It’s taper time – and I’m sure I’m not the only runner who struggles with the concept that sitting around could actually be making me fitter (well, it’s not quite that simple, but that’s the general theory 🙂 ) and that doing much less than I’m used to is when the spell is spun and the magic of training does its thing.
I, and I suspect this is the same for most runners, get twitchy and restless with questions like: an extra few miles might make all the difference? Maybe I should be running as my competitors could be and they might be stronger? Why am I tapering because X-runner who always beats me never does…? The head-messing goes on, probably because you actually have more time to stop and think about it.
The science is pretty clear when it comes to tapering – it takes two to three weeks to get a training effect i.e. get fitter and so high volume stuff in this period is actually going to take effect post-race. While it may (more likely) or may not slow you down on race day it’s a waste of time if you intend putting your feet up after a race.
Of course the problem for most ultra runners is that a shorter-twice-a-year-marathon race isn’t the end of the story. These are usually just stepping-stones on the journey. And there in lies part of the problem. I don’t always want to run a marathon as a build up to an ultra. I’d quite like to put in a decent performance in my marathon too.
My first ever marathon taper was unorthodox to say the least…two weeks out I ran 13 miles (my longest run for six months although I’d done 13 miles a fair few times), cycled 17 miles the next day on my sit-up-and-beg hybrid, following this with 2 spin sessions, three short swims (I couldn’t really in those days), two weights sessions, a 13 mile bike, and a fartlek session during the week. The last week saw me run 10 miles in heavy rain, swim three times, spin twice, do a couple of weights sessions, run a 10km tempo, and a 10km with the local tri-club. I rested the day before the race – which felt fine although I could just feel my right knee and shin afterwards – according to my training diary.
I have a bit more structure these days but still keep a relatively high turnover going. In a two-week taper, I’ll do 70% of my peak mileage on the first week and 30% volume in the final week. This will be mainly high intensity stuff (like the spin classes of yore) to keep my metabolism revved. While I don’t mind carrying a few extra pounds when I need the fuel for an ultra I’d rather not be packing extra weight for a marathon or less. My body just goes: ‘food – thank you very much!’ and I’ll quickly be plus-paunch come race day.