Getting fit and fast is only part of the equation to having a great day, not only do you need to ensure that you peak at the right time, which is on the day of your event, but you also need to arrive fully recovered, that is fresh and without any feelings of fatigue. Peaking and Tapering is about ensuring full recovery while maintaining performance adaptations and it’s a fine balance. Coach Brendon takes a closer look.
Why do you need to Taper?
You need to reduce your training volume (taper) to ensure full recovery
Running training causes muscle damage, fatigue and also depletes carbohydrate stores in muscle. You need to ensure that these factors are reduced as much as possible while at the same time you need to make sure that the adaptations your body has made from your training are not lost.
Ensuring Full Recovery
You need to ensure full recovery for a number of different body systems. Lets take a closer look at the key factors you need to work on for full recovery in the taper:
By reducing training, and in particular long or intense speed training sessions, you will arrive at you event with fresh legs. Quite often marathoners and ½ Marathoners find that it is their legs the give out in the latter part of a race. Starting with muscle soreness or muscle fatigue will increase the risk.
By fatigue I mean general fatigue from lots of hard training over a prolonged period (10 weeks plus). A proper taper will give you some mental drive, a very necessary component to ensure that you can focus for your event and push hard in the closing stages. Your central nervious system needs several days of light training as a minimum and the longer your buildup the longer the taper needs to be to remove this. One way to do this without getting lethargic is to do wind sprints in the final few days. These are short efforts at or faster then your projected race intensity (PRI) see the programme below.
Your body can only store a limited amount of carbohydrate in muscle (600g or so) and so your final week should focus on maximizing this. You therefore need to ensure that you do keep eating well. But you can overdo it. If you have been training hard you will be eating more food then usual, so when you reduce your training in the taper, most athletes would be advised to keep their energy stores up by keeping the same eating patterns.This also follows the age old rule of not changing anything close to your event. By also timing your meals immediately (<30min) after your training, you will also ensure that you store less of your food as body fat and more as muscle glycogen, which is good general training advise anyway.
Maintaining Performance Components
As I said earlier you need to make sure that while you are reducing your training so that you are fully recovered that you will need to ensure that you maintain all the adaptations from your training. These adaptations have been hard earned so you do want to hold onto them. The key areas are cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, cardiovascular speed, and Muscular (Leg) speed.
Cardiovascular (aerobic) Endurance
Many of the adaptations to endurance training are rather permanent, things like red blood cell numbers, the oxygen carry molecule heamoglobin, blood capillary density in muscles and mucles cells mitochondria and oxygen carrying myoglobin don’t change rapidly. That’s good news if you want to cut back your training and freshen up. So this explains why you can do your last long run as much as a month out from a marathon. You body still maintains the benefit for up to 30 days. Key point here is that you should never be afraid to back off your long run. By reducing your training volume to 1/3 of your highest level you can maintain your cardiovascular fitness for around 8 weeks.
Your taper must include speed work, but reduced to limit muscle damage if you have run a time trial of about 50% of race distance 2 weeks out from your event you will need to do something hard 8 days out of around 25% of race distance. This would be your last hard session. So for a good marathon runner this would be 5x2k at PRI. 6 days out you would look to remind your body with some shorter intervals say 4x400m. You want to do just enough to maintain. Listening to your body and knowing when to quit this session is also important. Ask “is another rep going to make me faster on race day” if not warm down and go home.
If you are properly rested and have maximized your energy stores and energy usage the next most likely area to cause you to slow down in a marathon is muscle endurance, that is simply that your legs die, happens all the time. Your taper needs to carefully ensure that you maintain these adaptations. You do need to do something of about 1/3 your maximal muscle endurance around 10 days out but also another smaller amount 6 days or so out. For the 10 days out from a marathon a workout of 60min including 50% Hills and several hill reps (say 8x400m) at PRI is key. Do this on grass to reduce muscle damage. This workout should feel mildly taxing on the legs but relatively easy in terms of available energy and cardiovascular effort.
Muscular (Leg) Speed
Leg Speed seems to decrease rapidly. Even after a day off from exercise you feel sluggish and part of this is that your ability to turn your legs over fast drops, to combat this you need to include wind sprints, these are of then 1-200m reps at PRI or slightly faster.
Because you loose leg speed rapidly I think that you should do something on the day before your marathon. Nothing worse then taking ½ the event to get going. A short session building up to your PRI on that day before is also good for your nerves, do it on grass and keep it short (see the suggested taper programme)
Monitor your state of readiness
It is not uncommon for athletes to become sick during the taper to avoid this monitor how you feel. If you feel lethargic but you shouldn’t be due to reduced training, this is a sign that you need to do some speed even 2x200m at your ½ Marathon Pace can be enough to ‘wake your body up’. As you will be able to see the suggested taper includes some faster training on every day except the day two days out.
Individual Variation in Taper
Some athletes need more training then others when it comes to the final few days. If you need more training to avoid going sluggish, be careful that you don’t end up with tired legs and depleted energy stores. Keep on the grass and top up your energy stores as you go.
Massage, Contrast Water Therapy and Stretching
Many athletes get a massage in the week before their goal event, my advice. Don’t do it if you don’t get a regular massage or keep it very light.
Contrast water therapy is where you take a hot shower or use a spa or hot bath and follow this with a cold shower, or plunge pool. 3-4x 7min hot and 2min cold works well and can really make you feel alive. Works for me.
For stretching visit the ACC website it has the best examples of passive and active stretching. Go here for information on Stretches: www.acc.co.nz/injury-prevention/safe-in-sport-and-recreation/acc-sportsmart/
The rule is before exercise use active stretching and after exercise use passive stretching
Example Tapers for ½ Marathon and Marathon
|Volume||8-10km||6km||3km||4km||Day Off||2-4km||Race Day|
|Specifics||3-6x400m at PRI*||2-5x400m Shallow hill reps at
|2-6x100m PRI*||Include 4-8x200m at PRI* 2x1min
Up hill PRI
|Include 1-2x45sec at PRI*|
|Notes||Full Recovery between efforts
On Grass if possible
Optional if you are not feeling fully recovered miss out, if you feel lethargic
do this session
|On Grass if Possible||If you feel lethargic use contrast
*PRI is your projected race intensity for your event
Coach & Training Consultant
Endurance Sports Ltd