Okay, so you’ve trained for months for your big race (marathon, half, Ironman, 10k, etc.) and you are antsy with 2-4 weeks before the event – what do you do? You do what is called a taper. A taper is when you decrease the amount of mileage you have been doing these past 3-5 months, so your body can recover from all the stress and strenuous routines you’ve put your poor muscles through.
You Will Not Lose Your Fitness
It takes 3-4 weeks to lose the fitness you’ve built up, so by decreasing your mileage a little bit doesn’t mean you will get slower. Actually, your body needs a break, if it is going to perform at its highest level on race day. I am going to use a marathon training scenario as an example on what to do 4 weeks out to 1 week before your competitive race. Let’s assume you have been averaging 40-50 miles a week, which is what an average marathon runner who has done maybe 1 or 2 marathons before will log in.
4 weeks out
Mileage can either stay at the same amount or you can drop it by 5-10% (I usually do a 3 week taper, but everyone is different here – you know your body better than anyone). This week or next should be your final long run (16-22 miles).
3 weeks out
Drop mileage down by 10-20% (So if you were doing 50 miles per week – this week’s mileage would be 40-45 miles). This week or last week needs to be where you put in your last long run (16-22 miles).
2 weeks out
Drop mileage 25-30% (using a 50 mile week average – this week’s mileage is 35-37 miles for the week). Longest run of the week 10-16 miles.
1 week out
(NOT counting race) – drop mileage by 50-60% (so 20-25 miles for the week). Your long run is the marathon race.
Here’s the caveat to the taper – don’t decrease the intensity of your workouts just the mileage. You still need to remind your body to run the pace you’ve been training so hard to reach, so there is no jolt to the system when you get on the starting line.
What do I mean?
I mean if you usually do a steady state run for 10 miles, during your taper, you may want to do the steady state run for 6-8 miles. If you usually do 12 x 800 for a workout, you may only do 6-8 x 800 the weeks leading up to the race. If you normally do marathon pace during you long run for 12 miles, the weeks leading up to the race you may only do marathon pace for 4-8 miles.
This philosophy would hold true if you were preparing for a Olympic distance, half or full Ironman as well; or for that matter any endurance event you are getting set for.
Don’t Push Through Nagging Injuries
The last thing I’ll add here is what to do if you are coming down with nagging injuries. Nothing too critical – your calves or hamstrings are a bit tight maybe or your knees are bit sorer than usual. This is the time to rest and recover. With 3-4 weeks before your endurance event there is no real magic workout that’s going to have you drop minutes off you’re time. Less is more now. Rest is essential. If you take a few days off to heal, please please please don’t try to over-compensate your first day back with a 16-mile run or an 80-mile cycle ride because you missed it last week. If you listen closely your body will tell you everything.
It’s good to be anxious – it means you’re ready – now go out there and kick some butt!