The key to effective marathon tapering is to reduce mileage while still training at the same intensity. Reducing mileage lowers accumulated fatigue, which will help with marathon performance. However, continuing to do tempo workouts, speed workouts and strides will maintain the adaptations that you have achieved over the course of your training program. Personally, I like doing a short race (usually a 5k) two or three weeks out from my marathon or ultra.
Some folks recommend a two-week taper. Others prefer to go with three weeks.
Pete Pfitzinger suggests going with three weeks:
Week 1: reduce mileage 20 to 25 percent
Week 2: reduce mileage 40 percent
Week 3 (the six days before the race): reduce mileage 60 percent
For example, if you are running 60 miles/week during your training, you would reduce your mileage to 45 miles/week, 36 miles/week and 24 miles/week, respectively.
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Hal Higdon also suggests a three-week plan:
Week 1: reduce mileage 25%
Week 2: reduce mileage 50%
Week 3 (the six days before the race): reduce mileage 75%
For example, if you are running 60 miles/week during your training, you would reduce your mileage to 45 miles/week, 30 miles/week and 15 miles/week, respectively.
For more on Hal’s training methods, check out: http://www.halhigdon.com/training/51135/Marathon-Training-Guide
For many people, the taper is difficult. It is hard to keep faith in your training while you are cutting back miles. However, the more marathons you do, the easier it becomes (usually).
With all that being said, this post isn’t really about tapering – it’s about the mini-taper! Here’s what I mean by that: The methods above are intended to prepare you for a goal race – a marathon (or ultramarathon, as may be the case). But what about other races that come before your goal race?
I know people who stick with their regular training and squeeze the races in. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes they look like this:
Sometimes they look like this:
My point is, why risk it for a race that is not your goal race? Personally, I like to go with one easy week before and one easy week after a race that is in the middle of my training program (if the race is a 5k, I’ll only do three easy days before and three easy days after). I’ll always take one off-day and sometimes I’ll take two. I’ll also reduce my mileage by approximately 25 percent (including the race). Honestly, I don’t have a ton of evidence to support this method. I am basing it on the same logic as the marathon taper – reducing accumulated fatigue and allowing my body an opportunity to recover. It has also worked for me in the past, so I’m sticking with it.
Aside from reducing the chance of injury, this mini-taper gives me an opportunity to have a decent race. I don’t race that often and I definitely don’t do races just for the sake of doing them. I want to have a chance at a PR and I want to walk away without feeling like I dragged myself through the latter miles. The mini-taper usually allows me to do that.
In case you were wondering, the animal pictured above is a tapir (the spirit animal of my friends L.E. and G.G.). Tapirs are found in South America, Central America and Southeast Asia. The Brazilian tapir, Malayan tapir, Baird’s tapir and mountain tapir have all been classified as vulnerable or endangered. For more on tapirs: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/tapir/