Sunday, 23 March 2008

Marathon Taper checklist

3 weeks until London and I should have been settling into my taper routine now. Instead I have to sit on the sidelines and watch my team mates go through the strange sensation that is backing off your training in the last few weeks before a marathon. Those aches and pains that start to emerge when you reduce training rather than increase it. The fatigue that really kicks in with 2 weeks to go and then race week when you are like a caged lion, prowling round the house ready to go and agonising over whether you are losing fitness with every extra day you taper !

So why do we do it ? The months of hard training for a marathon leave us with microscopic damage in our muscles. Small tears which take more than a few easy days to repair. And while racing with this level of damage might not compromise a 10k it bites you in the later stages of the marathon. So 3 weeks of reduced training allows you body to repair itself.

This principle also applies to getting the full effect of your training too. Remember, training breaks the body down, recovery is what actually makes you fitter. And generally it takes 10 days to 2 weeks to get the full benefit of a training session so hammering a set of intervals in the last week before a big race is only going to tire you out, not make you fitter !

And finally after all the hard training the body will be depleted of carbohydrates and probably a little bit dehydrated too. So easing back allows you to re-stock the stores. You can even measure this by seeing a small increase in your weight during race week. I usually add a couple of pounds as my muscles load up with carbs and water. Thats a good sign !

Tapering principles:

  1. 3 weeks out run 75% of your usual volume
  2. 2 weeks out run 50%
  3. race week run 25%
  4. maintain the quality of your running as you reduce the volume
  5. decide what pace you are going to run at in the race
  6. rehearse your race pace - short repeats of say 1km are good for getting used to the rythmn
  7. eat/drink as normal, the decreased training will mean you are topping up your carb stores
  8. practice drinking on the run and if you are going to use the official sports drink then buy some and practice with that as well. The same goes for energy bars
  9. focus on hydrating on thr/fri of race week. (guzzling gallons of water on saturday night will just make you feel bloated)
  10. practice your race day routine at least once (wake up time, eating race day breakfast, warm up, running at 9.45 wearing race day kit and plasters/vaseline to stop chaffing)
A couple of things to think about for race day:
  1. What is your transport route from where you are staying to the start ? What is plan B and plan C ? Write them down on a piece of paper - tube/train/bus routes and times. Then its all there is you need it.
  2. What is your race day routine ? You have practiced it once during the taper so write it out on paper with timings and follow it. Its one less thing to worry about. The elites do it so why not you ?
  3. The warm up needs to be kept to a minimum to conserve energy. Unless you are on the elite start the first few km will be slow anyway as you get going.
  4. Race pace. A faster second half is the way to go. Too many runners get anxious about hitting precise splits early on. Often this means they start too fast or they try to 'make up time' between Cutty Sark and halfway. Relax into the race, enjoy the sights and spectators early on and find a nice rythmn - its a marathon ! This is as true for a 2.15 runner as a 4.15 runner.
  5. At half way the chances are you will feel good ! Coming off Tower Bridge the crowds are awesome and the downhill gives a nice momentum. Its easy to run the next few miles too fast. So use Tower Bridge as a signal to relax and hold yourself back. Save the speed for coming past the Tower at 22 miles. Thats when it counts.
And a final word on the taper. It is weird, it feels unnatural, all your senses tell you to keep training, do more. You have to really discipline yourself to focus on easing right off, feeling twitchy and adding a few pounds of fuel. Get this right and you are all set to achieve your goals on race day. Good Luck !

No comments: