TAPER TIME—The Calm Before the Excitement of Marathon Day
We are now past the longest long-run of the training season. For many, it was the longest run of your life; and smiles abounded everywhere you looked. And now with less than three weeks to go we are in the final phase of training for the virtual 2021 Bank of America Chicago Marathon – the “Taper Period”.
This training phase confuses many runners, especially first-time marathon runners. I am often asked:
“Why is our longest long-run less than the marathon distance, and why do we run our 20-miler so far in advance of race day? Won’t my training suffer by running less over the three weeks before race day? Shouldn’t I be running more miles these last few weeks?”
First, we run less than marathon distance as the longest training run to reduce the risk of injury. Marathon training, like training for most endurance events – is a risk/benefit analysis. The risk of running too many training miles (based, in part, on the experience, base level and current condition of the individual runner) must be weighed against how much training will maximize performance on race day. And the stress on the body is cumulative throughout the season.
Many of you have described nagging injuries at this point in training – these last few weeks allow more time to heal before race day instead of exacerbating the injuries.
Studies have shown that running long-run distances greater than 20 miles in training carries a higher risk of injury than the physical benefits resulting from longer training runs. This is true for experienced marathoners as well as first-time marathoners. This is why only experienced and well-trained runners should run multiple long runs of 20 miles or longer. Time on our feet is the best preparation for marathon day. Once we have a long run in the range of 3 and a half hours OR longer, or running distances of 16-20 miles (yes, a fairly wide range and dependent upon the runner) we are better able to handle race day.
Second, we run the longest run of training three weeks before race day to allow our bodies to recover and get stronger for race day. Physiologically, our bodies need one easy day of recovery for each mile of a hard workout. For a 20-mile run (which is a ‘hard workout’ due to total mileage – regardless of pace), this is approximately 20 days, or three weeks. During this time, we do not stop running or training, but shorter runs allow our bodies to adapt and recover from the cumulative stress and physical ‘wear and tear’ on our bodies resulting from several months of training.
Third, our training does not suffer over the taper period. Our body’s adaptation from training requires about two to three weeks to fully benefit from training. The maximum benefit from this weekend’s long run is realized on or close to race day. A reduction in mileage at this point of training improves performance, while additional miles tend to hurt performance on marathon day.
Over these last few weeks the shorter runs bring life back to our legs as we prepare for the journey on Marathon Day. The ‘Taper Phase’ of training is the time to fine-tune our training, and many runs are now run at our marathon pace. Remember - for many first-time marathoners, your long run training pace IS your marathon pace. Practice running at a comfortable pace for race day.
This is also the time to reflect upon training and re-establish goals for race day. Visualize a successful race, from the time you leave home to the time you cross the finish line and all the way back home. Prepare for the unexpected – weather, crowds, traffic, slow start – and have a ‘PLAN B’ in advance of how to turn each of these potentially negative events into a positive situation.
“Good form will carry you through”®