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The Most Common Marathon Tapering Mistakes

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As a distance runner leads up to race day, it is important to implement a taper period as the training cycle winds down. If you investigate marathon training plans, you will notice that the cut back fits the schedule. In addition, there are other things for a distance runner to be mindful of besides mileage.

To avoid making these common mistakes, check out our advice!

What Is a Marathon Taper?

A marathon taper is a crucial phase in the training cycle leading up to a marathon, where the runner gradually reduces the volume and intensity of their training.

This period of tapering is designed to allow the body to recover from the accumulated fatigue of weeks or months of intense training, while maintaining the fitness level achieved.

7 Benefits of Tapering

  1. Physical Recovery: The tapering period allows your body to recover from the cumulative fatigue caused by months of intense training. This recovery is essential for repairing muscle tissue and addressing any minor injuries or niggles.
  2. Improved Performance: Studies have shown that tapering can lead to enhanced performance. The rest period allows glycogen stores in the muscles to fully replenish, ensuring you have maximum energy available on race day.
  3. Mental Refreshment: Tapering also offers a psychological break. The reduced training load can help alleviate mental fatigue, allowing you to feel mentally fresh and focused on race day.
  4. Reduced Risk of Overtraining: Continuous, intense training without adequate rest can lead to overtraining syndrome. Tapering helps prevent this by providing a necessary period of reduced activity.
  5. Peak Conditioning: The goal of tapering is to ensure that you reach the start line in peak physical condition. This means being fully rested, but not so rested that you lose fitness. The tapering process helps maintain fitness while reducing fatigue.
  6. Enhanced Muscle Repair and Strength: The reduction in training intensity and volume allows your muscles to repair more fully, potentially increasing muscle strength and efficiency.
  7. Strategy Planning and Mental Preparation: The extra time during tapering can be used to strategize for the race, visualize the course, and mentally prepare for the challenge ahead.

11 Most Common Mistakes When Tapering for a Marathon

  1. Reducing Volume Too Much or Too Little: Finding the right balance in reducing your training volume is key. Cutting back too drastically can lead to a loss of fitness, while tapering too little can leave you fatigued on race day.
  2. Maintaining or Increasing Intensity: While it’s important to reduce volume, maintaining some level of intensity is necessary to keep your body in race mode. However, increasing intensity or introducing new types of workouts can lead to injury or fatigue.
  3. Neglecting Nutrition: Some runners neglect proper nutrition during the tapering phase. It’s important to continue eating a balanced diet and to pay attention to carbohydrate loading in the days leading up to the race.
  4. Overloading on Carbohydrates Too Early: While carb-loading is essential, doing it too early or consuming too many carbohydrates can lead to feeling sluggish and heavy. It’s important to time your carb intake correctly.
  5. Not Hydrating Properly: Hydration remains as important during the taper as it is during training. Failing to stay hydrated can impact your performance on race day.
  6. Ignoring Rest and Sleep: Tapering is not just about reducing physical activity; it’s also a time to ensure you are getting adequate rest and sleep to allow your body to recover.
  7. Overlooking Mental Preparation: Tapering is also a time for mental preparation. Some runners fail to use this time to mentally prepare for the race, set goals, and visualize the course and their race strategy.
  8. Changing Routine or Gear: Trying new things, like a different diet, new shoes, or new running gear, can lead to unexpected issues. Stick to what has worked for you during training.
  9. Ignoring Minor Injuries or Niggles: Not addressing minor injuries or niggles during the taper can lead to bigger problems on race day. This time should be used to heal and recover.
  10. Failing to Adjust for Illness or Fatigue: If you’re feeling unusually tired or unwell, it’s important to adjust your tapering plan accordingly. Pushing through illness or extreme fatigue can hinder your race performance.
  11. Not Trusting the Taper: Some runners get anxious during the taper, worrying that they are losing fitness. It’s important to trust the process and understand that tapering is a crucial part of your training.

What Should My Mileage Be During a Marathon Taper?

The mileage volume should decrease by 20-30% each week of taper.

Marathon runners need to taper off the mileage they ran during their training. In other words, to determine your training load for the three weeks of taper, you must consider the weekly mileage run during heavy training.

A very experienced runner might run 45-60 miles each week of deep training. The following week would be 33-38 miles, and race week would be about 20 miles of primarily easy runs. The experienced runner, someone training for the Boston Marathon, for example, may only use a two-week taper.

Novice runners, on the other hand, have a schedule that looks very different. The novice runner training plan may start at 15 miles a week and peak at 30-35. The Hal Higdon novice program uses a three-week taper with peak mileage dropping from 40 total miles to 29 miles, to 21 miles, to a mere 10 miles the week of your marathon goal race.

As illustrated by the two plans, the mileage really does vary based on experience and your personal marathon race goals and expectations.

How Long Do You Taper Before a Marathon?

The duration of the taper before a marathon typically varies between two to three weeks, depending on your training plan, experience, and the intensity of your preparation. Here’s a breakdown of the general guidelines:

Three-Week Taper

This is the most common duration for marathon tapers. It allows a gradual decrease in training volume, giving your body ample time to recover and rebuild. In the first week, you might reduce your training volume by around 20-30%, followed by a 40-50% reduction in the second week, and finally a significant reduction in the final week leading up to the marathon. This method is particularly beneficial for those who have had a high-intensity training program.

Two-Week Taper

Some runners prefer a two-week taper, especially if their training volume hasn’t been exceptionally high or if they recover quickly. In this case, the reduction in mileage and intensity is more abrupt. The first week might see a 30-40% reduction in volume, followed by a 50-60% reduction in the week before the race.

And Finally….

The biggest takeaway for training is to trust the plan you have chosen. Warm up when it tells you to. Invest the time and energy into speed work and fartleks, don’t skip on your long run and work hard when the plan tells you to.

However, you also need to honor the rest day, log easy miles when required, and get adequate rest. Whether your marathon pace is 6-minute miles or a 6-hour marathon, at the end of the day, you want to be a marathoner.

Respecting and following the taper is an essential piece to getting there.

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