The London Marathon is right around the corner! Now is a great time to start thinking about when you will transition from hard training to tapering so you are both fit and recovered to perform your best on 2 October. Tapering your training allows you to for reach the starting line in peak fitness and with maximal energy reserves.
What are the benefits of tapering training before the marathon?
Besides the obvious aspect of recovering from many hard weeks of hard training, tapering has the following benefits:
- Improvements in running economy (how much oxygen you need to run at a given pace), which is directly related to improvements in marathon race pace. A more economical runner can maintain a faster pace!
- Repair of the ongoing microcellular muscle damage in your muscles
- Bolstering your immune system
- Positive changes in hormonal markers of stress and improved sleep
- Full replenishment of the glycogen stores in your muscles and liver so you have maximal energy reserves
Studies on tapering for distance runners typically find improvements in performance of 2 to 3 percent, which equates to about 3 ½ to 5 ½ minutes for a 3-hour marathoner. As you can see, it is definitely worth planning your taper!
So now that I’ve convinced you that tapering is well and truly worthwhile, here are my top tips for completing a successful taper leading into London Marathon.
Start tapering 3 weeks out from the race
For the marathon, a well-designed 3-week taper will leave you optimally prepared and recovered for the race. With too short a taper you would still have some residual fatigue on marathon day, whereas tapering for too long can lead to a loss of fitness. Given that any one workout will give you less than a 1% improvement in fitness, but a well-designed taper can provide an improvement in race performance of several percent, it’s better to taper slightly too much than not enough.
Decrease your mileage but maintain intensity
The key to effective tapering is to reduce your mileage while maintaining the intensity of your training. Reducing the amount you run reduces accumulated fatigue to improve your marathon performance, while continuing with harder efforts maintains the adaptations that you have worked hard to gain over many weeks. During your taper, your harder training sessions should be shorter in duration so you maintain the intensity, but reduce the quantity, of higher-intensity training.
For example, if you would typically do an 8 km tempo run during your marathon training, you might reduce that to 6 km during your taper, or if you would normally do a workout of 7-8 repetitions of 1 km during hard training, you might do 5-6 reps during your taper.
How much you should reduce your mileage depends on your current training volume, past experience, and overall health. Not surprisingly, older runners tend to require slightly more time to taper than younger runners.
The tapering guidelines below have been tested across thousands of marathoners over the past 25 years:
- Third week pre-London (12-18 Sept): Reduce mileage by about 20 to 30 percent
- Second week pre-London (19-25 Sept): Reduce mileage by about 40 percent
- Marathon week [final 6 days pre-London] (26 Sept to 1 Oct): Reduce mileage by about 60 percent
For example, a marathoner whose training peaks at 110 km per week would reduce their mileage by 20 to 30 percent (to 77 to 88 km) in the third week before London, by about 40 percent (to about 66 km) the following week, and by about 60 percent (to about 44 km) for the 6 days leading up to the marathon.
A tune-up race of 8-10 km two or three weeks before the marathon can put the final polish on your racing fitness and provide a psychological boost as well.
As race day approaches, it’s normal to feel anxious! In the last few weeks before the race, the marathon can dominate your thoughts. That’s especially true when you’re tapering your training and might be worried that your months of training are fading away.
To keep your mind at ease, practice visualisation during your taper. In some of the time that you would usually allot to running, sit or lie in a quiet spot and mentally run through your race. Anticipate potential problems, such as getting boxed in during the early miles, missing an aid station, sudden rain, and so on—and see yourself dealing with them calmly. Picture yourself running relaxed in the early stages of the marathon and then running strongly over the final 10K.
With a well-designed taper you will have given yourself the best chance of achieving your goals on 2 October. Good luck!