I think tapering is the
hardest part of marathon training. Hear me out. Consider that you have to choose
the length of time you taper, the number of miles you reduce your volume by and
the intensity in which you do those last few workouts. Every mile and every day
makes a difference. Did you make the right choices? You'll find out around mile
20 of the most important race of your season or perhaps your life.
2012 Boston Marathon. The taper did not prepare me for the unseasonable heat.
You could say that about all facets of your
program, but the taper is the one where I find myself doing the most
second-guessing. That's because unlike a week that was too hard or too easy in
the middle of the program, there is little or no time to fix a mistake made in
the taper portion.
During my taper for the 2012 Boston Marathon, I
took a new approach to the taper. The 15
day period called for low volume and moderately high intensity. It took some
methods from Pete Pfitzinger
, some from the Hansons
and some from my past
mistakes, all of course with the input of my coach. Prior to the Boston and
Richmond Marathons in 2010, I only backed off my average weekly mileage by 20%
and did marathon pace runs of 10 miles nine days before the race. In Boston, I
blew up in the final 10K of the race. In Richmond, despite running a 3 minute
PR, I felt flat and tired from mile seven to the finish and my time was not
indicative of what I was trained to run.
Pfitzinger preaches that the last day a runner can
really gain fitness applicable to the marathon is 10 days before the race. He
recommends a 2X2 mile workout at half-marathon to marathon pace while the
Hansons call for a 5-10K effort at marginally slower than 10K race pace. For my
final workout in early April, I did four miles at slightly slower than half
marathon pace (5:35, 5:36, 5:38, 5:35) with a very easy warm up and cool down.
From here on out it is all about rest and recovery.
The most important thing about tapering is
adjusting your priorities. During the entire marathon cycle, getting in the
miles and the workouts trumps almost everything. However, during the taper,
running falls to a distant third on the list between sleep and food (although
those items were always a very close second to running). In the taper phase, I
have forced myself to sleep through runs just to get the required slumber. I skipped one scheduled easy run for a
massage. On another easy run, I stopped and walked home after I realized my run
was getting a little longer than I intended. And during a speed session, my coach pulled me
out of an interval workout after two of the three prescribed intervals. I felt
like I had more left in the tank, but he saw another interval jeopardizing this
critical rest period.
Yes, tapering is frustrating on more than one
level. It's not just because it's the farthest thing possible from an exact science,
but it also contradicts every endurance runner's instincts. You spend months
pushing your body to the brink of complete breakdown and then you spend a
couple of weeks preventing yourself from even coming close to finishing a run
where you are wheezing with your hands on your knees. You feel lazy, you feel
sluggish and worst of all, you feel just as hungry (or hungrier!) as you did
when you were at the peak of the cycle.
Of course, every runner is
wired differently. Only a runner can
decide which taper method works best for them.
Like everything else related to marathon training, most runners don’t
nail it on the first try. It takes trial
and error. It is the most individualized part of your training. If you are
lucky enough to find one, stick with it. Many very smart, mature and dedicated
runners are still looking after five, ten, even twenty marathons. I hope your
taper leaves you feeling rejuvenated on race day. You’ll know somewhere in the