Scaling back your miles in preparation for a big race should come as a welcome break after months of creeping toward 26.2. But the truth is, tapering isn't easy. No runner likes to build up a consistent marathon training schedule and then quickly pull away from it. It's a surefire way to feel like a slacker. But tapering (if you do it right) can pay off big time on race day in terms of helping you secure a strong, injury-free finish, so accept the challenge and follow these five tips to ease off effectively.
1. Avoid over-resting: You may be cutting back to about 50%-75% of your usual running load, but tapering is not time to be spent on the couch. Continue to run, but perform shorter intervals at race pace and keep mileage low. So you don't feel sluggish on race day, schedule a couple of short track workouts, mile repeats, and 800s to help you maintain your speed.
2. Match your meals to your training volume: The tricky thing about tapering is that while you should be saving up carbs to burn during a race, you also don't want to pack on extra weight in the process. Remember the body can only store so much glycogen at once, and if you take in more calories than you need, your body converts them to fat and stores it. Here's one suggestion: Instead of carbo-loading with a huge plate of pasta pre-race, split your carbs up into smaller meals and incorporate some protein as well.
3. Let the taper happen: Don't tack miles on your taper workouts because you feel good or because "6 miles doesn't feel like enough anymore." Though you may be frustrated with the extra energy building up in your body, remember the end goal and stick shortened workouts. Also, don't go crazy with cross-training. Tapering isn't just a break from running, it's a break for your body.
4. Don't play mind games: Tapering might be the most annoying part of marathon training. Here you are with all this energy, and you've got nowhere to use it. In the weeks leading up to a marathon it's a good idea to get your mind off of the race. Spend time with family or catch up with old friends, but whatever you do, don't spend your days running the marathon over and over in your mind. The tapering period has as much of a physical benefit as a mental one, but only if you allow it.
5. Sleep: Get some actual rest. You're probably enjoying more free time now that you are tapering, so put that to good use and catch up on your Zs. Remember the body is a machine, it needs constant maintenance to perform at peak level. Also, avoid overdoing the booze. It can disrupt your sleep, plus there's plenty of time for beer after the race.