Howdy ho, Salty Readers! Today I would like to give a little love to those of you out there who are wrapping up your final long runs and gearing up for the (debatably) most difficult and anxiety-producing part of marathon training… Dun-duh-DUUNNN…
As a creature of perpetual motion, I’ve never been a fan of tapering, resting, days off, etc. My natural inclination is to keep myself as busy as possible all the time. I suspect this inclination is driven by a deep-seeded innate fear that if I stop for even a moment I may never start back again, thus resigning myself to a life of depression, boredom and/or fatness. I tend to equate slowing down with missing out on living life to the fullest. I realize that probably makes me a little crazy. It also makes resting up for race day the most daunting part of training for me, and therefore I tend to shortchange myself when taper time rolls around.
Not anymore. Not with this taper plan!
First, we must venture into the past. It’s hard to believe, but there was a time in my marathoning life when just making it to the finish line was enough. But then, like so many marathoners out there, I caught the Boston bug, and just like that, timing was everything. I put my nose to the grindstone and increased my weekly mileage. I did the speedwork. I wore the compression socks. I foam rolled. I stretched (sometimes). Surely all of this stuff would offset the omission of tapering from the game plan. I mean the more work you do, the better the result, right? And yet the BQ continued to elude me.
After two mostly taper-less failed Boston qualifying attempts in 2011, I gave in and reluctantly penciled in Try Tapering right underneath Qualify for Boston and Don’t Eff It up This Time on my list of 2012 New Year’s Resolutions. And guess what … That taper shit totally worked!!! In March of 2012, I toed the line of the Napa Valley Marathon feeling completely rested, well-fueled and hydrated. And you better believe that I BQ’ed the crap out of that race with a new 11 minute marathon PR to boot! Since that fateful day in Napa, I have relied on the magical five-step taper plan below concocted by non-other than yours truly and my running bestie Saffron to taper for marathons like a boss. Allow me to share it with you now … May it bring you much fall marathon success!
1. Take as Much Time Off Work Prior to your Race as Possible! I recommend taking the entire week leading up to the race off if you can swing it. This part is especially critical if your job involves teaching 8 to 10 group exercise classes per week (as mine does), or is otherwise physically demanding. Although I typically begin gradually scaling back my running mileage as early as 3 weeks prior to the race, having most of the week off leading up to the marathon made it infinitely easier for me to truly rest both my body and mind in preparation for the big day. Hope you have been saving up those vacation days, friends. Now is the time to cash them in!
2. Sleep A LOT and Use Jet Lag to Your Advantage: Speaking of resting both mind and body, the second component of my five-step tapering program is sleep. If you are tapering for a marathon or long-distance race of another sort, please do not hesitate to take lots of naps, go to bed early, and sleep late. This will work out particularly well for you if (a) you embrace component 1 of the tapering program, and (b) you live on the east coast but your goal race is on the west coast. This way you will be inclined to go to bed early anyway and when morning rolls around you will most likely wake up pretty early without even noticing, thanks to that handy 3 hour time difference. *Note: Although I found the time zone change to be advantageous when traveling west across the Continental US, it proved to be very much the opposite for trans-Atlantic European marathoning. Destination races are fabulous, but whether you are traveling west to east domestically or internationally, make sure that you allow yourself adequate time to adapt to the time change, and for the love of all that is good, sleep on the plane trip there!
3. Stuff Your Face with Delicious Food: You are going to need plenty of quality fuel to keep you going all the way to the finish line. During your final taper week, do not underestimate the importance of eating. A lot. Race week food choices that seemed to work well for me included crepes, gelato, fancy gourmet BLTs, and a sundry fare from various Italian and Farm-to-Table restaurants. Use your own good judgement and intimate knowledge of your unique digestive system and dietary preferences to make food choices that are appropriate for you a week out from your race. Here are a few examples of my preferred tapering meals…
4. Fill Your Week Leading Up to the Race with Fun and Relaxing Activities: Stay relaxed and focused as the big day approaches by participating in only fun, light-hearted, low-key endeavors. I especially recommend copious amounts of playing with babies (but not necessarily babysitting) and/or puppies or otherwise surrounding yourself with cuteness. Shopping is also a good idea, particularly if you have access to multiple Sports Basements, Target, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods stores.
5. Hydrate Like There’s No Tomorrow! My fool-proof marathon hydration strategy is based on the 2:1 ratio. Two bottles of water for every one Peet’s latte consumed, that is. In the days leading up to my race I like to average two to three Peet’s lattes per day. This means that my daily water consumption total comes in at around 4 to 6 32 ounce Nalgene bottles per day. Just in case you were wondering, this hydration plan comes complete with an inordinate amount of peeing. (Don’t they all, though?) I also fortify my water with those fun little flavored fizzy electrolyte tabs whenever possible. (Seriously, I think I went through an entire tube of that stuff in the final 36 hours before my last race!) Peach Tea flavored Gu Brew was my pre-marathon electrolyte-loading product of choice, but I think Nunn and Hammer Fizz are equally tasty and effective in keeping your electrolyte levels balanced and working in your favor on race day.
As silly as it may seem, these 5 things, plus a little help from my friends were all I needed to ditch my 2011 marathon funk, and land the BQ I was looking for. As you consider them, keep in mind that this tapering program is in no way backed by science, it cannot guarantee specific marathon results of any kind, and that I have absolutely no credentials as a running coach or expert of any sort.
What I do have is experience in (mostly successfully) completing 6 marathons, and what I consider to be a decent amount of good sense. Remember as you move into your taper that (a) it’s an important part of marathon training that has been proven effective by sources far more credible than my humble personal experience. And (b) you’ve been working your ass off for the last 20 weeks or so. You deserve this glorious down time so you can rest up and relish dominating your big day like the marathoning rock start that you are!
Happy tapering to all, and cheers to a fall that sure to be filled with many a marathon PR!
What’s your tried and true tapering strategy?
Click here to see what my fellow Salties have to say about tapering.