An artist works tirelessly on his painting and before he unveils the curtain on his finished canvas, he puts finishing touches to it. A ‘Taper’ is an athlete’s way of putting the finishing touch on his hard work while training for a Marathon.
Studies indicate that an efficient taper may last between one and four weeks. The optimal duration does not depend on age, experience or event distance. It depends on each athlete's adaptation and recovery profile. Some athlete’s recover faster than others; some have long-lasting training adaptations, whereas some others detrain quickly.
However the three weeks tapering plan seems to be the most commonly used plan among marathoners. The final three weeks are the most important in any marathon-training program. Hence an efficient taper is both a Science and an Art.
The Science of Taper shows that levels of muscle glycogen, enzymes, antioxidants, and hormones ,all depleted by high mileage, return to optimal ranges during a taper. The muscle damage that occurs during sustained training is also repaired. Muscle and connective tissues repair and strengthen. In addition the immune function and muscle strength improve, which reduces the odds that an athlete will catch a cold or get injured just before the race. While it is true that rested muscles increase in strength and power output, many of the biggest gains occur in the circulatory system, where total blood volume and red blood cell counts increase. Tapered athletes sometimes note increases in running economy, while storing glycogen more readily.
When it comes to tapering ’ less is really more’.
The Art of Taper is to learn to chill and relax and back off from training. That means you run less and rest more. It is an art to learn to modify your running, thinking, and eating in those three crucial weeks before you toe the line. Athletes are afraid to reduce their intensity and volume of training just before the big race, as they fear losing fitness and gaining weight. A long distance runner has to realize that in those last few weeks , it's the rest, more than the work, that makes you strong. And you don't lose fitness in three weeks of tapering. In fact, studies show that your aerobic capacity, the best gauge of fitness, doesn't change at all.
Tapering begins immediately upon completing your last longest training run .Tapering means reducing the volume of your weekly training mileage by 20 to 30 % EACH WEEK, from your highest volume week, for three weeks. For example if your highest weekly mileage was 64 kms, you would cut your mileage by 12 kms and mileage in WEEK 1 of your taper would be 52 kms.
In addition to cutting mileage keep your run intensity to your goal race pace and no faster. It is best to cut out on cross training during the taper period. You may however do upper body strength training in Week 1 of taper. Do not train lower body or cycle or spin in the three weeks of taper. Swimming can be done moderately for first two weeks of taper for relaxation and drop it completely in the last week. Yoga and Pilates can be done in the first two weeks of taper and stop in the last week.
Keep stretching and doing core exercises throughout your taper.
During the taper period , it is necessary to make adjustments in your nutrition too. Increase protein intake in the first week of taper as the same is needed to repair muscle. It is important to increase your complex carbohydrates intake and reduce fat intake during the entire taper period. Drink a lot of fluids during these three weeks and reduce caffeine and alcohol consumption as they are diuretics. A marginal weight gain during this period is normal and this will come handy during the Marathon.
Wishing all the SCMM participants a strong training run!
Get Started with Fitness: