workout, at least 3/4 of the run would have been at marathon effort. Despite looking long to most, this session was quite a bit easier than my normal training.
Thursday of week one also demonstrates this concept. By splitting up the workout into two sessions – morning and evening, I was able to keep the volume roughly the same, but reduced the difficulty and intensity of the workout as a whole. If I had combined the two workouts into one session, that would be about a normal marathon specific workout. For athletes doing lower volume I would have them just do one of these two sessions on this day, so it’s much easier then normal. During the taper, each successive workout should get easier.
Don’t reduce your volume too much
The single biggest mistake I see in marathon tapers is that people over-taper the last two weeks leading into the race. This leads to feeling flat and sluggish on race day and increases the chance that you’ll come down with a cold by race day.
The sudden reduction in work load confuses your body and causes your metabolism to crash. In simplified terms, you over-recover, which means your metabolism drops and your immune system is left very susceptible.
With that said, you also don’t want you to go out and run your full volume two weeks out or run a ton of miles in the five days before your race. The general rule I like to follow is the 80/60 principle.
The first week of the taper you want to run about 80% of your regular weekly volume during the marathon specific phase. The week of the race you want to run about 60% of your highest weekly volume. Remember, unless you are running Boston, a Monday marathon, you don’t have a full week leading in to the race. With the race itself being 26 miles, it can throw off your weekly totals, so it should not be considered part of your normal training week. So, you would do 60% of what you would have done for five or six days during your marathon specific face, depending on if your race is on Saturday or Sunday.
For example, for a Sunday marathon, if you average 70 miles a week during your specific phase, that is 60 miles for a six day average (10 miles a day). Therefore, you would be looking to run about 36 miles (60% of 60 miles) for the six days leading into your race.
You should also keep in mind that you aren’t going to feel great at the start of the taper. You have been training hard and you shouldn’t really be feeling great until you get into the last few days before the marathon.
If you find in your taper that you are feeling great 9-10 days our from the race but then feel flat on race day, you can change to a shorter taper for your next marathon.
Finally, the mileage in your last two weeks should be front-loaded, meaning you run a greater percentage of the mileage early in the week. In our previous example of a 36 mile final week, you wouldn’t run 6 miles for the 6 days of the taper. Rather, each day should drop off a bit as it goes on. For example, 10 and 8 miles the first few days and 2-5 miles the last two days.
I think the best time for your last workout is four days out from your marathon. My preference is a two-mile or five kilometer tempo run at marathon goal pace. You should warm-up exactly as you plan to on race day, which for many will be very little or nothing at all. Then, run your tempo at race goal pace – NO FASTER.
I know my average 5k average during the race was actually 15:59 and I ran 15:42 in my final workout, but for logistical reasons, I was on the track and the race was on the rolling hills of central park.
Always keep your terrain in mind when you are training. If your doing your workouts on the track and you’re racing Boston or NYC for your marathon, you need to understand your race pace will be slower then what your workouts are indicating.
In general I suggest you do your specific work on as similar terrain to goal race as possible, but if you make an exception for one or two workouts, particularly during the taper, it is fine as long as you adjust the paces accordingly. This last workout should feel very easy, which is what you’re looking for. The purpose of the workout isn’t to gain any fitness, but serves as a little wake up for the body – the hay is in the barn as they day.
Good luck with your marathon taper, I know it can be a nerve-wracking time. Please don’t hesitate to leave your questions or comments on anything above. I promise I will answer any question asked!