Tuesday, October 8, 2013

My thoughts on marathon taper

I've just started a two week taper in anticipation of Mount Desert Marathon, coming up on October 20 in Bar Harbor, Maine. I often read about runners who don't like taper, who find it frustrating and difficult to get through.

That's not me. I embrace the taper! Maybe I'm just lazy and welcome an opportunity to cut back on running. But I don't think that's it. (I am lazy, but in other ways!) I actually do get restless on non-running days, or during the real rest period after the marathon is over. But tapering doesn't bother me.

It's not like you give up running during a taper. Just laying around for two or three weeks would truly be a problem and impact your fitness. Taper includes plenty of running, just in gradually decreasing amounts as the marathon date occurs.

Generally speaking, a taper is two or three weeks long. I actually prefer a three-week taper, even though I'm only doing two weeks this time, and did two weeks before Kauai. This is because my training period between Kauai and MDI was less than two months, so I didn't want to spend a great portion of it in taper. I had three months between NODM and Kauai, but somehow the two-week taper worked better for scheduling then too.

This is what a good three week taper looks like to me. (On non-running days, I generally continue to cross-train on the elliptical.)

Three weeks before the marathon - final long run of 20-22 miles. The week after that long run my weekday runs don't change, typically 6-8 miles three times during the week. If I am doing speed work and tempo runs in the training cycle, I would continue with them as well.

Two weeks before the marathon - long run is 13-16 miles. This is a great time to do a half marathon with a two-mile warm-up. You can either run at faster than marathon pace (there's still plenty of time to recover from a strong half marathon effort, as long as it isn't super hard) or practice running at marathon pace. Again the weekday runs would stay at 6-8 miles, though perhaps trend toward the lower end. I think it's fine to do a little speed work or a tempo run as well. I have been known to do a 5K on a Saturday one week before the marathon, if I am not doing a half that weekend.

One week before the marathon - long run is 8-13 miles. I would likely do 10-12 unless I am running a half marathon. I like to do a half marathon at marathon pace (if I didn't do one the prior weekend).

The final week before the marathon - in this last week it is time to reduce both duration and intensity of runs. I might do six miles on Monday, five on Wednesday, and four on Thursday. (Or, given my propensity to overdo, six, six, five.) If I want to do a little speed work I might do a few 400s on Wednesday (but only if I've been doing speedwork regularly). It is really important not to do anything that might cause lingering soreness or injury at this point. So no hill repeats or barreling down hills too fast. It's not a bad idea to do all your easy runs this week at marathon pace.

I like to take two days off running before a big race. That would mean cross-training (sort of easily) on Friday and real rest on Saturday. I am not one who likes to do a shake-out run the day before the marathon. (However, that might change a little this time around.) On occasion (like in Kauai), I did do my last short run just two days before, and then just have the one rest day. That was more of a travel and scheduling fluke than any plan on my part.

This time around I am doing a two-week taper, but my longest run (20 miles) was actually four weeks before the marathon. On Sunday I did my final long-ish run of 18 miles. The rest of my planned taper schedule looks like this....
  • Monday (yesterday) 6.5 miles at marathon pace (average 10:15, miles 3-6.5 were around 10-minute pace).
  • Tuesday - 53 minutes elliptical (I was short on time) and going to hot yoga tonight.
  • Wednesday - I'll do 6-7 miles at a moderate effort, hopefully averaging 10-10:30 pace. I'm also going to test wear my marathon outfit! That will give me time to wash it and pack before leaving for Maine.
  • Thursday - Planning an hour on the elliptical.
  • Friday - 6-7 miles at moderate effort.
  • Saturday - Yoga (not hot) and some time on the elliptical.
  • Sunday - Biggest Loser Half Marathon at marathon pace effort. What does that mean? Don't try too hard! Historically, I almost always try at least moderately hard in a half marathon (results may vary). I really want to work at a pace that I can sustain for further than 13 miles. Slow as that may be.

Next week I'll do about six miles on Monday, fly to Maine on Tuesday, five or six on Wednesday, and then a few (no more than five) on Thursday. Rest on Friday! The switch-up is that I'm doing a two-mile fun run on Saturday morning, en route to a pre-marathon breakfast. This will be my first stab at a shake-out run! Not something I plan to continue, it just worked out that way. Still plenty of time for rest after that. Hopefully with blueberry pancakes in my tummy.

My 18-mile run on Sunday went really well. I was determined to do 18 miles instead of another 20, because I feel like I recover really well from 18-milers and I didn't want to drag myself down so close to marathon date. After two slower warm-up miles I was running around 10-minute pace through mile 10. Then I slowed to 10:30ish for four miles, and finally finished the last four miles back at 10-minute pace. (Average overall 10:20.) At mile 17 my sister drove by on the way to my parents', so I told her to drive ahead a mile and wait for me. I had over-run the distance at the beginning and it was still an extra mile to my parents' house...and I didn't want to run that last unplanned mile.

Then we went to my parents' and ate lots of good brunch food. The end.

No comments: